The Uses of Big Data in Social Research

By Prof. Ralph Schroeder, Professor of University of Oxford and Director of Social Science of the Internet

 :  06 Mar 2013 (Wed)
 :  11:30am - 12:30pm
Venue  :  Rm 3402 (lift 17/18), Academic Complex, HKUST

There has been much excitement about big data in social research, especially using data from new media. This talk will examine three examples of such research - about Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia - in order to weigh the challenges and opportunities of using big data. It will also draw on interviews that are part of an ongoing project about big data in the social sciences( It will argue that these three cases and other uses of big data highlight a new direction in the social sciences: an increasing scientization. The talk will argue that this has advantages and disadvantages, focusing not so much on issues of data access and privacy (though these will be discussed in passing), but on epistemological and theoretical issues: on the one hand, scientificity allows for powerful testing of theories and a strengthening of predictive capabilities; on the other, new technologies are poorly theorized in terms of how they fit into or depart from existing information and communication technologies, and there are also drawbacks in the application of research to short-term applied problems within
limited domains. The talk will point to ways of overcoming these lacunae.
Ralph Schroeder is Professor at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford and director of its Master's degree in 'Social Science of the Internet'. Before coming to Oxford, he was Professor at Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden. His books include 'Rethinking Science, Technology and Social Change' (Stanford University Press 2007), 'Being there Together: Social Interaction in Virtual Environments' (Oxford University Press 2010), and 'An Age of Limits: Social Theory for the 21st Century'(Palgrave MacMillan 2013). His current research is focused on the digital transformations of research.