Article open access publication

Stitching together the heterogeneous party: A complementary social data science experiment

Big Data & Society, SAGE Publications, ISSN 2053-9517

Volume 4, 2, 2017

DOI:10.1177/2053951717736337, Dimensions: pub.1092562856,



  1. (1) University of Copenhagen, grid.5254.6, KU






The era of ‘big data’ studies and computational social science has recently given rise to a number of realignments within and beyond the social sciences, where otherwise distinct data formats – digital, numerical, ethnographic, visual, etc. – rub off and emerge from one another in new ways. This article chronicles the collaboration between a team of anthropologists and sociologists, who worked together for one week in an experimental attempt to combine ‘big’ transactional and ‘small’ ethnographic data formats. Our collaboration is part of a larger cross-disciplinary project carried out at the Danish Technical University (DTU), where high-resolution transactional data from smartphones allows for recordings of social networks amongst a freshman class (N = 800). With a parallel deployment of ethnographic fieldwork among the DTU students, this research set-up raises a number of questions concerning how to assemble disparate ‘data-worlds’ and to what epistemological and political effects? To address these questions, a specific social event – a lively student party – was singled out from the broader DTU dataset. Our experimental collaboration used recordings of Bluetooth signals between students’ phones to visualize the ebb and flow of social intensities at the DTU party, juxtaposing these with ethnographic field-notes on shifting party atmospheres. Tracing and reflecting on the process of combining heterogeneous data, the article offers a concrete case of how a ‘stitching together’ of digital and ethnographic data-worlds might take place.

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