Societal challenges and big qualitative data require a new era of methodological pragmatism

Blog by Alex Gillespie, Vlad Glăveanu, and Constance de Saint-Laurent: “The ‘classic’ methods we use today in psychology and the social sciences might seem relatively fixed, but they are the product of collective responses to concerns within a historical context. The 20th century methods of questionnaires and interviews made sense in a world where researchers did not have access to what people did or said, and even if they did, could not analyse it at scale. Questionnaires and interviews were suited to 20th century concerns (shaped by colonialism, capitalism, and the ideological battles of the Cold War) for understanding, classifying, and mapping opinions and beliefs.

However, what social scientists are faced with today is different due to the culmination of two historical trends. The first has to do with the nature of the problems we face. Inequalities, the climate emergency and current wars are compounded by a general rise in nationalism, populism, and especially post-truth discourses and ideologies. Nationalism and populism are not new, but the scale and sophistication of misinformation threatens to undermine collective responses to collective problems.

It is often said that we live in the age of ‘big data’, but what is less often said is that this is in fact the age of ‘big qualitative data’.

The second trend refers to technology and its accelerated development, especially the unprecedented accumulation of naturally occurring data (digital footprints) combined with increasingly powerful methods for data analysis (traditional and generative AI). It is often said that we live in the age of ‘big data’, but what is less often said is that this is in fact the age of ‘big qualitative data’. The biggest datasets are unstructured qualitative data (each minute adds 2.5 million Google text searches, 500 thousand photos on Snapchat, 500 hours of YouTube videos) and the most significant AI advances leverage this qualitative data and make it tractable for social research.

These two trends have been fuelling the rise in mixed methods research…(More)” (See also their new book ‘Pragmatism and Methodology’ (open access)

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