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7AAVDM28 Digital Methods for Internet Studies: Concepts, Devices and Data

Module convenors: Dr Jonathan Gray and Dr Liliana Bounegru 
Credits: 20
Teaching pattern: Five one-hour lectures and five one-hour seminars, plus ten hours of workshops. 
Module description:

Digital data from the web, online devices and social media platforms promise to provide unprecedented insights into social and cultural life. Yet many researchers and practitioners argue that the value of such data is limited if we cannot account for the role of digital devices and technologies in shaping and social and cultural life in particular ways. How can we make sense of links, likes and shares? How do platforms and algorithms play a role in mediating social and cultural phenomena? How can 'born digital' data be used to understand more about the interplay between digital technologies and digital cultures?

This module will provide a conceptual and practical introduction to digital methods for internet studies. Through a series of hands-on workshops students will develop projects experimenting with digital methods to do research both with and about online devices and platforms. This is not just a practical, technical or computational task: online devices and platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Github and Wikipedia play a role in both shaping social and cultural life, as well as enabling particular ways of knowing it.

Drawing on leading research in internet studies and associated fields, the module will explore how to study this 'double aspect' of online devices through creatively repurposing data associated with objects such as likes, shares, retweets, hashtags, links, search engines and web archives. Digital data has become important in organising and knowing many areas of life, including through social media analytics, marketing and big data sources which are said to complement more established forms of knowledge about society, such as statistics, polls, surveys, interviews and ethnography.

On the one hand, this module will show students how to critically reflect on the specific affordances of natively digital methods, devices and data, including through mixed-methods research. On the other hand, while platforms and devices come with certain 'built in' methods for knowing about society and culture, students will learn how to creatively repurpose data for analytical scenarios other than those intended, including through 'critical analytics' and 'inventive methods'.

As well as understanding how to extract, repurpose and analyse data from a variety of online devices and platforms, the module will cover basic approaches to data visualisation through open source tools. It will support students to collaboratively conceptualise, prototype, design and implement digital methods research projects which will be developed through the full-day 'data sprint' workshops with invited guests. As the proliferation of online devices and platforms continues to spark controversies and hybrid practices, this module will provide students with a solid grounding for making sense of these fast-changing developments in the contexts of both research and practice.

Draft teaching syllabus

TBC

Module aims

This module will provide a conceptual and practical introduction to digital methods for internet studies. Drawing on leading research from digital sociology, digital culture, internet studies, platform studies and associated fields, it will show students how to design and implement studies with natively digital devices, methods and data. Using a combination of tools, scripts and scrapers, the module will show students how to critically and creatively repurpose digital objects - including hyperlinks, hashtags, web archives, search results, web trackers - for the purposes of social and cultural research.

Through a combination of hands-on experimentation and engagements with leading theoretical texts from internet studies, students would develop capacities for ethically and reflexively working with data from a wide variety of online platforms and devices, such as Amazon, Android App Store, Facebook, Github, Google Search, Instagram, Spotify, Tumblr, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube and other platforms.

Building on tools and pedagogical innovations from leading centres for digital methods, digital sociology and internet studies research,[1] the module would adopt an 'flipped classroom' approach supporting collaborative student projects through engaging digital resources and full-day 'data sprints'. The module will provide them with a solid grounding for pursuing further graduate studies, as well as equipping them with the resources to become reflective practitioners in emerging areas of digital work.

Learning outcomes

Upon completion of this module students will be able to:

  • Critically evaluate and reflect on how digital devices, methods and data shape and participate in culture and society, drawing on leading research in digital sociology, internet studies and science and technology studies (Knowledge and Understanding);
  • Critically and creatively repurpose data from online platforms, devices and the web for the purposes of social, cultural and media research (Cognitive Skills);
  • Collaboratively conceptualise, design and implement digital methods projects on a variety of topics, using different tools and approaches (Cognitive Skills; Performance and Practice);
  • Create, read and assess data visualisations, including using a variety of open source tools such as Gephi and Raw (Cognitive Skills; Performance and Practice).

Core reading

Ananny, M., & Crawford, K. (2016). Seeing Without Knowing: Limitations of the Transparency Ideal and Its Application to Algorithmic Accountability. New Media & Society, 1461444816676645.

Bounegru, L., Gray, J., Venturini, T., & Mauri, M. (Eds.). (2018). A Field Guide to “Fake News” and Other Information Disorders. Amsterdam: Public Data Lab.

Brügger, N. (2012). Web History and the Web as a Historical Source. Zeithistorische Forschungen / Studies in Contemporary History, 316–325.

Bucher, T. (2018). If...Then: Algorithmic Power and Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gerlitz, C., & Helmond, A. (2013). The Like Economy: Social Buttons and the Data-Intensive Web. New Media & Society, 15.

Gerlitz, C., & Lury, C. (2014). Social media and self-evaluating assemblages: on numbers, orderings and values. Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, 15, 174–188.

Gerlitz, C., & Rieder, B. (2013). Mining One Percent of Twitter: Collections, Baselines, Sampling. M/C Journal, 16.

Gray, J., Bounegru, L., Milan, S., & Ciuccarelli, P. (2016). Ways of Seeing Data: Toward a Critical Literacy for Data Visualizations as Research Objects and Research Devices. In Kubitschko, Sebastian & Kaun, Anne (Eds.), Innovative Methods in Media and Communication Research (pp. 227–251). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Helmond, A. (2013). The Algorithmization of the Hyperlink. Computational Culture.

Helmond, A. (2015). The Platformization of the Web: Making Web Data Platform Ready. Social Media + Society, 1.

Law, J., & Ruppert, E. (2013). The Social Life of Methods: Devices. Journal of Cultural Economy, 6, 229–240.

Light, B., Burgess, J., & Duguay, S. (2018). The Walkthrough Method: An Approach to the Study of Apps. New Media & Society, 20, 881–900.

Lury, C., & Wakeford, N. (Eds.). (2012). Inventive Methods: The Happening of the Social. London: Routledge.

Marres, N. (2015). Why Map Issues? On Controversy Analysis as a Digital Method. Science, Technology & Human Values.

Marres, N. (2017). Digital Sociology: The Reinvention of Social Research. London: Polity Press.

Marres, N., & Gerlitz, C. (2015). Interface methods: renegotiating relations between digital social research, STS and sociology. The Sociological Review, 64, 21–46.

Marres, N., Guggenheim, M., & Wilkie, A. (Eds.). (2018). Inventing the Social. Manchester: Mattering Press.

Marres, N., & Moats, D. (2015). Mapping Controversies with Social Media: The Case for Symmetry. Social Media + Society, 1.

Marres, N., & Weltevrede, E. (2013). Scraping the Social? Issues in Live Social Research. Journal of Cultural Economy, 6, 313–335.

Marres, N., & Rogers, R. (2005). Recipe for Tracing the Fate of Issues and Their Publics on the Web. In B. Latour & P. Weibel (Eds.), Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy (pp. 922–935). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Moats, D., & Borra, E. (2018). Quali-Quantitative Methods Beyond Networks: Studying Information Diffusion on Twitter with the Modulation Sequencer. Big Data & Society, 5.

Nieborg, D. B. (2015). Crushing Candy: The Free-to-Play Game in Its Connective Commodity Form. Social Media + Society, 1.

Nieborg, D. B., & Helmond, A. (2018). The political economy of Facebook’s platformization in the mobile ecosystem: Facebook Messenger as a platform instance. Media, Culture & Society, 1–23.

Niederer, S., & van Dijck, J. (2010). Wisdom of the crowd or technicity of content? Wikipedia as a sociotechnical system. New Media & Society, 12, 1368–1387.

Rieder, B. (2012). What is in PageRank? A Historical and Conceptual Investigation of a Recursive Status Index. Computational Culture.

Rieder, B. (2013). Studying Facebook via data extraction: the Netvizz application. In Proceedings of the 5th Annual ACM Web Science Conference (pp. 346–355). ACM.

Rieder, B., Matamoros-Fernández, A., & Coromina, Ò. (2018). From ranking algorithms to ‘ranking cultures’: Investigating the modulation of visibility in YouTube search results. Convergence, 24, 50–68.

Rieder, B., & Röhle, T. (2012). Digital Methods: Five Challenges. In D. M. Berry (Ed.), Understanding Digital Humanities (pp. 67–84). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rieder, B., & Röhle, T. (2017). Digital Methods: From Challenges to Bildung. In M. T. Schafer & K. van Es (Eds.), The Datafied Society: Studying Culture Through Data (pp. 109–124). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Rogers, R. (2013). Digital Methods. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Rogers, R. (2017). Doing Web history with the Internet Archive: screencast documentaries. Internet Histories, 1, 160–172.

Rogers, R. (2018). Otherwise Engaged: Social Media from Vanity Metrics to Critical Analytics. International Journal of Communication, 12, 450–472.

Rogers, R. (2018). Social Media Research After the Fake News Debacle. Partecipazione e Conflitto, 11, 557-570–570.

Rogers, R. (2019). Doing Digital Methods. London: SAGE Publications.

Rogers, R., Sánchez-Querubín, N., & Kil, A. (2015). Issue Mapping for an Ageing Europe. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam Press. Retrieved from http://www.oapen.org/record/569806

Ruppert, E., Law, J., & Savage, M. (2013). Reassembling Social Science Methods: The Challenge of Digital Devices. Theory, Culture & Society, 30, 22–46.

Seaver, N. (2017). Algorithms as Culture: Some Tactics for the Ethnography of Algorithmic Systems. Big Data & Society, 4, 2053951717738104.

Venturini, T. (2010). Diving in magma: how to explore controversies with actor-network theory. Public Understanding of Science, 19, 258–273.

Venturini, T. (2012). Building on faults: How to represent controversies with digital methods. Public Understanding of Science, 21, 796–812.

Venturini, T., Bounegru, L., Gray, J., & Rogers, R. (2018). A reality check(list) for digital methods. New Media & Society.

Venturini, T., Munk, A., & Meunier, A. (2018). Data-Sprinting: A Public Approach to Digital Research. In C. Lury, R. Fensham, A. Heller-Nicholas, S. Lammes, A. Last, M. Michael, & E. Uprichard (Eds.), Handbook of Interdisciplinary Research Methods. London: Routledge.

Weltevrede, E., & Borra, E. (2016). Platform Affordances and Data Practices: The Value of Dispute on Wikipedia. Big Data & Society, 3.

Weltevrede, E., Helmond, A., & Gerlitz, C. (2014). The Politics of Real-time: A Device Perspective on Social Media Platforms and Search Engines. Theory, Culture & Society, 31, 125–150.

Assessment

4000 word essay 100%

The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

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