The redistribution of methods: on intervention in digital social research, broadly conceived

Marres, Noortje. 2012. The redistribution of methods: on intervention in digital social research, broadly conceived. Live Methods: Sociological Review Monographs, pp. 139-165. ISSN 978-1444339598 [Article]


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This paper contributes to debates about the implications of digital technology for social research by proposing the concept of the re-distribution of methods. Not only can this concept help to clarify these implications, it can inform our engagement with the normative and analytic promises and problems that the digitization of social life opens up for social research. I argue that in the context of digitization social research becomes noticeably a distributed accomplishment: online platforms, users, devices and informational practices actively contribute to the performance of social research. This also applies more specifically to social research methods: search engines, blogs, information visualisation tools, and so on, play a notable part in the enactment of methods on the Web. The paper explores this phenomenon in relation to online network and textual analysis, and argues that sociological research stands much to gain from engaging with it, both normatively and analytically speaking. I distinguish four predominant views on the re-distribution of digital social methods: methods-as-usual, big methods, virtual methods and digital methods. Taking up this last notion, I propose that a re-distributive understanding of social research opens up a new approach to the re-mediation of social methods in digital environments. I develop this argument through a discussion of two particular online research platforms: the Issue Crawler, a web-based platform for hyperlink analysis, and the Co-Word Machine, an online tool of textual analysis currently under development. Both these tools re-mediate existing social methods, namely co-citation analysis and co-word analysis, and I argue that, as such, they involve the attempt to render specific methodology critiques effective in the online realm. Both methods were developed in the 1970s and 1980s as a critique of then dominant methods of citation analysis. Transposing these methods online, they offer a way for social research to intervene critically in digital social research, and more specifically, in re-distributions of social methods that are currently on-going in digital media.

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Date Deposited:

06 Apr 2013 16:13

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 15:48

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