Repurposing digital methods: The research affordances of platforms and engines
PhD dissertation by Esther Weltevrede
Digital research is often understood as data-driven. Yet the ways in which data are already informed by specific analytical assumptions and inscriptions of the media in which they originate, circulate, or are being used is often neglected. The thesis intervenes in such focus on digital research in two ways. First, it offers a disciplinary contribution to the areas of digital social research and software studies through the development of a device-driven perspective. Such a perspective focuses on digital media both as object and as process, and is attentive to how digital media become operative in the digital research process. Second, a contribution to digital methods is made by introducing the notion of research affordances, which provide ways to operationalize the device-driven perspective and to discuss the implications of digital media as sources of data for the research process. The contributions are developed through empirical case studies examining the modes of research afforded by significant digital media, such as controversy research with Wikipedia, real-time research with social media, censorship circumvention research with significant media in Iran, algorithm research with Google, and historical Dutch blogosphere research with the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. The thesis concludes by offering suggestions about when and how a device can be considered a good choice in the research process.
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