Following up on her earlier piece on ethnographic research in a world of big data, Jenna Burrell, sociologist and assistant professor in the School of Information at UC-Berkeley, continues her argument against the idea that big data might usher in a new era of automatic research and along with it researcher de-skilling or that it would render the scientific method obsolete.
Her latest post in structured through two questions: “What is big data?” (and therefore “What is beyond the easy reach of big data?”) and “Where do we stand in relation to this phenomenon as ethnographers, or more generally, as researchers with a bent towards qualitative and interpretivist approaches?”
Here are a few sentences that I found quite illuminating:
“There’s something that ethnographers have in common with big data enthusiasts though neither group perhaps realizes this. Though ethnography has sometimes inaptly been equated out in the wider world with interview studies, it is the immersion of the ethnographer in a social world and the attempt to observe the phenomenon of interest as it unfolds that more distinctively characterizes such a methodological stance. […] It is this the closeness to the phenomenon of interest that is a shared concern. There is a common understanding that what people say (out of context, in a private interview or survey) is not a transparent representation of what they do. Ethnographers get at this the labor-intensive way, by hanging around and witnessing things first hand. Big data people do it a different way, by figuring out ways to capture actions in the moment, i.e. someone clicked on this link, set that preference, moved from this wireless access point to that one at a particular time.
Of course a major and very important point here – ethnographers’ observations are NOT equivalent to what data logs record…and a critical point is that ethnographers don’t stop with the observation or treat it as inherently meaningful, but do a whole lot of complementary work to try to connect apparent behavior to underlying meaning.” [Emphasis by author]
A part 3 is still forthcoming.
We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.
Design 4 Disaster features an engaging illustrated safety manual for ship passengers, a personal project by Experientia designer Dohun YuLuck Jang 유록. After the Korean ferry accident last year, Yuluck (who is Korean) wanted to find a way to make safety manuals more interesting to read. He spent one year designing an interactive safety guide […]
Invitation: sharing session, Singapore, 30 March 2015 What are the hopes and fears of the elderly in Singapore? How can designers offer solutions that support the elderly in managing their health and wellness? What can healthcare professionals do to help them keep active? What role can technology play in the elderly’s daily lives? Design consultants […]
Experientia has now its own Twitter feed. Four months of Putting People First posts and other links have already been uploaded. If you followed Experientia on Twitter through the feed of its CEO, Mark Vanderbeeken, make sure to now also follow the company (but don’t unfollow Mark, who will keep on tweeting away). And while […]
Experientia’s Putting People First blog has been redesigned. It is now entirely responsive, allows for easier browsing, searching, and filtering, and features larger images on the posts. The entire history of posts remains accessible as before. We are still tweaking things and welcome any feedback.
Why the world needs anthropologists – Coming out of the ivory tower Location: Padua, Italy, Centro Culturale Altinate/San Gaetano Date and time: Friday, 5 December 2014, 13:00 – 18:00 Padua, Italy, 5 December 2014 – The second edition of the international symposium of applied anthropologists attempts to erase the boundary between ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ anthropology, […]