What Nick Couldry says here is a pleasingly precise statement of what I’ve been trying to articulate when writing vague statements like the “distinctively sociological sensibility which is marginalised by computational social science”:
The starting-points for a hermeneutics of the social world are, in key ways, being transformed by big data and by the embedding of algorithmic calculation in the everyday, and we need a new type of social research to address this. I call this research ‘social analytics’: that is, the study of how social actors are themselves using analytics – data measures of all kinds, including those they have developed or customized – to meet their own ends, for example, by interpreting the world and their actions in new ways. As Jannis Kallinikos (2009) points out, data only becomes information when it is interpreted, when it passes through hermeneutics. In a world that is starting to be shaped by the myth of big data, ‘social analytics’ tracks alternative projects of self- knowledge, group knowledge, institutional knowledge – whose ends are not the tracking of data for its own sake, or even for profit, but for broader social, civic, cultural or political goals. It also tracks people’s practices of resisting the introduction of analytics-based tools as default forms of management or evaluation. Conversely, it tracks those who are using analytics, even big data, to build new forms of civic and social action, for example to govern cities.