The Hermeneutics of Trace Data: Building an Apparatus

Publication Type:



IFIP Working Group 8.2 Working Conference (2016)


When people interact via information systems, the data is captured by the systems as a side effect of the interaction. These data are increasingly interesting and available for research. In a sense, these systems become a new kind of research apparatus, and like all advances in instrumentation, open up new areas of study with the potential for discovery. While at first glance, such “big data” analysis seems to be most suitable for a positivist quantitative research approach. However, a closer inspection reveals that interpretive research strategies may better support the challenges associated with digital trace data. By merging insights from hermeneutics and sociomateriality, we argue that trace data analysis entails the building of a research apparatus. Hermeneutic principles play a key role in the application of this apparatus and allow researchers to make sense of the often partial traces left by online participants. Drawing on longitudinal trace data from a study of citizen science practices the paper illustrates the value of merging insights from hermeneutics with sociomaterial insights. The approach allows researchers to account for not only the material dynamics of digital trace data but also the temporal dimension of online practices.