Recent provocations (boyd and Crawford, 2011) about the role of “big data” in human communication research and technology studies deserve an outline of the value of anthropology, as a particular kind of “big data”.
Mary L. Gray, Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research New England and Associate Professor of Communication and Culture at Indiana University, will walk through the different dimensions of social inquiry that fall under the rubric of “big data”. She argues for attending to different dimensions rather than scales of data, more collaborative approaches to how we arrive at what we (think we) know, and critical analysis of the cultural assumptions embedded in the data we collect. By moving from the “snapshot” of quantitative work to the “time-lapse photography” of ethnography, she suggests that researchers must imagine “big data” as an on-going process of modeling, triangulation, and critique.
Gray’s current research includes work on ethnographically-informed social media research, compliance cyberinfrastructures in universities and their impact on emerging media research, online labour, and the importance of location and place in the context of mobile technologies. Her book Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America examined how youth in rural parts of the United States fashioned “queer” senses of gender and sexual identity and the role that media—particularly internet access—played in their lives and political work.