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IM904 Digital Objects, Digital Methods


20/30 (CORE) CATS - (10/15 ECTS)

In the era of networks, big data and the digital turn, traditional objects, such as documents, pictures, data, groups, events or patterns, open up to new methods of research.

Emerging digital research methods also become means through which such objects are sustained, thus co-creating dynamic objects, such as networks, databases, platforms, data visualizations, maps and many other new forms of social, cultural and public life. This module offers an insight into these new and emerging societal and cultural entities and methodologies. We will take a number of digital objects relevant to the social sciences and humanities and analyse them using digital methods, including network analysis, software studies, content analysis, issue mapping, and others. Digital media research sits alongside social studies of computational technologies and cultural theory as the fields that emerging digital methods take inspiration from.

The module is open to students from all disciplines; no specific prior knowledge is required.

Module Convenor - Dr Nate Tkacz


For 20 CATS:

20% 1000-word scoping study presented in a group presentation and a report
on the project/presentation; 80% 3500-word essay.

For 30 CATS:

20% 1000-word scoping study presented in a group presentation and a report
on the project/presentation; 80% 5000-word essay.
(Students on the MA Digital Media and Culture must take the 30 CATS version of this

Indicative Syllabus

Week 1: Introducing Digital Methods
This session introduces students to recent debates about the role of methods in research, culture and society. It discusses opportunities and challenges that the digital opens up for the roles that digital objects and methods play in social, cultural and media research, and introduces the so called "digital methods" debate, addressing fundamental questions such as: How does media technology affect how we research culture and society? Has digitization given rise to 'natively digital' objects and methods? Does the digital make possible new approaches to how we assemble methods, objects and techniques in research and social, cultural and public life?

Required Reading:
Marres, Noortje. ‘The Redistribution of Methods: On Intervention in Digital Social Research, Broadly Conceived’: The Sociological Review, 1 June 2012.
Venturini, Tommaso, Liliana Bounegru, Jonathan Gray, and Richard Rogers. ‘A Reality Check(List) for Digital Methods’: New Media & Society, 20 April 2018.

Week 2: Search
Querying search engines has become a widespread common practice around the globe, and many platforms have integrated dedicated search or 'information retrieval' features as part of their service provision. In an information landscape often described in terms of 'overload', search engines' ostensive goal is to order information and make it easily accessible. As mediators of access, search engines play a crucial role in culture; they act as gatekeepers, curators, or filterers of our informational realities. Search engines are a topic of research in their own right, but they have also been repurposed to help conduct social and cultural research. This week will explore the possibilities of search as a method, or 'search as research', as Richard Rogers puts it. We explore how search queries can be used to study the 'medium' of search engines and their interfaces, as well as how it has been used to 'ground' more explicitly social and cultural inquiry.

Required Reading:
Noble, Safiya Umoja. ‘Searching for Black Girls’. In Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, Illustrated edition. New York: NYU Press, 2018.
Rogers, Richard. ‘Query Design’. In The Datafied Society. Studying Culture through Data, edited by Mirko Tobias Schäfer and Karin Es, van, 75–94. Amsterdam University Press, 2017.

Week 3: Networks
This session offers an introduction to networks as a digital object and method. The lecture introduces three different methods for digital research on networks developed in social and cultural research and cognate fields: social network analysis, actor network theory and issue network research. We then examine the possibilities that the digital opens up for the further development of these approaches to network analysis. Students will be introduced to the idea of medium-specific network analysis, through an exploration of hyperlink analysis.

Required Reading:
Bounegru, Liliana, Tommaso Venturini, Jonathan Gray, and Mathieu Jacomy. ‘Narrating Networks’. Digital Journalism 5, no. 6 (3 July 2017): 699–730.
Venturini, Tommaso, Mathieu Jacomy, and Debora Pereira. ‘Visual Network Analysis: The Example of the Rio+20 Online Debate’, January 2015.

Week 4: Comments

From early bulletin boards, discussion forums, and blogs, to the social media platforms that dominate contemporary digital cultures, the internet has fostered the rise of a 'participatory' media landscape. Indeed, the participatory quality of digital, networked media are one of the ways these media were defined against older 'broadcast' media. But, all participation is not created equal. This week, we consider what has been described as 'the bottom half of the web': comments. Comments are one of the main things that people do online; they are often informal, 'vernacular', and common across many platforms. They give voice to the ordinary, the intimate, as much as they often reveal the uglier sides of human nature. The technical and cultural specificity of different digital platforms also gives rise to unique 'comment cultures', with distinct norms, aesthetic sensibilities that become available for digital research through different types of textual and content analysis. This lecture introduces students to the academic study of comments and shows a number of current ways they are approached methodologically.

Required Reading:
Abidin, Crystal, Emily van der Nagel, Amelia Johns, Francesco Bailo, Aleesha Rodriguez, Bondy Valdovinos-Kaye, Patrik Wikstrom, Ysabel Gerrard, and Tama Leaver. ‘“PLEASE READ THE COMMENTS”: COMMENTING CULTURES ACROSS PLATFORMS’. AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research, 5 October 2020. (Note: this is not a typical reading. It is a conference proceeding which gives an overview of research presented at a conference. It is included to show the most recent work on the topic.)
Reagle, J. M. ‘Comment: The Bottom Half of the Web’. In Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web, 1–19. MIT Press, 2015.
Xu, Yizhou. ‘The Postmodern Aesthetic of Chinese Online Comment Cultures’. Communication and the Public 1, no. 4 (1 December 2016): 436–51.

Week 5: Content

In the last session, we explored 'comments' as a particular kind of digital object. While a form of content in their own right, comments have often been defined against the 'main', 'official' or 'influential' content that features on the web. This week we extend the discussion to consider digital content in general and tie this to the research tradition of content analysis. As we shall see, digital content can be highly diverse in terms of subject matter, media form(at) and 'technicity'. We will therefore focus on approaching content with sensitivity to the platform dynamics and cultures within which content is produced.

Required Reading:
Beytía, Pablo, and Claudia Wagner. ‘Visibility Layers: A Framework for Facing the Complexity of the Gender Gap in Wikipedia Content [Working Paper]’. SocArXiv, 2020.
Niederer, Sabine. The Study of Networked Content: Five Considerations for Digital Research in the Humanities. Big Data in the Arts and Humanities. Auerbach Publications, 2018.


Week 7: Images

This week marks a shift away from text-based methods and objects to visual, image-based media. From the circulation of memes on image boards and alternative forums to aesthetic cultures fostered by dedicated image platforms such as Instagram, images feature prevalently in digital cultures. Digital images have generated their own distinct aesthetics and vernaculars - such as selfies, memes and image macros, and glitch - which derive, in part, from the technical specificity of digital images and the platform conditions within which they circulate. Such images can be studied in a number of distinct ways, as data objects, as things reflecting platform dynamics, as visual/semiotic forms, and so on. This week, we introduce a number of ways to think about images as digital objects; how such images can be studied in their own right, or within a larger research project.

Required Readings:
Niederer, Sabine, and Gabriele Colombo. ‘Visual Methodologies for Networked Images: Designing Visualizations for Collaborative Research, Cross-Platform Analysis, and Public Participation’. Revista Diseña, no. 14 (4 February 2019): 40–67.
Vis, Farida, Simon Faulkner, Safiya Umoja Noble, and Hannah Guy. ‘When Twitter Got #woke: Black Lives Matter, DeRay McKesson, Twitter, and the Appropriation of the Aesthetics of Protest’. In The Aesthetics of Global Protest, edited by Aidan McGarry, Itir Erhart, Hande Eslen-Ziya, Olu Jenzen, and Umut Korkut, 247–66. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2019.

Week 8: Measure/Rank
Digital cultures contribute significantly to society's 'datafication'. This week we look more closely into the cultural practices, objects and methods that result from widespread datafication and the use of algorithms. We will look at two closely related things: measures (or metrics) and ranks. Both are productive of digital objects, such as the total number of shares, likes, favs, followers, and so on, or top ten lists, most read articles, or the creation of a newsfeed. Both are also methods. We reflect on the role of measure and rank in digital culture, as well as how they can be used for research.

Required Reading:
Bucher, Taina. ‘Life at the Top: Engineering Participation'. In If...then: Algorithmic Power and Politics. Oxford University Press, 2018.
Rieder, Bernhard, Ariadna Matamoros-Fernández, and Òscar Coromina. ‘From Ranking Algorithms to “Ranking Cultures”: Investigating the Modulation of Visibility in YouTube Search Results’. Convergence 24, no. 1 (1 February 2018): 50–68.

Week 9: People/Traces
This week we will examine ethnographic methods and some of the ways in which they can be turned to the study of digital objects. Ethnographic methods were developed for the study of human culture and social life, and are one of the principle methodologies used for qualitative social research. We will reflect on what we may learn from this history about wider methodological issues, in particular the role of data in research and the role of first-hand understanding. We will also consider the future of the method, and competing adaptations of ethnographic approaches for the study of digital objects. We will also reflect on the role of methods such as ethnography in the development of digital technologies, through their adoption as part of the toolkit of design, and the interesting ways that methods can become an object of study in their own right.

For the seminar, students will need to read two texts. The first is the introduction to Horst and Miller’s influential book ‘Digital Anthropology’. The second is the development of a method Geiger and Ribes have named ’trace ethnography’. Students should prepare by carefully examining how each text sets out a methodological problem, how they argue for their particular agenda, and what differences they imply for what ‘doing a digital ethnography’ would entail and what kind of object of study it might have.

Required Reading:
Horst, Heather A, & Daniel Miller. ‘The Digital and the Human: A prospectus for digital anthropology’ in Horst & Miller (eds) Digital Anthropology. New York: Routledge 2012
Geiger, R Stuart, and David Ribes. ‘Trace Ethnography: Following Coordination through Documentary Practices’. In 2011 44th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 1–10. Kauai, HI: IEEE, 2011.

10. Conclusion: Thinking Methodologically
The final session will reflect on and pull together the overarching themes of the module. At this stage, all students will have explored a number of digital objects and methods across different platforms. This lecture will focus on the question of how to think 'methodologically', focusing on questions of inventiveness, media dynamism and hybrid forms of expertise (and related research).

Required Reading:
Dieter, Michael, Carolin Gerlitz, Anne Helmond, Nathaniel Tkacz, Fernando N. van der Vlist, and Esther Weltevrede. ‘Multi-Situated App Studies: Methods and Propositions’. Social Media + Society 5, no. 2 (1 April 2019).

Learning Outcomes

  • to identify and analyse key methodological innovations that respond to the changing nature of research objects;
  • to reflect on the advanced debates across disciplines tackling new generations of methods dealing with digital change and to be able to creatively and independently evaluate and interpret existing scholarship and new methods;
  • to critically interpret and analyse new objects of research using advanced conceptual vocabulary and interdisciplinary innovative methods, both individually and in collaboration;
  • to produce independent research that practically applies some of the methods offered in the course of study, focusing on the new objects produced by digitization;
  • to demonstrate an ability for critical analysis and evaluation of current research and methodological innovation;
  • to demonstrate an ability to analyse new objects of research using interdisciplinary methodologies and new methods, individually and in groups;
  • to demonstrate an ability to formulate, plan, evaluate and conduct own independent research, making use of new and advances methods, some based on software applications or platforms.

Important Registration Information:

CIM Students

  • You will need to make your optional module choices using the degree specific CIM module webform available in the CIM welcome page. All further instructions will be available to you on the webform.

  • The webform opens on Monday 12th September at 12:00 noon BST and closes on Monday 19th September at 12:00 noon BST

  • Gheerdhardhini (CIM PG Coordinator) will register you for your chosen modules, confirming your place in the module by 30th September, Friday.

  • If there are any queries, please get in touch with Gheerdhardhini via 

External Students

  • Computer Science – Please register your interest in the CIM module with the PG Administrator in your home department - 

  • Psychology - Your PG Administrator will be in touch before Term 1 about registering interest for CIM modules

  • All other external students - Please contact the CIM PG Coordinator (Gheerdhardhini) via email (, to request your optional module choice at the latest by Week 1 : Wednesday, 5th October, 17.00 BST.


  • Please be advised that you may be expected to have access to a laptop for some of these courses due to software requirements; the Centre is unable to provide a laptop for external students.

  • Please be advised that some modules may have restricted numbers and places are allocated according to availability and inter-departmental arrangements.

  • Please note that a request does NOT guarantee a place on the module and is subject to availability.

  • Gaining permission of a member of CIM teaching staff or a member of staff from your home department or filling in the eVision Module Registration (eMR) system with the desired module does NOT guarantee a place on that module.

  • Requests after the specified deadline will not be considered.

  • For external students - Only after confirmation of a place from CIM PG Coordinator can students’ or their home departments confirm their registration on eVision/MRM. Registrations by students who have not received confirmation of a place from CIM will be rejected via the system.

NOTE – The above-mentioned registration deadline also applies to the CIM optional modules running in Term 2. We will consider registrations again in the first week of Term 2, but only in relation to modules where there is availability.

We are normally unable to allow students (registered or auditing) to join/leave the module after the second week of it commencing.