In this article, I counter persistent claims of big data revolutionising managerial decision making, by tracing the technological and cultural origins of data-based management in the United States back to the 1970s and 1980s using historical source materials from the trade magazine Datamation. I argue that innovations in database technology within this period – database management systems and the relational database model – shaped and reinforced a data-based mindset. This mindset, I demonstrate, is manifested in four interlinked concepts of data: data as asset, data as raw, data as reality, and data as relatable. These concepts, I argue, provide a basis for current associations of big data with ideological values of objectivity and truthfulness. The article contributes to a growing body of work in media and communication studies that deconstructs the ideological discourses facilitating big data’s unquestioned integration in the business world.

Big data, database, DBMS, relational database model, decision-making, management, revolution, ideology, Datamation
Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision
Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)
TMG Journal for Media History; Vol 21, No 2 (2018): Big Data Histories; 7-29

Kerssens, Niels. (2018). The Database ‘Revolution’: The Technological and Cultural Origins of the Big-data-based Mindset in American Management, 1970s–1980s. Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis, 21(2), 7–29. doi:10.18146/2213-7653.2018.364