March 5: Methods in Action

For the next few weeks, we’ll examine how various researchers – humanists, social scientists, artists, media-makers, curators, etc. – choose and execute a variety of methods in their own practices. We’ll study their work, reverse-engineer their methods, and talk with them about their methodologies and practices so that their experiences can inform our own.

Hargittai and Sandvig explain that “digital media” have transformed research by providing new means of research instrumentation and by serving as research subjects. The researchers at Data & Society and Ingrid Burrington, whom we’ll meet on March 12 and 26, all study digital media, and they use digital media in their investigations. Yet their “theoretical definitions” of the Internet vary: they conceive of it variously as a social environment, a political platform, a content-delivery system, a system of protocols, an infrastructure, a geography, and so forth. Let’s consider how they operationalize the Internet in their work and design methods to study it.

Planning Ahead: Today we’ll discuss how we can best use our time with these researchers in the coming weeks: how can we distribute our labor to ensure that we’re familiar with the breadth of their work, and that we’re prepared to ask insightful, probing questions? How might we plan our fieldtrip as if it were “fieldwork,” and our visit with Burrington as if it were a semi-structured interview?

  • Eszter Hargittai and Christian Sandvig, “How to Think About Digital Research,” in Hargittai and Sandvig, eds., Digital Research Confidential: The Secrets of Studying Behavior Online (MIT Press, 2015): 1-28.
  • Annette Markham, “Ethnography in the Digital Internet Era: From Fields to Flows, Descriptions to Interventions,” in N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln, eds., The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, 5th (2017): 18pp.
  • Check out Burrington’s book, Networks of New York (Melville House, 2016) and the various articles she has written for The Atlantic; these projects required fieldwork and interviews and Freedom of Information Act requests. Her “Light Industry: Toxic Waste and Pastoral Capitalism,” e-flux 74 (June 2016), on the ecology of Silicon Valley, involved fieldwork and archival research. Her 2017 Futureproof exhibition, about risk assessment and technological obsolescence, employed curation as a research method and mode of dissemination; and her Networks Land teaching materials, created in collaboration with Surya Mattu, crystallized secondary-source research into a set of pedagogical tools that were developed through user testing. She’s an artist, too: she makes maps and books and pictures as means of investigating technologized landscapes. Here’s her website. You’ll see that she’s had quite a few grants and fellowships, which means she’s good at writing proposals 🙂
  • We’ll read more about Data & Society next week – but for now, browse through their website to see the variety of work they do. You might be particularly interested in their Media Manipulation Initiative, which uses empirical research to examine “how different groups use the participatory culture of the Internet to turn the strengths of a free society into vulnerabilities, ultimately threatening expressive freedoms and civil rights.”

Image: Kyle Bean