What are the threats and potentials of big data for qualitative research?

By: Professor Kathy Mills, Learning Sciences Institute Australia (ACU)

Amid the big claims of big data, analytics, datification, and data mining, this article answers central questions for qualitative research. In the debates about the enormity and ubiquity of data in the digital world, qualitative research endeavours are seemingly threatened. But is big data necessarily better? Can big data answer the fundamental questions that qualitative researchers ask? This article interrogates the key issues for qualitative researchers in the big data era, positioning big data in its historical context. This article offers a critique of assumptions about access to big data, and uncovers the dark side of big data and privacy in a risk society. The potentials of big data for qualitative research are examined, providing recommendations to bring together complementary research endeavours that map large scale social patterns using big data with qualitative questions about participants’ subjective perceptions, rich expression of feelings, and reasons for human action.

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