In the age of Web 2.0 and social media of all forms—blogs, online social networks, online forums, tweets, and the list goes on—studies relying heavily on online data have multiplied (Fayard and DeSanctis 2005, 2008, 2010; Nardi 2004; O’Mahony and Ferraro 2007; Orlikowski and Scott in press; Schulze in press; Vaast 2007, 2013). Who would not want to use online data, which are publicly available and easy to access? No need to go negotiate access to an organization, you can just open your browser and create an account. However, ease of access is not synonymous with ease of analysis and interpretation. Indeed, having access to a large amount of data does not necessarily mean that we have access to “rich data” in the sense anthropologists talk about “thick descriptions” (Geertz 1973), that is, descriptions that specify many details, conceptual structures, and meanings and put them in context. In that sense, context is at the core of ethnography and qualitative research, broadly speaking. In order to produce thick descriptions of social practices, qualitative researchers rely heavily on an understanding of the settings and circumstances in which the practices take place (Geertz 1973; Van Maanen 2011).
METIU, A. and FAYARD, A.L. (2015). Between Text and Context: Innovative Approaches to the Qualitative Analysis of Online Data. In: Handbook of Qualitative Organizational Research. 1st ed. Routledge, pp. 381-390.