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Missed Miracles and Mystical Connections: Qualitative Research, Digital Social Science and Big Data

Big Data? Qualitative Approaches to Digital Research

ISBN: 978-1-78441-051-3, eISBN: 978-1-78441-050-6

Publication date: 3 November 2014



This chapter critically discusses implications of working with ‘big data’ from the perspective of qualitative research and methodology. A critique is developed of the analytic troubles that come with integrating qualitative methodologies with ‘big data’ analyses and, moreover, the ways in which qualitative traditions themselves offer a challenge, as well as contributions, to computational social science.


The chapter draws on Interactionist understandings of social organisation as an ongoing production, tied to and accomplished in the actual practices of actual people. This is a matter of analytic priority but also points to a distinctiveness of sociological work which may be undermined in moving from the study of such actualities, suggesting an alternative coming crisis of empirical sociology.


A cautionary tale is offered regarding the contribution and character of sociological analysis within the ‘digital turn’. It is suggested that ‘big data’ analyses of traces abstracted from actual people and their practices not only miss and distort the relation of social practice to social product but, consequentially, can take on an ideological character.


The chapter offers an original contribution to current discussions and debates surrounding ‘big data’ by developing enduring critiques of sociological methodology and analysis. It concludes by pointing to contributions and interventions that such an empirical programme of qualitative research might make in the context of the ‘digital turn’ and is of value to those working at the interface of traditional and digital(ised) inquiries and methods.



Smith, R.J. (2014), "Missed Miracles and Mystical Connections: Qualitative Research, Digital Social Science and Big Data", Big Data? Qualitative Approaches to Digital Research (Studies in Qualitative Methodology, Vol. 13), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 181-204.



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