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Communicating with Power


Edited By Cherian George

Communication is ubiquitous and information is abundant. Political and economic markets are more open than they have ever been. Yet, there is no escaping the fact that communication continues to flow across fields where power is distributed unevenly. This collection of articles analyzes and responds to asymmetries of power in a diversity of contexts. They are drawn from presentations at the 2016 Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, held in Fukuoka, Japan. The conference theme presented an opening for scholars from various disciplines and academic traditions to engage with the questions of power at different levels of analysis—from micro sites of power like a doctor’s consultation room, to the geopolitical arenas where nations wage war, make peace, and spy on one another. The resulting collection straddles different methodologies and styles, from survey research to essays. Leading scholars and junior researchers have combined to create a volume that reflects the breadth of communication scholarship and its contemporary concerns.

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Chapter Six: Big Data and Information/Power Asymmetries: What Role for Scholars? (Jenifer Sunrise Winter)


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Big Data AND Information/Power Asymmetries

What Role for Scholars?


The Internet has become increasingly meshed with nearly every sector of society and now connects over three billion users (International Telecommunication Union 2015). As a growing number of everyday objects are redesigned to include digital sensors, computing power, and communication capabilities—and as new objects become part of these networks—the Internet is rapidly becoming part of the “natural” world itself. While this evolving infrastructure and the massive datasphere it enables has great positive potential to improve social welfare, it may also create unjust power differentials used by one group to diminish the opportunities of another, destroy anonymity when engaging in public affairs, and hinder public participation in democratic discourse. This chapter first describes these technical developments and then argues that communication scholars have a responsibility to apply our knowledge to consequential social problems, such as ensuring that big data analytics serves the public interest rather than exacerbating existing information asymmetries and power imbalances. I outline several ways to inform specific, contemporary policy problems that have high social impact and further engage citizens in discussion about our research, as a means to enrich public discourse to help guide political governance.


Current technical agendas and national policies focus on the Internet of Things (IoT)—networks of physical objects embedded with the ability to sense, and...

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