From ecological records to big data: the invention of global biodiversity

  • Vincent DevictorEmail author
  • Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent
Original Paper


This paper is a critical assessment of the epistemological impact of the systematic quantification of nature with the accumulation of big datasets on the practice and orientation of ecological science. We examine the contents of big databases and argue that it is not just accumulated information; records are translated into digital data in a process that changes their meanings. In order to better understand what is at stake in the ‘datafication’ process, we explore the context for the emergence and quantification of biodiversity in the 1980s, along with the concept of the global environment. In tracing the origin and development of the global biodiversity information facility (GBIF) we describe big data biodiversity projects as a techno-political construction dedicated to monitoring a new object: the global diversity. We argue that, biodiversity big data became a powerful driver behind the invention of the concept of the global environment, and a way to embed ecological science in the political agenda.


Big data Biodiversity Ecology Foucault Politics 



We would like to thank three anaymous reviewers and Staffan Müeller-Wille for their very constructive comments and suggestions on earlier version of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vincent Devictor
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent
    • 1
  1. 1.CETCOPRA (Centre d’Etudes des Techniques, des Connaissances et des Pratiques)Université Paris 1 Panthèon SorbonneParisFrance
  2. 2.Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution, Université Montpellier, CNRS, IRDMontpellierFrance

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