Small Methods for Big Data


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We are currently soliciting contributions to the March/April edition of EthnographyMatters. The aim of the edition is to document some of the innovative methods that are being used to explore online communities, cultures and politics in ways that connect people to the data created about/by them. By ‘method’, we mean both the things that ethnographers do (interviews, memo-ing, member checking, participant observation) as well as the principles that underpin what many of us do (serving communities, enabling people-centred research, advocating for change). Ethnography has never been tied indelibly with qualitative methods: the practice of ethnography requires using a suite of methods in order to reach our goals and there are multiple methods that ethnographers share with Big Data researchers.

The availability of data that is generated as a by-product of online activities offers researchers with useful ways of understanding online communities. Such methods can go far beyond merely the collection and visualisation/analysis of that data outside of the human context that constitutes the majority of Big Data research. ‘Small Methods for Big Data’ is not about methods “in the service of” Big Data but rather in the “context of”. Not “either… or” but rather “both… and”. Not one before the other, but both together in a circular motion towards understanding.

Examples of fresh ways of connecting data and people include:

  • Defining the fieldsite by employing the metaphor of a network [Burrell, 2009];
  • Using social media such as Instagram to write public field notes and memos [Wang, 2012];
  • Conducting interviews with users by bringing in visualised traces of the user’s online experiences [Dubois and Ford, 2015].

There are, however, many others and we want to collect them as well as to publish reflections on their principled use in ethnographic and mixed method research in a small sample/vignette of innovative approaches. The vignette could then be used in teaching and research, inspiring others to add to the collection of methods and strategies used to connect people and data in innovative ways.

You can participate by sending details about interesting methods, strategies or reflections that you have encountered/experienced, or by writing a post for the upcoming edition.

Contributions to the vignette should be 300 words and should cover: what the method is, how the method works, why it works as well as where researchers can find more information about it.

Posts for Ethnography Matters’ ‘Small Methods for Big Data’ edition should be maximum 1,000 words and can offer a series of methods or focus on a single method and reflections on the use of that method. Contributor guidelines are here but email me if you have any questions.

Deadline: Friday 4 March, 2016

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