Digital data potentialities for development of sociological knowledge
Dr. Sci. (Sociol.), Assoc. Prof., Faculty of Sociology, St. Petersburg State University, St. Petersburg, Russia firstname.lastname@example.org
Intensive development of Web 2.0 allowing people to communicate on the Internet resulted in a situation when almost every aspect of everyday life is represented in digital space. In spite of research using digital data being rapidly growing, interpretation of digital data is still based on models of social reality when social data was collected by question-based methods. More fruitful usage of digital data in social research might demand a fundamental reconsideration of basic sociological concepts. The article offers interpretation of the Internet as a space of digital footprints related not only to Internet subcultures, but also social reality. The purpose of this article is to answer the question how changes in the nature of data available to sociologists affect revision of basic sociological models such as social reality and social actor. Digital footprints are seen as unobtrusive measures. Some contradictions of digital footprints are described: unobtrusive character versus socio-technical construction; naturality versus digital selfpresentation; qualitative/quantitative data versus scalability of data; digital body versus biological body; availability of data versus restricted access to digital data. Possibility to follow individs through their connections using digital datasets leads to reconsideration of relations between micro- and macro-approaches. The paper treats transformation in social models as a transition from hierarchical models of social reality and social actor to the “one-level” models. B. Latour’s interpretation of Tardian notion of “monads” is considered as a model of social reality, allowing for navigation through digital datasets. Availability of information about actions and communications and absence of reliable information about the users’ demographics in digital data lead to rethinking of model of social actor. The model of social actor is considered in terms of post-demographics, presupposing that social activity explanations are based not on such traditional demographic variables as race, ethnicity, age, income and education, but tastes, choices and preferences.