Digital Methods for Research in the Social Sciences

This module explores issues and methods involved in conducing qualitative and/or ethnographic research in the social sciences related to the digital. This includes use of “digital tools” – e.g. mobile phones, GPS technology and software programmes for data gathering and analysis – to supplement conventional ethnographic and qualitative research methods, as well as approaches, strategies and techniques for conducting research which engages directly with online and digital environments, including social media platforms, blogs and discussions forums and fully immersive digital realms such as video games and virtual worlds. 

In light of the ongoing intensification of social interaction and association which occurs online and, in the wake of a global pandemic which has severely curtailed possibilities for conducting research in direct contact with others, the module explores both possibilities and opportunities for research of the digital and via the digital, for example through the adaptation of research projects originally designed to be conducted ‘offline’ for remote, digital and ‘online’ methods and means.

Participants will be asked to design and undertake a small-scale project based on the topics covered in this module, to be presented for discussion in the final class meeting.

 

Deadline to apply: Wednesday 28 April @5pm
 

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By way of introduction, this session provides a brief survey of engagement between the social sciences and the digital. It will include discussion of early social scientific work on the internet, leading through to more contemporary scholarship. This session will also introduce some of the theoretical, practical and ethical dimensions and quandaries of research on the digital. 
Participants will be asked to introduce themselves, their research (or research interests) and the ways in which they have encountered digital technologies and/or research methods in their own research.
Readings: TBA
 

The focus this week is on the application of digital technologies as ‘tools’ in facilitating and/or complimenting ethnographic fieldwork. Drawing on various case studies (participants are asked to read at least one), discussion will focus on assessing the advantages, but also the potential limits, of digital technologies such as mobile/smart phones, geospatial tracking/mapping technologies, recording and data storage technologies, the development of software for organizing and analyzing field data, and the mining of ‘big data’ sets. 
Readings: TBA

This lecture explores issues and best practices in the management of data in digital research.

In this session, we will consider the implications of the intensification of digitally-mediated association on people’s lives and on social sciences practice, including both ‘online’ and ‘offline’ elements. What are the implications for ethnographic fieldwork and qualitative research as the subjects of ‘offline’ research increasingly associate ‘online’ through social media and other digital platforms? 
What are some similarities, differences, connections, and disconnections between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ forms of interaction, sociality, and social norms? Do people perceive and act the same ways in ‘online’ versus ‘offline’ spaces? 
Working in pairs/small groups and drawing on the suggested readings, participants are asked to consider the online dimensions of their own research topics. How do the subjects of their research engage with social media and/or other online platforms and in what ways is this engagement expected to be relevant to the research? What methods are available to observe, record and assess the online activities/engagements of the research subjects and how should the online and offline dimensions of research be ethnographically and theoretically treated? 
Readings: TBA
 

This session involves an exploration of research methods and issues when conducting qualitative and ethnographic research in immersive, virtual environments. Is ethnographic research possible in virtual realms and how do we resolve issues related to the ‘online’ and ‘offline’ personas and identities of research subjects? 
Participants will be asked (in pairs or small groups) to consider the potential ethnographic/social scientific dimensions of any immersive, virtual realms (e.g. video games or virtual worlds) with which they have had personal experience. Drawing from this week’s readings as a guide, how might you design an ethnographic study of the virtual? What might be the potential challenges and/or limits of conducting ethnographic research in immersive online environments? How might such an ethnographic undertaking accommodate both the online and offline dimensions of research subjects’ lives? 
Readings: TBA
 

Participants will present the results of their small-scale project engaging with digital tools and/or digitally-mediated platforms/environments for discussion and feedback.