Decentring Devices : Developing Quali-Quantitative Techniques for Studying Controversies with Online Platforms

Moats, David. 2016. Decentring Devices : Developing Quali-Quantitative Techniques for Studying Controversies with Online Platforms. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis considers the role of online platforms (Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) in digital social
research from a Science and Technology Studies (STS) perspective and proposes new conceptual,
methodological and visual tactics, drawing on a series of empirical case studies concerning controversies
over nuclear power.

Recent work in STS seeks to map science controversies (GM foods, nanotechnology, climate change, etc.
Venturini 2010) using digital tools, which repurpose online platforms for social research (Rogers 2009).
Yet these platforms not only provide data about controversies, they may also intervene in them as well
andI propose that this requires studying them ‘in action’, drawing on the techniques of controversy
analysis (Latour 1987) and actor-network theory (ANT). However, this research presents several
challenges. How to delineate a study when controversies transcend particular platforms? How to define
what is relevant when these platforms have their own relevance-defining metrics? How to track
information flows within or between platforms?

The central argument of this thesis is that while researchers should capitalise on the affordances of
these platforms, they must diverge from them as well. Theoretically, this means maintaining a tension
between studying controversies and studying the platforms themselves. Methodologically this means
decoupling methods from platform data structures: scraping less obvious data, juxtaposing quantitative
and qualitative traces and presenting data in novel ways. Over three case studies, I will develop a series
of mapping techniques for analysing controversies which qualify the quantitative and make the less
calculable more calculable, revealing imbalances in the articulation and dissemination of controversies
online which would remain hidden to platform-specific or qualitative approaches on their own. These
exploratory techniques, which draw on work in the sociology of scientific representations (Woolgar and
Lynch 1992), have implications for debates about big data, digital sociology, media studies and the
relationship between quantitative and qualitative methods.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Sociology, Big Data, ANT, STS, Science Controversies, Data Visualisations, Social Media

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



29 February 2016

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

11 Mar 2016 15:53

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 15:24


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