The proliferation of textual data: more thoughts on social science and the internet

This post is an attempt to come to grips with some emerging methodological assumptions on my part. Assumptions are the structures of analytical action, always constraining and enabling. I acknowledge that ‘assumptions’ need a high degree of solidity before they are truly actionable in terms of being able to believe the analysis the assumptions help produce. Please know I don’t consider the following assumptions actionable, yet. And please know I mean nothing coherent from asserting the following.

On social science method:

*The internet as it now exists and will likely continue to exist (only perhaps to a greater degree), massively changes how social science can be done, by whom it can be done, and who benefits when it is done.

*The internet as it now exists is above all a database of text and images, to which billions contribute. This database of databases is what changes the role of social science in society.

*The internet as social structure is the institutionalization of qualitative, symbolic data (text and images) into the everyday. People themselves contribute to the proliferation as both data readers and producers, carrying around tiny computers with “data plans.”

*The internet puts a premium on the abilities to (a) read text and images, (b) decipher a meaning almost instantaneously, and (c) respond to the text and images in the form of comments, posts, tweets, likes, follows, etc.

*For example, this past election was notable for the debate surrounding “Nate Silver,” the quantitative data analyst and author of The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail But Some Don’t (link). My theoretical statement on what it would take to have an empirical understanding of the fact of Nate Silver is the following, which I originally wrote yesterday (link): “one learned more about the social and political fact of Nate Silver by reading about him on Twitter than one did by reading his quantitative analyses.”

*The internet calls for a greater concentration within social science of methods and theoretical frameworks adapted from the sociology of knowledge.

This entry was posted in advanced capitalism, contextualized vs aggregative data, intellectual property, Media and knowledge, qualitative sociology of economics and politics, sociology, Symbolic data, symbolic vs hard data, the database, theoretical drivel. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The proliferation of textual data: more thoughts on social science and the internet

  1. Kate Zen says:

    What sorts of social science methods and theoretical frameworks ought to be adapted form the sociology of knowledge? Would you please give some reading recommendations?

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