The following call for papers comes in from my friend Lois Scheidt. They will be taking a critical look at big data, and what it means for the practice of research.

CFP “Small Data” in a “Big Data” World, Panel at International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry (ICQI) 2013  to be held May 15-18, 2013 on the campus of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign IL.

 Recently the academic research world has been flooded with discussion of the uses and implications of “Big Data.” For those of us whose research focuses on digital environments this discussion includes conferences, grants, special publications, and job announcements that focus on Big Data and the computational turn in social science and humanities research.

 ‘Big Data’ is not necessarily defined by the size of the data set, for humanities scholars have long been interested in huge textual and image-based corpora.  Instead, ‘Big Data’ refers to the increasing complexity of relationships between data objects in a given set, often requiring large-scale computational and algorithmic resources for analysis.   ‘Small Data’ research, on the other hand, often begins with a theoretical (e.g., critical race theory) or methodological (e.g., case study or ethnography) approach, which is then applied to digital data drawn from less-popular websites, YouTube videos, or even individual blog posts and comments.

Unfortunately, the tools used to analyze Big Data seem to be influencing modes of thought about new media and digital research away from the theoretical and towards the scientistic.  For example, in a recent article Bruns and Burgess (2012) argue that humanist, interpretive studies of social media are ‘ideosyncratic, non-repeatable, and non-verifiable’.   Although Bruns and Burgess concede that there is space for ‘traditional qualitative methods’, their suggestion is that these methods need to be ‘integrated and innovated’ upon in a ‘big data’ context.

Given the increasing amounts of attention (e.g., external funding, public policy, or student interest) ‘big data’ is accruing, where does this leave Small Data research and researchers? This panel seeks to explore the position of Small Data in relation to the discussion and/or use of Big Data. As the definition of Big Data is still in flux we are using Bruns & Burgess (2012) to ground our individual presentation. We are seeking presentations that will explore a variety of views on this turn toward Big Data and the impact on the researched, the researcher, and academia.


Bruns, A., & Burgess, J. (2012). Notes towards the Scientific Study of Public Communication on Twitter. Conference on Science and the Internet. Düsseldorf. Retrieved Oct. 8, 2012.

Individual presenters should submit a 150 word abstract to each of the organizers by Nov. 15, 2012.


Andre Brock, Assistant Professor, School of Library and Information Science University of Iowa

 Lois Ann Scheidt, Doctoral Candidate, School of Library and Information Science Indiana University

Please forward this CFP to other potentially interested parties and groups.