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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Data Dance

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

Despite first appearing in an academic publication only in 2003, the term “big data” has swiftly become central to technology and social science. While bearing deep histories, big data is clearly linked to developments in computational storage, algorithmic analysis, mobile devices, and online sociality. But big data is also debated in the blogosphere, portrayed in mass media, discussed in everyday life. The goal of this workshop is to take these multiple meanings and practices of big data seriously by placing them in conversation with ethnographic methods. Big data has sometimes been said to imply the “death of ethnographic methods” because it ostensibly provides a more comprehensive, accurate, or unbiased view of social life. In this workshop, however, we explore emergent synergies between ethnographic methods and big data. While some speak of a quantitative versus qualitative divide as foundational to social inquiry, there is value in exploring the possibly more consequential distinction between experimental methods “in” a laboratory (based on the control of variables) versus fieldwork methods “out” in the world (based on empirically investigating contexts preexisting the research process).

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