Abstract: While aerial photography is associated with vertical objectivity and spatial abstractions, street-level imagery appears less political in its orientation to the particularities of place. I contest this assumption, showing how the aggregation of street-level imagery into “big datasets” allows for the algorithmic sorting of places by their street-level visual qualities. This occurs through an abstraction by “datafication,” inscribing new power geometries onto urban places through algorithmic linkages between visual environmental qualities, geographic information, and valuations of social worth and risk. Though largely missing from media studies of Google Street View, similar issues have been raised in critiques of criminological theories that use place as a proxy for risk. Comparing the Broken Windows theory of criminogenesis with big data applications of street-level imagery informs a critical media studies approach to Google Street View. The final section of this article suggests alternative theoretical orientations for algorithm design that avoid the pitfalls of essentialist equations of place with social character.
Shapiro, A. "Street-Level: Google Street View's Abstraction by Datafication." New Media & Society, forthcoming.