Critical Algorithm Lab (CALL) – University of Copenhagen

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Critical Algorithm Lab (CALL)

New methods in the meeting between qualitative and quantitative social data

Among other things, the Critical Algorithm Lab (CALL) research group studies researchers who work in a world of websites, social media and large online databases, and identifies the role that social big data can play in new forms of interdisciplinary social science.

At the same time, the group experiments with using social big data in new ways, since new digital data formats, tools and methods call for a completely different approach to describing, analysing and interpreting data in social science research.

When researchers work with social big data that can be downloaded from digital platforms, they need to be very aware of the political and ethical aspects of working with these data. In the Critical Algorithm Lab project, researchers from the fields of anthropology, sociology, and science and technology studies work on combining qualitative and quantitative data and methods in social science research.

In practice this means that the CALL researchers both study how other researchers handle new forms of digital data based on ethical and practical considerations, and at the same time take part in new interdisciplinary collaborations.

This is because digital data has a number of characteristics that challenge traditional distinctions in social science, not least the classic dividing line between quantitative and qualitative research methods.

Some researchers speak of new “quali-quantitative” methods, in which the qualitative focus on specific local situations and the bigger, quantitative picture of social patterns formed on the basis of the new enormous digital databases are no longer mutually exclusive.

But these new quali-quantitative research methods are still in their infancy, and there is a need for an ongoing methodological development and a critical evaluation of the researchers’ approach to the data material and their analytical tools. The ethical issues that arise when researchers gain access to data that originates from private individuals, companies and public authorities also need to be discussed in more detail.

It is therefore important to experiment with new ways to link data that may at first sight seem radically different. This applies, for example, to the way new digital data from mobile phones can be combined with more established methods of sociological interviews or anthropological fieldwork.

These are research methods that may provide complementary insights into our social life and the way we form friendships and networks. Through practical experiments with these types of “data stitching”, the researchers in the Critical Algorithm Lab project will contribute to a better understanding of the potentials and pitfalls that arise when researchers and others swoop onto the new kinds of big social data.

This research group is headed by Professor of Anthropology Morten Axel Pedersen and Associate Professor of Sociology Anders Blok.