The quest for quality in the digital age: How can we "trust" qualitative analyses of online data?

Jennifer Hatchard

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Abstract

Over the last two decades, the expansion and increased traction of the internet across states, sectors and communities has gradually opened up a new digital source of data for qualitative researchers working in all areas of the social sciences. In recent years, this has been further expanded by the rise and rise of social media, currently associated with a trend towards prioritisation of opportunities for social communication over demands for privacy. This latter development has meant that the internet is now a source of individual and social as well as institutional data (government, business, third sector), and is the site of dialogue as well as monologue forms of communication.
Inspired by recent work using predominantly online sources to examine opposition to business regulation aimed at improving public health, and informed by a growing literature on internet and social media research, this paper seeks to address two questions. First, what is unique about the online research setting? Second, what challenges do those unique conditions produce for quality in qualitative research? In order to address these questions, the paper engages with underlying debates between positivist and constructivist paradigms, where the ideal of objective truth is confronted by the more pragmatic concept of trustworthiness (Lincoln and Guba 1985, 1994).
In terms of unique features of the research setting, to name but three: the infinite and frequently changing nature of online data raises challenges for parameterising research and sampling data; ad hoc opportunities for online comment raise the issue of opacity of authorial intention leaving a potential understanding deficit; while gauging the power of digital voices requires knowledge of the process of dissemination of online data both within and beyond the internet to real-world settings. Each of these features raise questions about the trustworthiness of the findings of qualitative research of online data sources. The contention of the paper is that these questions are not insurmountable but that they should be carefully taken account of when designing and undertaking qualitative projects reliant on digital sources to ensure research quality is not undermined.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2015
Event1st Qualitative Research Symposium, Quality in qualitative research and enduring problematics - University of Bath, Bath, UK United Kingdom
Duration: 27 Jan 201527 Jan 2015

Conference

Conference1st Qualitative Research Symposium, Quality in qualitative research and enduring problematics
CountryUK United Kingdom
CityBath
Period27/01/1527/01/15

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