Browse By Day
Browse By Time
Browse By Person
Browse By Room
Browse By Division
Browse By Session Type
In Event: Drowning in Data: Industry and Academic Approaches to Mixed Methods in “Holistic” Big Data Studies
There are many compelling mixed-methodological frameworks for studying digitally-mediated environments – like running social network analyses to identify interviewees (Howard 2002) or using analyses of trace data as interview prompts (Dubois & Ford 2015). I discuss a different kind of mixed-methodological research, one that I suspect is far more common: small, supplementary, one-off studies conducted alongside a more formally-specified research project. In digitally-mediated environments, it is far easier for researchers to conduct supplementary studies that go beyond their research protocol or methodological training. This is especially prevalent in sites with rich quantitative and qualitative trace data, as well as rich opportunities for ethnographic engagement. In such sites, participants and trace data are often immediately accessible to researchers, and there are many easy-to-use tools for collecting and analyzing data (some even built into many sites’ user interfaces).
For example, an ethnographer who studies a social movement might use Google trends to track the popularity of various search terms about the movement over time. A quantitative researcher creating predictive behavioral models in an online community might spend some time lurking or even participating. A qualitative researcher about to interview a participant about their social media use might run a quick word frequency analysis of their social media posts. An experimental researcher testing effects of different messaging strategies might conduct a few interviews with subjects about their preferences. While formal mixed-method frameworks establish clear pathways for integrating findings from multiple studies, these more supplementary studies can stay at the level of “background” and “context” – if they are acknowledged as research at all. However, these studies can provide key contexts, insights, and inspirations that can significantly change the direction of the core research project.
Given this, I propose moving beyond thinking about researchers (or research) as either mixed-methodological or single-methodological. Instead, we should acknowledge the different kinds of methods which are increasingly ready-to-hand to researchers from all methodological backgrounds. I propose that all researchers are mixed-methodological to some extent, and it is dangerous to obscure the more supplementary methods we inevitably find ourselves using. Yet if we think this way, then how ought we acknowledge and integrate those supplementary studies in our scholarship? How do we responsibly use such supplementary methods? How do we find balance between an “anything goes” acceptance of potentially problematic (and sometimes black-boxed) methods and an overly-restrictive methodological policing that stifles interdisciplinarity?
Dubois, E., & Ford, H. (2015). Qualitative Political Communication| Trace Interviews: An Actor-Centered Approach. International Journal Of Communication, 9, 25.
Howard, P. N. (2002). “Network Ethnography and the Hypermedia Organization: New Media, New Organizations, New Methods.” New Media & Society 4 (4): 550-574.