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The methodology of a multi-model project examining how facebook infrastructures social relations

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>2/10/2016
<mark>Journal</mark>Information Communication and Society
Issue number10
Number of pages17
Pages (from-to)1356-1372
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date20/10/15
<mark>Original language</mark>English


It is the purpose of this paper to make explicit the methodology (the theory of the methods) by which we conducted research for an Economic and Social Research Council-funded research project on the relationship of values to value. Specifically, we wanted to study the imperative of Facebook to monetize social relationships, what happens when one of our significant forms of communication is driven by the search for profit, by the logic of capital. We therefore wanted to ‘get inside’ and understand what capital's new lines of flight, informationally driven models of economic expansion, do to social relations. Taking up the challenge to develop methods appropriate to the challenges of ‘big data', we applied four different methods to investigate the interface that is Facebook: we designed custom software tools, generated an online survey, developed data visualizations, and conducted interviews with participants to discuss their understandings of our analysis. We used Lefebvre's [(2004). Rhythmnanalysis: Space, time and everyday life. London: Continuum] rhythmanalysis and Kember and Zylinska's [(2012). Life after new media: Mediation as a vital process. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press] ideas about ‘lifeness’ to inform our methodology. This paper reports on a research process that was not entirely straightforward. We were thwarted in a variety of ways, especially by challenge to use software to study software and had to develop our project in unanticipated directions, but we also found much more than we initially imagined possible. As so few academic researchers are able to study Facebook through its own tools (as Tufekci [(2014). Big questions for social media big data: Representativeness, validity and other methodological pitfalls. In ICWSM ‘14: Proceedings of the 8th International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (pp. 505–514)] notes how, unsurprisingly, at the 2013 ICWSM only about 5% of papers were about Facebook and nearly all of these were co-authored with Facebook data scientists), we hope that our methodology is useful for other researchers seeking to develop less conventional research on Facebook.