Accepted Paper:

Tracing data transformations  


Judit Varga (Leiden University)

Paper short abstract:

This methodological paper outlines an ethnographic approach to studying how social media data is used in social research. The approach draws on various frameworks in STS and related fields, and outlines techniques that can trace material, methodological and epistemological transformations of data.

Paper long abstract:

This methodological paper outlines an ethnographic approach to studying how human geographers use georeferenced social media data in practice. STS and related approaches argue that understanding knowledge practices requires a joint focus on epistemology, intersubjective, material and institutional processes. However, there is a shortage of empirical studies that examine computational social science from such analytical perspective. Existing studies either investigate epistemology and methodology, or interrogate the interpersonal and institutional dynamics associated with data practices. Linking these perspectives necessitates techniques that can trace the material, methodological, epistemological transformations of data in action, which requires drawing on distinct frameworks in STS and related fields.

This project interrogates how social media data is enacted in human geography research, and associated changes in knowledge practices for two reasons. First, human geographical explanations often have direct implications to how we understand and enact social order. They can highlight relationships between seemingly unrelated processes by reconceptualising scale, distance and stasis, thus questioning arguments and practices that reinforce the status quo. Second, there have been longstanding epistemological debates within human geography regarding the benefits of quantitative and qualitative methods. Social media data can be analysed using both of these strategies and combinations thereof. They can consist of geotags, text and / or images, and result from situated activities. This is different from data previously used human geography that was either amenable to quantitative or qualitative analysis. Understanding how scholars engage with such novel multimodal data can highlight opportunities for dialogues between the quantitative and qualitative research traditions.

Panel G03
Technologies that count: big data and social order