Big Data & Ethics – PhD course with Geoffrey Bowker


We are excited to offer a Phd course in Big Data and Ethics, which will explore ethical questions that have emerged in debates about Big Data approaches, processes and implications. 


Dates and venue
Monday May 23 - Tuesday May 24, IT-University of Copenhagen

3.5 ECTS

Geoffrey Bowker, Professor, UC Irvine, Visiting Velux professor at the ITU
Allison Powell, Programme director, London School of Economics & Political Science
Rachel Douglas –Jones, Assistant Professor, IT-University of Copenhagen

Course description
This PhD course will explore ethical questions that have emerged in debates about Big Data approaches, processes and implications. The proliferation of personal and impersonal data poses new challenges to ethical questions and moral dilemmas faced by those that produce data and those that collect and use it. Todays’ researchers must address the challenges to traditional assumptions about individuality, free will and power that emerge in applications of big data in research and practice. At first glance the very largeness of the datasets involved makes the individuals whose data makes up the datasets of limited epistemological importance. After all, what is one person in a dataset of hundreds of thousands or millions of data points. Thus the requirement of real informed consent is impractical and even impossible given the scale of the datasets and the relatively unpredictable nature of potential uses of these data. Such changes raise questions for the responsible research and innovation effort across the EU. 

This course proposes that topics central to ethical discussions such as research conduct, social good and avoidance of ethical pitfalls are still highly important. However, today’s researchers must also find avenues in their research through which to reconsider traditional ethical assumptions in the changing field of large data sets and shifts in potential for power among stakeholders. We invite essays reflecting on two or more of the listed topics that relate the readings to specific ethical discussions or issues encountered in the course of fieldwork and data collection experienced in students’ own research. We furthermore welcome essays that consider the challenges of interrogating, engaging and managing ethical issues in practice, including essays about how ethics are done in practice or essays that are critical of the notion of ethics itself.

Students will be organized into thematic groups based on their papers. Each will be expected to act as a discussant for another paper, and will receive comments from a visiting or local professor. 

Christopher Gad & Irina Shklovski, ITU

The course is open to all PhD students within IT, but will mostly be aimed at students doing qualitative or multiple methods studies of (digital) technologies especially in the area of big data - A background in ethnography, anthropology, sociology, information studies, informatics, information systems, qualitative approaches in software development or computer science, CSCW, HCI, or science and technology studies is therefore an advantage.

Important Deadlines

*March 1st  Submission of short bio of 150 words and an abstract of 200 words.

*March 15th  Notice of acceptance or rejection

*May 13th  Submission of paper of 5-7 pages. 

*May 23th-24th Course dates


Read more on application procedure, programme, and curriculum here.