Successor Systems: Lessons for Big Data From Feminist Epistemology and Activism


The concept of successor systems extends Harding (1987) and Haraway’s (1988) call for feminist “successor sciences” – ways of knowing that critically blend objectivity with situatedness – to the field of “Big Data.” I argue that successor systems involve a different form of data-intensive knowledge production, in which counterpublic collectives (Fraser, 1990) reflectively deploy algorithmic routines to build “a better account of the world” (Haraway, 579). I discuss four data-intensive activist projects as successor systems, discussing political and epistemological implications of such tactics. These successor systems have much to teach scholars and practitioners of “Big Data,” giving concrete and theoretical alternatives to the more dominant practices in academia and industry.