The Digital Social Science Cluster focuses on teaching and research in the digital social sciences.

We look at the affordances and limitations of new digital methods, research ethics, data access issues, problems related to corporate relationships, and the design and use of new tools. We also collaborate with other CDCS clusters and host local, national and international colleagues for talks and workshops. As a "methods lab" we aim to make methods, tools, datasets, and projects accessible to students and staff.

This cluster is led by Karen Gregory, Morgan Currie and Kate Miltner.

Upcoming Event: Mapping the Lifecycle of Media Manipulation 

January 2021, Bookings open soon

Dr. Joan Donovan, Research Director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard, demonstrates a case study approach to mapping the life cycle of media manipulation campaigns. This method seeks to analyze the order, scale and scope of manipulation campaigns by following media artifacts through space and time, drawing together multiple relationships to sort through the tangled mess.

Dr. Donovan will draw on an overview of the life cycle of a media manipulation campaign, which is useful for researchers and journalists as they attempt to identify, track and expose media manipulation and disinformation. The life cycle has five points of action, where the tactics of media manipulators can be documented using qualitative and quantitative methods. In this training, participants will learn to look for any one of these points of action and then trace the campaign backward and forward through the life cycle using the web tools such as tineye (a reverse image search) and web archives to hunt for disinformation.

Recent Events

Situating & Doing Digital Methods

Thurs 1 October, 12:00 - 17:00

Prof Richard Rogers, founder of the Digital Methods Initiative, delivers a lecture situating digital methods as a part of the computational turn in internet-related research, however distinct from big data, and contrasts them ontologically and epistemologically from virtual methods, or the importation of methods from the humanities and the social sciences onto the web. It subsequently introduces the study of the ‘natively digital’ (and the notion itself) and discusses the prospects of making findings or having research outcomes that may be grounded in the online, putting forward the notion of ‘online groundedness’.

It is followed by a practical workshop, introducing how to do digital methods through discussions of how to study Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Reddit, 4chan as well as Telegram. We’ll discuss the research questions as well as the outputs of such methods as cross-lingual analysis (for Wikipedia), audience segmentation (Twitter), misinformation engagement (Facebook), geolocation and antagonistic hashtag analysis (Instagram), subscription networks and algorithmic excitability (YouTube), national subreddits (Reddit), general posts and the politics of deletion (4Chan) and deplatforming and cross-platform analysis (Telegram).

Click here for more details


Visual Methodologies for Public Participatory Work 

Tues 20 October, 10:00 - 15:00

Dr. Sabine Niederer is Professor of Visual Methodologies and founder of the Visual Methodologies Collective at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.  Her  lecture will introduce visual methodologies and, in particular, digital visual research that makes use of online data and content to research social issues. Recent contributions to digital visual research include the study of platform vernaculars, critical perspectives on the role of algorithms in sorting and ranking images, developments in machine vision and interpreting images with AI, and the rise of data feminism (incl. feminist data visualisation). This talk will introduce the field, discuss recent developments, and address how visual methodologies could facilitate public participatory work. This theme of public participation will be central to the afternoon workshop, which will explore three visual methods in-depth, showcasing participatory projects and offering hands-on resources for those who would like to incorporate these methods in their research practice.

Click here for more details


A few notes on “Digital Social Science” and “Digital Methods”

For researchers who are unfamiliar with “digital social science” and “digital methods”, it may seem like an entirely new—and intimidating—realm. It’s true that digital environments offer novel types of data, and sometimes at quite a different scale. However, the basic tenets of sound research practices remain the same in digital spaces as they do in non-digital spaces. As ever, the chosen method needs to match the research question; taking access, context, and collection sources into account is crucial; understanding what your collected data actually represents is foundational; and designing (and executing) your project with a nuanced and comprehensive ethical approach is obligatory.

In many ways, there is a lot of overlap between “digital” methods and more traditional methods. For example, online interviews, digital ethnographies, and internet-based surveys rely on many of the same methodological practices and concepts as their analog counterparts. There are also a range of newer methods that allow for the exploration of digital formats and the novel forms of data that those formats generate, from apps to websites to operating systems. What is important to remember is that doing digital methods does not require fully retraining yourself in an entirely new discipline and set of methodologies: if you are a qualitative researcher by training, you do not need to (and likely should not!) immediately become an expert in social network analysis and data visualization, for example. In many ways, becoming a digital researcher means applying your already-developed research skills to digital contexts.

If your project is suddenly shifting to a digital-only context, your research question and ethical concerns very well may have to change; however, it is important to remember that “online” and “offline” has always been, and remains, a false dichotomy. People live their lives across many contexts, both digital and analog, and these different forms and contexts of interaction have varied affordances that create multiple types of data that can be triangulated to offer a fuller—if necessarily partial—picture.  

neon sign saying data has a better idea
Photo by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash

MSc in Digital Society

Digital sociology provides a vital foundation for understanding how digital technologies and data are shaping our social institutions, social relations, and everyday life.

The MSc in Digital Society is intended for any student who wants to understand, as well as learn to study, analyze, and critique digital technologies and the complex ways in which they shape society, social institutions, and culture.The programme develops the theoretical and methodological skills required to address issues such as big data, algorithmic society, the future of privacy, cybercrime, and the future of work and labor.

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image of inside a space shuttle
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

MSc in Science and Technology in Society

Science and technology are powerful agents of change in society. But government policies, economies, cultures and values also shape the development and direction of scientific research and technological innovation. 

The MSc in Science and Technology in Society examines the social, political and cultural aspects of science, technology and innovation.

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