Volume 23, Issue 3
  • ISSN: 1385-1535
  • E-ISSN: 1875-7324


The future of ethnography in the Big Data era

By taking an ethnographic viewpoint, Beuving explores knowledge claims about Big Data (BD) as discussed in Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’ best-selling book Everybody Lies (2017). It portrays BD in a way that evokes affinity with ethnography: as a naturalistic research practice that makes small subpopulations visible and discloses people’s hidden motives. But for Beuving this threefold assertion appears to rest on misguided conceptions. For the ethnographic researcher, naturalism refers to a reflexive practice, yet the BD researcher associates it with researcher invisibility. And the term population, which has a statistical meaning in BD, has a strong theoretical connotation in ethnography. Finally, motives in BD are about direct interpretation of revealed preferences as social facts, whereas the ethnographer considers them to be expressions of social behavior that require a Verstehende interpretation.

Bosch sees the relation of ethnography and Big Data research as a new form of Methodenstreit, which urges qualitative researchers to develop and apply user-oriented analysis techniques. Gigengack stresses that ethnography and Big Data are in fact incompatible. They should not be seen as methodological rivals in understanding society and social conduct. Ethnography and Big Data analyses are different perspectives on the social world. Ethnography should study the world of Internet behavior as it studies religious rites or societal identities.


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