Skip to main content

Mixing it: Experiments in Digital Social Research

Mixing it: Experiments in Digital Social Research

Issue Crawler map for hypnagogic pop. Reprinted from "From Microsound to Vaporwave", by G. Born & C. Haworth, (2018), Oxford University Press Copyright 2018. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday 25th April 2018, 14:00- 17:00
Zeeman Building, University of Warwick, MS0.

G. Born (University of Oxford),
C. Haworth (University of Birmingham)
H. Bang Carlsen (University of Copenhagen)

Discussant: T. Turnbull (Max Planck Institute, Berlin)

Chair: N. Marres (University Warwick)

Research seminar organised by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies (University of Warwick) as part of Out of Data.

Experiments are valued as sites and instruments of interdisciplinary collaboration between social, computational and creative disciplines today. This provides opportunities for methodological innovation, but also for mutual misunderstanding, as experimentation constitutes a different methodology and implies different sensibilities in different fields.

This workshop will examine the opportunities that digital research provides for experimentation between disciplines and fields. CIM has invited three speakers who have already contributed to this area of research and who come from different disciplinary backgrounds to present an examplar of experimental methodology which for them exemplifies the potential, efficacy or promise of experiments as a digital mode of inquiry. What constitutes a good experiment in digital research?

All are welcome, but places are limited, so please register to attend at Born and Haworth's paper is available upon request from


For hybrid methods: Internet-mediated musics, the social and the historical

Georgina Born (Oxford) and Christopher Haworth (Birmingham)

This presentation draws on a series of papers (listed below) in which, through a study of five prominent popular and cross-over music genres spanning the period from the late 1990s to the present, we examine how the internet is transforming musical practices. The genres are microsound, hauntology, hypnagogic pop, chillwave and vaporwave. Analysing the internet-based practices associated with the five genres -- and doing this in relation to their offline manifestations -- poses both methodological and theoretical challenges. It requires new research tools attentive to the online practices involved in their creation and reception. To this end we adapt the Issue Crawler software, a digital method that analyses networks of hyperlinking on the world-wide web. Importantly, we suggest, adequate interpretation of the IC visualisations demands that they are combined with other sources of ethnographic and historical data. In addition, we require a theoretical framework that can respond to music's profuse mediations in the digital environment. We propose that genre theory enriched with reference to mediation and assemblage theories offers such a framework. We focus in particular on two aspects of our method and analysis. First, our attempts to hybridise Issue Crawler with ethnographic and historical methods when analysing how the internet has augmented the aesthetic, discursive and social dimensions of the five genres. Our case studies demonstrate the powers of mixed methods in online research: how digital methods complement and extend ethnographic and historical insights, but equally the need to supplement Issue Crawler with other (qualitative) sources of data and analysis. Given the ascendance of primarily quantitative paradigms in the digital humanities, we mean to question this ascendance while contributing to exploration of the more complex and fertile potentials of mixed methods. Second, we highlight our approach to analysing the social and the historical in our material. In terms of the social, we extend Georgina Born's (2011, 2012, 2013) framework for analysing music's social mediations to the online environment -- which entails being attentive to four planes of social mediation. This is to demur from both ANT and SNA (social network analysis) approaches to the social. In terms of history, comparison of the five genres reveals how they represent distinctive moments in the evolution of the internet as a digital-cultural medium. To capture the internet's changing contributions to digital-music assemblages, we contend, digital methods must be attuned to the internet as a multiplicity, to its historicity, and to its cultural and historical variation. Throughout, we acknowledge that Issue Crawler can only begin to trace the many lives of music online, and we invite comments and suggestions for our next phase of work (towards a book).

‪It's mixed! How to handle ambiguity in Digital Social Inquiry ‬‬‬‬

‪Hjalmar Bang Carlsen (University of Copenhagen)‬‬‬‬

‪One of the defining features of critical inquiry is to handle rather then ignore uncertainty and ambiguity. The sociologist Andrew Abbott has argued that social research is filled with different types of ambiguities and that clarifying one often comes at the expense of intensifying another. Many of these ambiguities are due to the tension between the processual and situational nature of social action and our aims at making clear and general assertions about social life. In this talk I'll argue that digital textual data on social interaction provides an occasion for readdressing and handling ambiguity in social inquiry. This is due to digital data's quali-quantitative affordances which allows for questioning 1) the situation and process 2) the population and 3) the consequence of both one's formal and interpretative translations. By handling ambiguity I mean both to deal with ambiguity and to use ambiguity as an instrument to further inquiry. I'll critique two modes of inquiry which immaturely stops at either initial ambiguity or initial clarity and show some examples from my own research's successful and unsuccessful attempts at productively handling ambiguity. The empirical work which I use to illustrate many of the points is on the Danish Refugee Solidarity Movement mobilization on and through Facebook. In end I'll make some remarks on the mixing of interpretative and formal modes of inquiry.‬‬‬‬‬


Georgina Born is Professor of Music and Anthropology at Oxford University. Earlier in her life she worked as a musician, performing with Henry Cow, the Art Bears, the Mike Westbrook Orckestra, the Michael Nyman Band and other ensembles, and playing improvised music with Derek Bailey's Company and the London Musicians' Collective. She studied Anthropology at University College London, and her PhD was an ethnography of IRCAM, the computer music institute in Paris. Her work combines ethnographic and theoretical writings on music, new/media and cultural production. Her books are: Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez, and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde (1995), Western Music and Its Others (2000), Uncertain Vision: Birt, Dyke and the Reinvention of the BBC (2005), Music, Sound and Space (2013), Interdisciplinarity (2013), and Improvisation and Social Aesthetics (2017). From 2010 to 2015 Born directed the research programme 'Music, Digitisation, Mediation: Towards Interdisciplinary Music Studies', funded by the European Research Council, which examines the transformation of music and musical practices by digitisation and digital media through comparative ethnographies in seven countries in the developing and developed world. She is a Fellow of the British Academy where she chairs the Culture, Media and Performance section.

Hjalmar Bang Carlsen is a PhD student at the Department of Sociology and the Social Data Science Center at the University of Copenhagen. He has a MSc in Digital Sociology from Goldsmiths, University of London. His researsch sits at the intersection between computational sociology, political sociology and science and technology studies. A central question guiding his work is how we can develop both computational tools and our sociological theories as to push a more integrated quali-quantitative approach to the analysis of controversy. His PhD combines supervised machine learning, relational event analysis and qualitative text analysis in order to understand the social, cultural and political dynamics of the Refugee Solidarity Movement in Denmark. Hjalmar has published journal articles and book chapters on how social media and web algorithms change political and moral culture.

Christopher Haworth is Lecturer in 20th and 21st Century musical studies at the University of Birmingham. His broad areas of expertise lie in European and American experimental music, electronic music, and sound art, which he researches using a mixture of historiographical, philosophical, and ethnographic research methods. His current research focuses on the musical uses of computer networks, including the internet, from the late 1970s to the present, part of which involves developing and applying social data science methods that are able to track and analyse social and discursive 'traces' of musical activity online. Haworth is the author of numerous publications on experimental and electronic music and sound art, and has work published or forthcoming in such journals as Computer Music Journal, Organised Sound, Contemporary Music Review and Leonardo Music Journal.

Thomas Turnbull is a Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin. Thomas's research interests lie at the intersection of history of science and historical geography. He gained his doctorate from the School of Geography at the University of Oxford in 2017. His thesis, titled 'From Paradox to Policy: The Problem of Energy Resource Conservation in Britain and America, 1865-1981', provided a history of energy resource conservation as both science and policy. He was the Institute for Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE) Life Members Fellow in the History of Electrical and Computing Technology, and has worked as a policy advisor for an environmental think tank, and on a project involved in preserving endangered languages. His recent publications include an account of the British government's response to the 'World3' model, upon which the Limits to Growth study was based, and a review essay discussing William Thomas' book Rational Action (2015, MIT Press), and the role of critique in the history of policy science more generally.

Examples of Tumblr-based audio-visual collages from Reprinted from "From Microsound to Vaporwave", by G. Born & C. Haworth, (2018), Oxford University Press Copyright 2018. Reprinted with permission..