The Object of Mobile Spatial Data, the Subject in Mobile Spatial Research

Publication Date


Document Type



With an estimated one billion smartphones producing over 5 petabytes of data a day, the spatially aware mobile device has become a near ubiquitous presence in daily life. Cogent, excellent research in a variety of fields has explored what the spatial data these devices produce can reveal of society, such as analysis of Foursquare check-ins to reveal patterns of mobility for groups through a city. In such studies, the individual intentions, motivations, and desires behind the production of said data can become lost through computational aggregation and analysis. In this commentary, I argue for a rethinking of the epistemological leap from individual to data point through a (re)seating of the reflexive, self-eliciting subject as an object for spatial big data research. To do so, I first situate current research on spatial big data within a computational turn in social sciences that relies overly on the data produced as a stand-in for the subject producing said data. Second, I argue that a recent shift within geography and cognate disciplines toward viewing spatial big data as a form of spatial media allows for study of the sociotechnical processes that produce modern assemblages of data and society. As spatial media, the spatial big data created through mobile device use can be understood as the data of everyday life and as part of the sociotechnical processes that produce individuals, data, and space. Ultimately, to understand the data of everyday life, researchers must write thick descriptions of the stories we tell ourselves about the data we give off to others.

Publication Title

Big Data & Society







Publisher Policy

open access

Open Access Status

OA Journal

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