Interface Methods: Renegotiating relations between digital social research, STS and sociology

Marres, Noortje and Gerlitz, Carolin. 2016. Interface Methods: Renegotiating relations between digital social research, STS and sociology. The Sociological Review, 64(1), pp. 21-46. ISSN 0038-0261 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This paper introduces a distinctive approach to methods development in digital social research called “interface methods.” We begin by discussing various methodological confluences between digital media, social studies of science and technology (STS) and sociology. Some authors have posited significant overlap between, on the one hand, sociological and STS concepts, and on the other hand, the ontologies of digital media. Others have emphasised the significant differences between prominent methods built into digital media and those of STS and sociology. This paper advocates a third approach, one that a) highlights the dynamism and relative under-determinacy of digital methods, and b) affirms that multiple methodological traditions intersect in digital devices and research. We argue that these two circumstances enable a distinctive approach to methodology in digital social research – thinking methods as ‘interface methods’ - and the paper contextualizes this approach in two different ways. First, we show how the proliferation of online data tools or ‘digital analytics’ opens up distinctive opportunities for critical and creative engagement with methods development at the intersection of sociology, STS and digital research. Second, we discuss a digital research project in which we investigated a specific ‘interface method’, namely co-occurrence analysis. In this digital pilot study we implemented this method in a critical and creative way to analyse and visualise ‘issue dynamics’ in the area of climate change on Twitter. We evaluate this project in the light of our principal objective, which was to test the possibilities for the modification of methods through experimental implementation and interfacing of various methodological traditions. To conclude, we discuss a major obstacle to the development of ‘interface methods’: digital media are marked by particular quantitative dynamics that seem adverse to the methodological commitments of sociology and STS. To address this, we argue in favour of a methodological approach in digital social research that affirms its mal-adjustment to the research methods that are prevalent in the medium.

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Additional Information:

Funded by ESRC Digital Social Research Programme. Grant Number: ES/J010103/1


digital social research; digital methods; actor-network theory; politics of technology; inter-disciplinary methodology; social media analytics

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Sociology > Centre for Study of Invention and Social Process (CSISP) [2003-2015]


30 April 2015Accepted
14 August 2015Published Online
February 2016Published

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Date Deposited:

25 Feb 2015 09:58

Last Modified:

07 Mar 2022 09:12

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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