Digital technologies in social research

The role of digital technologies in social research in the UK: an emerging digital research community?

The employment of digital technologies in social research is a rapidly growing area of development, deliberation and reflection. At its core is the employment of Internet technologies, tools and services as an object of research, as well as a tool and platform for the conduct of research and the creation of innovative methodological practices.
Social researchers put forward the premise that digital technologies can both expand existing research interests and yield new themes and questions for research. For instance, hyperlinks have given rise to (hyper)link research . Similarly, web sites and web content have given rise to website analysis, while search engines have fed the study of search-engine results and their politics.

At the same time, digital technologies have driven researchers to revisit old methods and devise new methodological tools for research. To overcome the drawbacks of offline methods of research, researchers often employ Internet tools and application that alter conventional methodologies and create virtual or online versions of them. Some have even stressed the need for the research community to dispose the necessary capacity so as to treat digital methods as ‘mainstream methodology’. Along these lines, the employment of digital technologies in research suggests the collaboration of social and computer researchers, with knowledge elements from various disciplines being combined so as to boost new areas of research or niche spaces for the operation of new knowledge networks and fields of study (e.g., artificial intelligence). This leads to the deployment of new research models (e.g., computational social science, agent-based models) and data, the pursuit of large-scale research and the initiation of new practices and communities of inter-disciplinary collaboration that often involves technology experts, funders, creative practitioners, industry actors and ordinary technology users.

In this context, the proposed study explores the employment of digital tools, resources and services by the social research community in the UK and from the stage of designing the research through to data collection and dissemination of results. It examines ongoing and prospective patterns of use of digital technologies in research contexts (e.g. complexity, multiplicity, duration//research timing etc) and sheds light on associated skills and capacity challenges. In departing from techno-deterministic approaches, it maps out the actual, claimed and potential role of digital technologies in social research so as to offer a critical assessment of the existing and potential innovation pathways signalled by the employment of digital technologies in social research, especially in relation to the development of a digital research culture and the subsequent rise of a digital research community.

(Tsatsou, Case for Support)



Tsatsou, P. 2015, ‘The Role of Digital Technologies in Social Research in the UK: Final Report.’ Working Papers of the Communities & Culture Network+ Vol.5 (April 2015).


Key Participants

Panayiota Tsatsou, Principal Investigator: Panayiota Tsatsou is a Senior Lecturer in Media and Communication at the University of Leicester. She researches the areas of information society, Internet studies and digital divides. She is the author of Digital Divides in Europe: Culture, Politics and the Western-Southern Divide (2011, Peter Lang). Her new book (forthcoming, 2014, Ashgate) provides a critical study of the past, present and future directions of Internet studies. Her publications aim to report on innovative and evidence-based solutions to issues arising in the information society. She has recently conducted an AHRC funded research project on digital inclusion and minority communities in Wales and is currently involved in a British Academy funded research on the role of identity and literacy in digital inclusion. She is involved in the COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) Programme and collaborates with researchers from across Europe in the areas of broadband society and cyberbullying.

Yupei Zhao, Doctoral Research Assistant: Yupei Zhao is a third year PhD student and seminar tutor in the Department of Media and Communication, University of Leicester. She is a Chinese study research alliance (ChiSRA) committee member at the University of Leicester and the MeCCSA PGN Regional Representative. Her PhD project focuses on citizen participation in political communication via micro-blogging. During her PhD, she has contributed to a range of academic conferences and has been a keynote speaker in ‘Research Essentials Online: Thesis Forum’ in 2014. She also has been involved in the organisation of several conferences, such as the ‘New Directions in Media Research Conference’ at the University of Leicester. She has a genuine interest in social network analysis as well as in the study of political communication and new media power. She has published ‘New Media and Democracy: Three Competing Visions from cyber-optimism and cyber-pessimism’ in the Journal of Political Science and Public Affair, Management-14-119R1 (forthcoming) and ‘Virtual Experience is Real but Not Actual’ in Management Journals, Management-14-128 (forthcoming).