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The Making of Predictions

Social Media-Based Prediction and Its Resources, Techniques, and Applications

F. N. van der Vlist

This thesis investigates prediction and the stuff of which it is made. Over the recent years social media have attracted both an academic and public interest in its ‘predictive power’ but when it comes to making predictions researchers generally agree that this is ‘hard’, ‘difficult’, or ‘tough’, especially when it involves uncertainty with regards to the future. Predictions are accomplishments and come into being with a purpose, considerable social and intellectual investment from sponsors or advocates, and mobilisation of existing conceptual and material resources. Rather than a specialist reading of concrete cases of prediction, the objective of this thesis is to develop a framework for conceptualising and analysing the stuff of prediction in at least some of the many ways that it exists, and in which it is imagined, accomplished, experienced, and thought through. More specifically, it investigates this stuff both empirically and conceptually (and historically), with a particular focus on the specificity of its techniques as they find applications in concrete settings. Two emblematic practical goals or purposes for social media-based prediction are investigated: forecasting the pulse of social media streams and the surveillance of influenza-like illness using Web search data. How to analyse the relation between the stuff of prediction and the social circumstances and practicalities with which it is inevitably entangled? What are techniques of prediction using their resources for? At the same time it also does a methodological contribution by making the exploration of what it means to take prediction as an object of study an integral part of the project itself, as opposed to committing to such a view from the outset. What does it mean to take prediction as an object of study; how to conceive of it intellectually? Responding to a growing public and academic interest in the predictive power of social media, and in prediction as a way of dealing with challenges characterised by uncertainty and risk more generally, the proposed framework enables a critical analysis of the production of prediction with a particular sensitivity towards its techniques, the resources they mobilise in light of a certain specific practical goal, and the social and cultural significance of their applications in diverse concrete settings.

prediction; calculation; cultural techniques; quantification; social media; Big Data; uncertainty


Kind Master's Thesis
Author F. N. van der Vlist
Supervisor B. Rieder
Publication Date 2015, June 26
Institution University of Amsterdam
Identifier http://dare.uva.nl/en/scriptie/569838
Description Submitted to the Department of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam, Faculty of Humanities, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts (MA).
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