Transformations of Sociological Methodology in the Context of Digital Data

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 26 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Victoria DUDINA, St. Petersburg State University, Russia
Development of new information technologies and digital tools requires reconsideration of basic aspects of social methodology and epistemology. Digital tools influence social life, transform social reality, and generate social events. Digital world could be considered as a model of social reality what makes it possible to use digital data as a substitute for traditional social data. The distinguishing feature of digital data is their naturalness and spontaneity, what does not require creating artificial experimental situation. The other feature is a lack of standardization, which always more or less accompanies collection of social data.

Principal developments in sociological methodology and epistemology are identified. The significance of social theory is questioned by the development of big data: when researchers have excessive amount of data, functions of theory shift from structuring data collection to identifying patterns in available data. Possibility to collect data representing not only opinions and meanings, but transactions, networks, flows of people, images and objects stimulates heterogeneity turn in social methodology. Development of digital tools and methods of data analysis transforms explanations of social behavior and gives sociologists possibilities to focus not only on static characteristics but on dynamics. Transition from “social as society” towards “social as mobility” implicates transition from theory of systems and structures to more dynamic social theory of networks and flows. Post-demographic reconsideration of sampling and representativeness in social research is connected with the lack of demographical information in social media which could be replaced by such characteristics as tastes, preferences, choices connected with the users’ profiles. Representativeness implies representation not demographics but behavioral patterns. Item-to-item explanations of social behavior could be predominant form of explanation, when behavior is explained not by static demographic characteristics or by institutional context but by previous actions and choices.