Excellence Chair

Large-Scale Data and Qualitative Reaearch in the Study of Social Networks

Objectives of the joint research project

One of the major promises of "big data" was the ability to understand how social networks emerge, opeate, and shape human behavior on a much larger scale than previously possible. The promise was especially appealing given the role of networks in social inequality. However, as wide-eyed enthusiasm has given way to sober analysis, researchers and the public have beome increasingly aware of the limitations of such data. For example, since users of many social media platforms are not representative of the population, the platforms may misrepresent conditions for important groups, such as the homeless or the very rich. This project will examine the extent to which qualitative research can help address the limitations of computationally intensive analysis of large-scale adminstrative data. Focusing on four specific problems - boundary specification, locality of interaction, algorithmic confounding, and misinterpretation of meaning - we will examine the role of qualitative work at the level of design, interpretation, collection, and theory building with large-scale adminstrative data.