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Name: Jill Robinson

PhD: Arts, Design and Media 

Working Thesis Title: In what ways might  Big Data contribute to a better understanding of  young people's cultural and social inequalities and how and to what extent might data visualisation be used to address these inequalities?


Thesis Description (work in progress):

My research proposal is set against the backdrop of almost a decade of austerity measures following the global economic crisis of 2007 and the range and speed of technological developments over the same period. The former has had a disproportionately adverse impact on young people through excessively high levels of youth unemployment compounded by the retrenchment of the welfare state.  The latter has transformed  the research access to data through  not only the volume, velocity and variety of data which can be gathered but the ways in which it might be analysed and potentially used to address an increasingly wide range of societal challenges including the social and cultural inequalities of young people. 

I am beginning, therefore, by trying to unpick these two key components of my research through : 1) exploring Big Data: its history; its meaning in different contexts and across different disciplines; its objectivity; its actual and potential role in the production of knowledge and contribution to the reduction of inequalities 2) exploring young people’s social and cultural inequalities:  from different perspectives (policymakers, academics, young  people themselves); different theoretical/conceptual and linguistic framings. On inequalities, for example, under the last Labour government, social inequality was described  by the Social Exclusion Unit  in the following statement: “Social exclusion is about more than income poverty. It is a short-hand term for what can happen when people or areas face a combination of linked problems, such as unemployment, discrimination, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime and family breakdown. These problems are linked and mutually reinforcing” (SEU 2004: 3)   

Big Data is also a term the meaning of which seems to shift according  to field and time,  so it will be important to find a definition which is most appropriate to my area of research.  A further question  which I wish to pursue is that of the veracity of data. Policymakers & researchers are turning to big data to gain a better knowledge and understanding of societal changes such as inequalities, yet data is never neutral and may even contribute to perpetuating inequalities. The design, collection, selection and interpretation of data sets are determined by actors who make a difference due to their capacity for strategic calculation and action. Therefore, there is always scope “for actions to overwhelm, circumvent, or subvert structural constraints” (Jessop, 2016: 55). Thus a critical analysis of Big Data is essential and may involve  testing of conclusions based on data analysis via the perceptions of young people experiencing inequalities.

Supervisors and Institution(s): Rajinder Dudrah and Annette Naudin, Birmingham City University 


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Other Research Interests:

  • <Marginalised young people and civic and political participation
  • The social, emotional and health benefits of singing 
  • Performing arts and the development of young people's social competences 



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