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Digital Social Science

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 GregoryMorgan Currie and Kate Miltner.

The Culture & Communities Mapping Project book cover

Book Launch: The Culture & Communities Mapping Project

On September 15th, Morgan Currie and Melisa Miranda Correa read sections from their 2021 book The Culture & Communities Mapping Project (Palgrave). The book describes three years of using maps as an object of study and a method of research in the City of Edinburgh. Throughout, the authors reflect critically on how, through the processes of mapping, we create knowledge about space, place, community and culture.

The event also featured talks by Vikki Jones and Liz McFall.

Photo of Liz Losh

Selfie Democracy: Barak Obama, Donald Trump and the New Digital Politics 

On May 4th, Professor Elizabeth Losh will be speaking about research done for her forthcoming book Selfie Democracy (MIT Press, 2022). Based on interviews with White House insiders, archival research, and a trove of digital data, it reveals important insights about the smart phone practices of the most significant actors in recent American politics—Barack Obama and Donald Trump as presidents and Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden as presidential candidates—and how their approaches to domestic governance and crisis management related to their everyday technological choices as users of computational media. 

Digital Worker Enquiry event co-organisers' logos; listed in description

 

Digital Worker Enquiry: Data, Solidarity & Leverage

28-29 October 2021

This two-day workshop showcased worker-led data projects, ranging from the creation of apps, tools, and software to the discussions of the ethical, technical, and legal challenges of working with or organising through worker data. A subsequent article, 'Worker Data Science' Can Teach Us How to Fix the Gig Economy by cluster lead Karen Gregory has now appeared in Wired magazine.

Recent Workshops

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Disinformation - Mapping the Lifecycle of Media Manipulation

 Dr. Joan Donovan, Research Director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard, demonstrated a case study approach to mapping the life cycle of media manipulation campaigns. 

View workshop recording

Connected lines of data

Visual Methodologies for Public Participatory Work

Dr. Sabine Niederer , founder of the Visual Methodologies Collective at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, introduces visual methodologies and, in particular, digital visual research that makes use of online data and content to research social issue.

View workshop recording

Data visualiztion of News Media

Situating and Doing Digital Methods

Prof. Richard Rogers (University of Amsterdam) historicised and theorised digital methods, putting forward the notion of ‘online groundedness’, before leading a practical workshop, introducing how to do digital methods.

View workshop recording 

Study

window with data is a better idea written in neon

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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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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The Masters in Data Science, Technology and Innovation aims to educate a new generation of interdisciplinary data scientists, technologists and innovators. The MSc will develop students’ awareness of applications and implications of data intensive applications, as well as the ability to think critically and creatively about governance and ethics and other social issues, and their interaction with technologies. Students will gain research skills in both qualitative and quantitative disciplines.

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.  

Project Methods

As research around the world is pivoting in response to the new contexts and concerns that have emerged with the global Covid-19 pandemic, we are currently helping researchers navigate this change by focusing on sharing examples of projects that illustrate the uses and challenges posed by digital methods. Here are some of the projects that our research community are working on: