Digital Ways of Knowing: New Opportunities for Qualitative Inquiry?

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This presentation will discuss some of the challenges in developing a Research Methods curriculum for a new undergraduate programme in Digital Management. One aim is to highlight 1) the need for qualitative inquiry into a field characterized by 'digital ways of knowing' enabled by digital transformations and 2) the usefulness of data analytics as long as the quantitative techniques employed are "mindful and open with respect to their epistemological shortcomings, drawing on critical social theory to frame how the research is conducted" (Kitchin, 2014).The Research Methods (RM) course will be based on critical (and possibly activist?) scholarship on digital transformations, including the emerging field of Digital Sociology (Marres, 2017; Lupton 2014). Marres (2017) calls attention to a need to "grasp the methodological implications of ‘the digital’ for social enquiry" (p. 37) suggesting that the digital transformation of society is "a development in which social, technical and epistemic processes fuse in ways we need to understand much better than we do now." (p. 10).The programme in Digital Management comprises three main areas of study: business administration, digital technologies & data, and sociological and organisational perspectives. It does not focus on technology as such, but rather on the interactions and interrelations between technology, data, business and society, and how digital transformations and data-driven approaches open new ways of working and pose new challenges. The RM course (starting in 2019, 15 ECTS) will be organized across 4 semesters and i.a. include 4 workshop sessions. The focus will be on quantitative, qualitative and automated modes of analysis and discussions of how different disciplinary framings may yield different objects of inquiry and different ways of knowing.The workshop that I will discuss in my presentation (planned for their 4th semester) Do numbers speak for themselves? will focus on methods of knowing, algorithmic authority, "truth" and interpretation; unmediated vs. mediated access to reality. It aims at targeting a central controversy about research methods in the field of digital transformations and a possible return to empiricism. For the purposes of the conference presentation, the discussion will illustrate the activist potential built into the curriculum. Further, the example aims to pinpoint a fundamental need to pair off quantitative methodologies with qualitative questions, and in general, critical scholarship in this field.The starting point is a provocative piece: The End of Theory, 2008, by former editor-in-chief at Wired magazine who contends that "Who knows why people do what they do? The point is they do it, and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves". This, according to his critics, reveals "an arrogant undercurrent in many Big Data debates where other forms of analysis are too easily sidelined. Other methods for ascertaining why people do things ... are lost in the sheer volume of numbers. This is not a space that has been welcoming to older forms of intellectual craft." (boyd and Crawford, 2012).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationECQI 2019 Abstract Book
Number of pages1
Place of PublicationLeuven
PublisherKatholieke Universiteit Leuven
Publication date2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventEuropean Congress of Qualitative Inquiry 2019: Qualitative Inquiry as Activism - University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 12 Feb 201915 Feb 2019
Conference number: 3


ConferenceEuropean Congress of Qualitative Inquiry 2019
LocationUniversity of Edinburgh
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Epistemology
  • Digital transformations
  • Digital sociology
  • Research methods
  • Curriculum

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