Emerging Methods for Digital Media Research: An Introduction

I’m very pleased to be able to announce that the methods-focused special issue of the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media (JOBEM) edited with my CCI colleagues Axel Bruns and Larissa Hjorth is out now.

When the original Call for Papers went out we had an extraordinary response, and it was genuinely difficult to sort through so many great abstracts to get to a balanced set of papers, but I am totally happy with the results – this is a special issue that I think really is more than the sum of its parts, making a statement about the state of the art and the forward agenda for questions of methodology in our field. And I know that for sure I’ll be using these papers in my own work in the immediate future.

Thanks to the efforts of the journal’s general editor Zizi Papacharissi the full issue will be made open access later in 2013, but for now it’s behind a paywall. So with permission I’m reproducing the editors’ introduction here.

Bear in mind also that many of the authors work at universities with institutional repositories – it may be possible to access pre-print versions of the articles.

Emerging Methods for Digital Media Research?: An Introduction

Jean Burgess, Axel Bruns and Larissa Hjorth

Now as in earlier periods of acute change in the media environment, new disciplinary articulations are producing new methods for media and communication research. At the same time, established media and communication studies methods are being recombined, reconfigured and remediated alongside their objects of study. This special issue of JOBEM seeks to explore the conceptual, political and practical aspects of emerging methods for digital media research. It does so at the conjuncture of a number of important contemporary trends: the rise of a ‘third wave’ of the Digital Humanities and the ‘computational turn’ (Berry 2011), associated with natively digital objects as well as the methods for studying them; the apparently ubiquitous Big Data paradigm, with its various manifestations across academia, business and government, bringing with it a rapidly increasing interest in social media communication and online ‘behavior’ from the ‘hard’ sciences; along with the multisited, embodied and emplaced nature of everyday digital media practice.

The issue contains seven articles that advocate for, reflect upon or critique current methodological trends in digital media research. It ranges from a discussion of the emergence of a new wave of Digital Humanities (Neils Bruegger and Niels Ole Finneman), the potential for digital media research of emerging approaches like Media Archaeology (Frederick Lesage), the role of language in research (Randy Kluver, Heidi Campbell and Stephen Balfour), to the ways Big Data is impacting upon content analysis (Seth C. Lewis, Rodrigo Zamith, and Alfred Hermida), digital media methods (Merja Mahrt and Michael Scharkow) and the large-scale policy research potential of community media archives (Nicole Matthews and Naomi Sunderland).

The special issue begins with Randy Kluver, Heidi Campbell and Stephen Balfour’s ‘Language and the Boundaries of Research’ which argues that ‘data-driven research’ has failed to engage with its increasingly internationalized context, especially in terms of its Anglophonic or Western-centric focus. As Kluver et al. rightly identify, the field remains focused upon Western media as a placeholder for ‘global media’. Here we are reminded of the importance of understanding Digital Media in context. While Big Data can often abstract the cultural, social and linguistic nuances of digital media practice, there is a growing pool of researchers exploring interdisciplinary methods such as ‘ethno-mining’ that use ethnography to critique Big Data (Anderson et al. 2009) and situate digital media as part of the complex dynamics of everyday life (Coleman 2010). In their review article ‘The Value of Big Data in Digital Media Research’, Merja Mahrt and Michael Scharkow provide a critical survey of methodological approaches to media communication and how the field is being reconfigured in an age of Big Data. In particular, Mahrt and Scharkow focus upon the consequences of using Big Data at different stages of research process, in dialogue with the traditions underpinning manual quantitative and qualitative approaches. For Seth C. Lewis, Rodrigo Zamith, and Alfred Hermida in ‘Content Analysis in an Era of Big Data: A Hybrid Approach to Computational and Manual Methods’, by blending computational and manual methods one can gain insight into content. Drawing on a case study of Twitter, Lewis et al. argue that a hybrid method of computational and manual techniques can provide both systematic rigor and contextual sensitivity.

This is followed by Anne Galloway’s ‘Emergent Media Technologies, Speculation, Expectation and Human/nonhuman Relations’ in which Galloway draws on her background as one of the earliest researchers to study ubiquitous computing to discuss the role of sociology in situating emergent media technologies as part of a cultural process involving a range of human and nonhuman actors. Here Galloway focuses upon the often-overlooked aspect of anticipation and expectation in the process of media practice and the production of imaginaries for and of the future. Drawing on the work of Bruno Latour, Galloway concludes with some thought-provoking questions for relationships between Digital Media methods and design.

For Neils Bruegger and Niels Ole Finneman in ‘The Web and Digital Humanities: Theoretical and Methodological Concerns’ there is a need for the Digital Humanities to understand the complex social, temporal and spatial dimensions of the web. Using the case study of the real-time and archived web (as a dynamic depiction, not simply a copy of what was once online) to illustrate their point, Bruegger and Finneman argue that currently the Digital Humanities is limited in its ability to capture the moving architecture of digital media. Complimenting this discussion by picking up on some aspects of the related field of software studies as well as cultural analytics and media archaeology, in ‘Cultural Biographies and Excavations of Media: Context and Process’, Frederick Lesage argues for a ‘cultural biography’ approach to the study of software as media objects – as ‘things’.

Nicole Matthews & Naomi Sunderland’s ‘Digital Life Story Narratives as Data for Policy Makers and Practitioners: Thinking Through Methodologies for Large-scale Multimedia Qualitative Datasets’ explores the role of community-based digital media narratives (e.g. via digital storytelling projects) in ‘amplifying marginalized voices in the public domain’. It is clear from Matthews and Sunderland’s piece that despite the large numbers of these projects and hence the depth of research potential in the stories they have produced, the effective deployment of this potential in social policy remains a missed articulation with political, ethical and methodological dimensions.

REFERENCES
Anderson, K., Rafus, D., Rattenbury, T., and R. Aipperspach (2009). ‘Numbers Have Qualities Too: Experiences with Ethno-Mining’, http://www2.berkeley.intel-research.net/~tlratten/public_usage_data/anderson_EPIC_2009.pdf
Berry, D. (2011). The Computational Turn: Thinking About the Digital Humanities. Culture Machine, 12. Retrieved from http://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/view/440/470
Coleman, G. (2010). Ethnographic Approaches to Digital Media. Annual Review of Anthropology, 39: 487–505.

Articles

1. Randy Kluver, Heidi Campbell and Stephen Balfour, Language and the Boundaries of Research: Media Monitoring Technologies in International Media Research

2. Merja Mahrt and Michael Scharkow, The Value of Big Data in Digital Media Research

3. Seth C. Lewis, Rodrigo Zamith, and Alfred Hermida, Content Analysis in an Era of Big Data: A Hybrid Approach to Computational and Manual Methods

4. Anne Galloway, Emergent Media Technologies, Speculation, Expectation and Human/Nonhuman Relations

5. Neils Bruegger and Niels Ole Finneman, The Web and Digital Humanities: Theoretical and Methodological Concerns

6. Frederick Lesage, Cultural Biographies and Excavations of Media: Context and Process

7. Nicole Matthews and Naomi Sunderland, Digital Life Story Narratives as Data for Policy Makers and Practitioners: Thinking Through Methodologies for Large-scale Multimedia Qualitative Datasets