Introduction Technology and Social Research The Internet & Social Research Some Key Issues Integration, adaptation or innovation? Conclusion(s)
Technology & Social Research Technological innovation has always been a double-edged sword in social research (Seidel 1993). Impact of new technologies in relation to social scientific research. Change the ‘craft’ of social research in unanticipated ways.
Technology & Social Research Extent to which research process and data analysis will be shaped by the technology. Debates concerning the ways in which technology can either enhance / restrict the research. How will technology affect the theories and methods of social research?
Technology & Social Research Camera Typewriter Telephone Audio-tape Video camcorder Computing / software packages The Internet
Key Issues: The Internet Volume of data: sacrifice resolution for scope. Alter the relationship between the researcher and the data. Distancing of the researcher from the data Validity / reliability / authenticity of research Reconfigure the relationship between the researcher and researched. Quick solutions / premature theoretical closure.
The Internet & Social Research “Accessible, economical and efficient instrument of data collection” (Jensen 2000) Beneficial - quantitative & qualitative research. Means of finding populations and forming connections. Scope for cross-cultural research. Scope for collecting large volumes of data in a relatively short period of time.
The Internet & Social Research Potentially large / diverse pool of respondents / participants. Access small-scale communities of interest. Hidden population samples. Barriers / boundaries: distance / time / space & place can be traversed. “Facilitates a form of inquiry which is non-linear and multi-focal” (Ferguson 2004). Relatively cost-effective - inexpensive.
“whilst it is important that the potential of the Internet is grasped it is equally important that its limitations on research are understood” (Coomber 1997) “enthusiasm tempered with caution” (Hine 2004) Theoretical, methodological and ethical issues involved
Limitations “One of the most challenging limitations is the changing nature of the internet” (Sheehan & Hoy 2004). “Unique mixture of the ephemeral and the permanent” (Schneider & Foot 2004) “A further challenge for social science is the paradox that the Internet can encourage greater honesty, openness and trust while also creating unparalleled opportunities for deception, misrepresentation and cheating” (Joinson 2005)
Limitations “Given the indirect, non-proximal nature of Internet interactions, there is more scope for participants to deceive the researcher about factors such as their age, sex, nationality and so on (Hewson et al 2003) Reduced levels of researcher control - over participants, materials, procedures and data. Complexity / power of web technology. Software / hardware variations: technological expertise of researcher / participants. Sampling bias & the Internet user population.
The Internet & Social Research “traditional research methodologies are wedded to a conception of a relatively fixed object of study…the underlying presumption is that the subject matter will remain relatively stable and the research will retain relevance” (Gergen & Gergen:2003) Internet: reconfiguring the idea of research including the identities of the researcher, researched and audience.
Adaptation, Integration or Innovation? Internet & World Wide Web: distinctive technical features (Wakeford 2000) Raises important issues for direction / future of social research. Adapting existing methodologies / tools to a new medium? Integration of the Internet into traditional frameworks? Innovation: creating new methodologies?
Conclusion(s) Introduction of new technology into the research process can have both positive and negative influences. Simple transference of “existing methodological tools and frameworks to an on-line setting is extremely problematic” (Illingworth 2001) In certain respects, methodological / theoretical issues raised by the Internet and World Wide Web are not ‘new’.
Conclusion(s) Certain methodological issues are the same in the case of Internet research as in other modes of research” (Hewson et al 2003) “the new technology offers a spate of problems layered over the old” (Smith 1997).
Conclusion(s) “Not a one-stop solution for social research” (Whittaker 2004) “Considered solution” (Hine 2004)
Conclusion(s) “Rather than writing off the Internet as a serious research tool it is necessary to develop...research skills which address the challenges which the internet presents” (O`Dochartaigh 2003) Reinforcing traditional research values like scepticism, flexibility & rigour.