MD09: How Big Data Changes Sociology
Lately, big data became a topic in sociological discussions. “Big data” means large datasets that are often collected outside the academic context, for example from Facebook users. It provides rich information that opens up new research opportunities. However, it also raises concerns about privacy and analytical challenges.
In a first presentation, Andreas Diekmann discusses the opportunities that big data provides for sociological research. He starts from the insight that big data is not necessarily better than small data, meaning survey data. The advantages of big data lie in its different character. It is unobtrusive and often more valid than data on self-reported behavior. Moreover, it is often relational and informs about structures of large social networks. Geo-coded data open new routes to account for spatial context and there is the possibility to combine survey data with other sources of digital data. Problems and opportunities are illustrated with examples from social science research.
In a second presentation, Kathrin Komp-Leukkunen reflects on how big data affects the job chances of sociologists. Companies increasingly use big data to make business decisions. Consequently, their demand for researchers who can analyze this data increases. Because many sociologists have solid analytical skills, they are potential employees. However, handling big data often also requires some programming skills, which are less common among sociologists. Statistics on sociologists working in big data analysis are presented. Interview data are used to frame and discuss these statistics. The findings suggest several possible new directions in sociology study programmes.
Andreas Diekmann, ETH Zürich, Switzerland
Andreas Diekmann is Professor em. of Sociology at the ETH Zurich (2003 – 2016), currently head of the Environmental Research Group at the ETH Department of Humanities and seniorprofessor at the University of Leipzig. He was a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study Berlin (2017-2018). His areas of research are social cooperation and experimental game theory, environmental and population sociology, and methods of empirical social research. He serves as a chairman of the section “Economics and Empirical Social Sciences” of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. He is also a fellow of the European Academy of Sociology and co-editor and board member of several professional journals and research institutions. Present research activities focus on experimental research on the emergence of social norms, energy consumption, and the analysis of the environmental burden of metropolitan areas with geo-referenced panel data (supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation).
Kathrin Komp-Leukkunen, University of Helsinki, Finland
Kathrin Komp-Leukkunen is associate professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki, Finland. Her research focusses on population ageing, life-courses, comparative welfare research, work and retirement, and research methods. Moreover, she studies the situation of sociology as a scientific discipline. Recent publications include the articles “The commercialization of sociological research: On the how and why (not)” (European Societies, 2018) and “Capturing the diversity of working age life-courses: A European perspective on cohorts born before 1945” (PLoS ONE, 2019). Komp-Leukkunen is a former Marie Sklodowska Curie fellow, member of the Executive Committee of the European Sociological Association, and former coordinator of Research Network 01 “Ageing in Europe”.
Jolanta Perek-Bialas, Jagiellonian University, Cracow, Poland
Jolanta Perek-Białas is associate professor at the Institute of Sociology of the Jagiellonian University, Cracow and at the Institute of Statistics and Demography, Warsaw School of Economics, Poland where besides of teaching (data analysis, survey design), she is mainly a researcher in the field of ageing/gerontology. She co-/authored many papers in peer-reviewed journals and chapters in books on the topics of sociology of ageing, social indicators, quantitative methods applied for socio-economic analysis. She is active as co-coordinator of RN21 on Quantitative Methods of the ESA (from 2015) and she organized the Mid-Term Conference of this RN in Cracow (2018). She is also a member of the Expert Group on Active Ageing Index (EC and UNECE). Since October 2018, she is the Director of the Center of Evaluation and Public Policy Analysis at the Jagiellonian University.
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