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Archive for the ‘mere empirics’ Category

defending computational ethnography

Earlier this week, I suggested a lot is to be gained by using computational techniques to measure and analyze qualitative materials, such as ethnographic field notes. The intuition is simple. Qualitative research uses, or produces, a lot of text. Normally, we have to rely on the judgment of the researcher. But now, we have tools that can help us measure and sort the materials, so that we have a firmer basis on which to make claims about what our research does and does not say.

The comments raised a few issues. For example, Neal Caren wrote:

 This is like saying that you want your driverless cars to work for Uber while you are sleeping. While it sounds possible, as currently configured neither ethnographic practices nor quantitative text analysis are up to the task.
This is puzzling. No one made this claim. If people believe that computers will do qualitative work by collecting data or developing hypotheses and research strategies, then they are mistaken. I never said that nor did I imply it. Instead, what I did suggest is that computer scientists are making progress on detecting meaning and content and are doing so in ways that would help research map out or measure text. And with any method, the researcher is responsible for providing definitions, defining the unit of analysis and so forth. Just as we don’t expect regression models to work “while you are sleeping,” we don’t expect automated topic models or other techniques to work without a great level of guidance from people. It’s just a tool, not a magic box.
Another comment was meant as a criticism, but actually supports my point. For example, J wrote:
This assumes that field notes are static and once written, go unchanged. But this is not the consensus among ethnographers, as I understand the field. Jonathan van Maanen, for example, says that field notes are meant to be written and re-written constantly, well into the writing stage. And so if this is the case, then an ethnographer can, implicitly or intentionallly, stack the deck (or, in this case, the data) in their favor during rewrites. What is “typical” can be manipulated, even under the guise of computational methods.
Exactly. If we suspect that field notes and memos are changing after each version, we can actually test that hypothesis. What words appear (or co-appear) in each version? Do word combinations with different sentiments or meanings change in each version? I think it would be extremely illuminating to see what each version of an ethnographer’s notes keeps or discards. Normally, this is impossible to observe and, when reported (which is rare), hard to measure. Now, we actually have some tools.
Will computational ethnography be easy or simple? No. But instead of pretending that qualitative research is buried in a sacred and impenetrable fog of meaning, we can actually apply the tools that are now becoming routine in other areas for studying masses of text. It’s a great frontier to be working in. More sociologists should look into it.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($1!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street!! 

Written by fabiorojas

January 23, 2015 at 12:01 am

computational ethnography

An important frontier in sociology is computational ethnography – the application of textual analysis, topic modelling, and related techniques to the data generated through ethnographic observation (e.g., field notes and interview transcripts). I got this idea when I saw a really great post-doc present a paper at ASA where historical materials were analyzed using topic modelling techniques, such as LDA.

Let me motivate this with a simple example. Let’s say I am a school ethnographer and I make a claim about how pupils perceive teachers. Typically, the ethnographer would offer an example from his or her field notes that illustrates the perceptions of the teacher. Then, someone would ask, “is this a typical observation?” and then the ethnographer would say, “yes, trust me.”

We no longer have to do that. Since ethnographers produce text, one can use topic models to map out themes or words that tend to appear in field notes and interview transcripts. Then, all block quotes from fields notes and transcripts can be compared to the entire corpus produced during field work. Not only would it attest to the commonality of a topic, but also how it is embedded in a larger network of discourse and meaning.

Cultural sociology, the future is here.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($1!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street!! 

Written by fabiorojas

January 20, 2015 at 12:01 am

more tweets, more votes: it works for TV!!!

nielsen-social-tv

Within informatics, there is a healthy body of research showing how social media data can be used for forecasting future consumption. The latest is from a study by Nielsen, which shows some preliminary evidence that Twitter activity forecasts television program popularity. In their model, adding Twitter data increases the explained variance in how well a TV show will in addition to data on promotions and network type. Here’s the summary from Adweek.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($1!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street!!

Written by fabiorojas

January 14, 2015 at 12:07 am

building computational sociology: from the academic side

Before the holiday, we asked – what should computational sociologists know? In this post, I’ll discuss what sociology programs can do:

  • Hire computational sociologists. Except for one or two cases, computational sociologists have had a very tough time finding jobs in soc programs, especially the PhD programs. That has to change, or else this will be quickly absorbed by CS/informatics. We should have an army of junior level computational faculty but instead the center of gravity is around senior faculty.
  • Offer courses: This is a bit easier to do, but sociology lags behind. Every single sociology program at a serious research university, especially those with enginerring programs should offer undergrad and grad courses.
  • Certificates and minors: Aside from paperwork, this is easy. Hand out credentials for a bundle of soc and CS courses.
  • Hang out: I have learned so much from hanging out with the CS people. It’s amazing.
  • Industry: This deserves its own post, but we need to develop a model for interacting with industry. Right now, sociology’s model is: ignore it if we can, lose good people to industry, and repeat. I’ll offer my own ideas next week about how sociology can fruitfully interact with the for profit sector.

Add your own ideas in the comments.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($1!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street!!

Written by fabiorojas

January 2, 2015 at 5:27 am

zeynep tufekci and brayden king on data and privacy in the new york times

My co-bloggers are on a roll. Zynep Tufekci and Brayden King have an op-ed in the New York Times on the topic of privacy and data:

UBER, the popular car-service app that allows you to hail a cab from your smartphone, shows your assigned car as a moving dot on a map as it makes its way toward you. It’s reassuring, especially as you wait on a rainy street corner.

Less reassuring, though, was the apparent threat from a senior vice president of Uber to spend “a million dollars” looking into the personal lives of journalists who wrote critically about Uber. The problem wasn’t just that a representative of a powerful corporation was contemplating opposition research on reporters; the problem was that Uber already had sensitive data on journalists who used it for rides.

Buzzfeed reported that one of Uber’s executives had already looked up without permission rides taken by one of its own journalists. Andaccording to The Washington Post, the company was so lax about such sensitive data that it even allowed a job applicant to view people’s rides, including those of a family member of a prominent politician. (The app is popular with members of Congress, among others.)

Read it. Also, the Economist picked up Elizabeth and Kieran’s posts 0n inequality and airlines.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power

Written by fabiorojas

December 8, 2014 at 4:39 am

“chicago economics,” “chicago sociology,” and “chicago anything else”

Near the end of James Heckman’s lecture on the scholarly legacy of Gary Becker, Heckman argued that Becker was a fine addition to the legacy of “Chicago economics.” He didn’t mean that Becker was a monetarist – the “Chicago school” of Friedman and his followers. Instead, he meant that Becker fit in well with the long tradition of great Chicago economic thinkers including not only free marketers (like Friedman) but also liberals (Paul Douglas), socialists (Oscar Lange), and weirdos (Thorstein Veblen). But what does that mean? Here is what it means:

  1. People know the whole field of economics, they aren’t just narrow specialists.
  2. Economics is not a parlor game. It is important.
  3. Empirical work is important and it is not devalued.

Thumbs up. But let me extend it. This Chicago attitude should extend to the whole of social sciences. People ask me, for example, why I was so damn harsh on the critical realists and the post-modernists. Why? Because what I do is important. It is empirical and it reflects what I’ve learned from absorbing the hard earned lessons of my predecessors. So when I see scholarship sink into a miasma of words, or the toy tinkering with cuteonomics, I can only conclude that the person is here to play games, not figure out how the world works. Excuse me while I get back to work.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power

Written by fabiorojas

December 1, 2014 at 12:01 am

snow snow snow

Here in the non-Buffalo part of upstate New York, we just got our first big snow dump of the year. Okay, it was seven inches, not sixty, but enough to create that Winter Wonderland effect. Fortunately for us, my family’s not traveling till Saturday, so we’re not stuck in an airport or behind an accident on the interstate, but watching from our cozy living room.

Last year, we were living in central New Jersey. It’s only 3 1/2 hours to the south, but what a world of difference in terms of weather. 2013-14 was one of the ten snowiest winters in NJ, but it was still a bit less snowy than an average winter in Albany. (And Albany only gets two-thirds the snow of Buffalo, and just over half that of Syracuse.)

The big difference, of course, is that Albany is prepared for 60 inches of snow a year. Central New Jersey is not.

So, you know, we did all the things that northerners do when faced with the obvious weakness of those in more southerly climes — mostly mock them for closing things down at the first indication of snow. Of course, we realize that that’s just compensating for the fact that we live somewhere with six months of winter, but we’ll take what we can get.

Anyway, there was a map going around last winter that showed the inches of snow at which school is typically canceled in various places in the U.S. (It originally came from an awesome sounding Reddit called MapPorn.)

AvTH4d2

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by epopp

November 27, 2014 at 9:09 pm

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