Working group «Computational Social Science: Theories, Methodology & Research Ethics»

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Period April, 2018 to October, 2018
Principal Investigators PD. Dr. habil. Stephanie Geise (WWU Münster)
Jun.-Prof. Dr. Annie Waldherr (WWU Münster)
Cooperation Partner Prof. Dr. Uwe Engel (Head of Social Science Methods Centre, University of Bremen)
Funding CAIS – Center for Advanced Internet Studies, Bochum
Keywords Computational Methods, Computational Social Sciences, Computational Communication Science, computerbasierte Methodern, Digitale Öffentlichkeit, Soziale Netzwerke, Netzwerkanalyse, Automatisierte Inhaltsanalyse, Web Tracking, Web Scraping, Computersimulationen


With the increasing digitalization of our contemporary societies, «Computational Social Science» (CSS) has become an established field of research over the last couple of years. As a subarea of social science, CSS focuses on computational methods – such as network analysis, text and data mining as well as computer simulation – to examine social phenomena and processes. Due to technological change, these methods have become more and more relevant as they enable to systematically analyze massive digital datasets.

Nevertheless, these methods also imply serious challenges for social science methodology, data analysis and research ethics. Especially because of their novelty and their potentials to expand the visibility of social processes, CSS should be an explicit subject of critical and reflected dispute within the social science discipline itself. This relates both to the question of to what extent a specific CSS methodology is needed (including specific quality criteria of scientific research and research ethical guidelines) as well as the reflection of the relation between CSS and social science theories (as there have been common criticisms on theoretical shortcomings).

The question of theoretical framing and interfaces is virulent, also from a content-related perspective: digital data as well as computational methods are an outcome of mediatized social actions on an individual and social level; they need to be interpreted in applying social science theories. Besides the methodological reflection of the new toolkit for social science analyses that CSS offers new analysis repertoire, a fundamental challenge therefore consists in theoretically consolidating CSS as an integrative science.

Work schedule

Both key topics – (1) the further development of a suitable methodology and research ethics and (2) the development of a theoretical frame for CSS – are the essence of our work schedule. The aim is to ask for specific theoretical perspectives on CSS, potential interfaces to established social science theories as well as a resulting methodology and to discuss these points with established experts in the field. With its funding, the CAIS enables the working group to organize a series of expert workshop as well as a final one-week retreat. The first workshop at the CAIS is scheduled for April.