Information regarding our 2023/24 admissions cycle

Our 2023/24 postgraduate taught admissions cycle will open on Monday, 10 October. For most programmes, the application form will not open until this date.

MA Political Science - Political Theory Pathway (Research Route)

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Understanding Big Data For Social Research

Course unit fact file
Unit code SOST60511
Credit rating 5
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by
Available as a free choice unit? No


What is big data and what can such data tell us about society and human behaviour? How can such data, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram data, be used in social research? What is the role of research hypotheses and sampling? 


This 5 credit module will provide an introduction to the theory and practice of using Big Data for social science research and will involve the development of research design skills from a Big Data perspective including: hypothesis testing, data analysis, interpretation, visualization and report writing.   The course will be organised around two 3-hour work sessions combining lectures, practicals and group work as well as linked follow-up resources. The first session will provide an overview of data types and variables in Big Data sources, including administrative and social media data. Examples of published research using Big Data will then be reviewed. Data access, ethics and good practice guidelines will also be explored including anonymisation and confidentiality. The second session will be lab based and involve taster practicals in accessing, collecting and analysing Big Data such as administrative data found in  and social media data (using software such as Mozdeh). This will be followed by group-based discussion of patterns in the data and the limitations of what can be claimed. No previous knowledge is assumed.

Teaching and learning methods

two x three hour workshops

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

Written feedback available via Turnitin

Recommended reading


  • Alanyali, M., Preis, T. and Moat, H. S. (2016) Tracking protests using geotagged Flickr photographs, PLoS One, 11, 3, 1-8.
  • Boyd, D. and Crawford, K. (2012) Critical Questions for Big Data. Information, Communication and Society, 15, 5, 662-679.
  • Burnap, P., Avis, N. J. and Rana, O. F. (2013) Making sense of self-reported socially significant data using computational methods. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 16, 215-230.
  • Chen, G.M., Riedl M.J., Shermak, J.L., Brown, J., and Tenenboim, O. (2019) Breakdown of Democratic Norms? Understanding the 2016 US Presidential Election Through Online Comments. Social Media + Society.
  • Elliot, M., Purdam, K. and Mackey, E. (2013) New Forms of Data for Social Research. Data Horizons
  • Graham, M. (2012) Big Data and the End of Theory?
  • Howard, P.N. (2020) Lie Machines. Yale University Press.
  • Japec, L., Kreuter, F., Berg, M., Biemer, P., Decker, P., Lampe, C., Lane, J., O’Neil, C. and Usher, A. (2015) Big Data in Survey Research. AAPOR Task Force Report, Public Opinion Quarterly, 4, 839-880.
  • Johnson, O., Hall-Phillips, A. and Chung T-L and Cho H. (2019) Are You Connected Through Consumption? The Role of Hashtags in Political Consumption. Social Media + Society.
  • Kitchin, R. (2014) Big Data, new epistemologies and paradigm shifts. Big Data and Society.
  • Margetts, H. John. P. Hale, S. and Yasseri, T. (2016) Political Turbulence: How Social Media Shape Collective Action. Princeton University Press. 
  • Mayor-Schonberger, V. and Cukier, K. (2013) Big Data: A Revolution that Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think. London: Murray.
  • Murthy, D. (2012) Towards a Sociological Understanding of Social Media: Theorizing Twitter. Sociology, 46, 6, 1059-1073.
  • Neuhaus, F. and Webmoor, T. (2012) Agile Ethics for Massified Research and Visualisation, Information, Communication and Society, 15, 1.
  • Ofcom Internet Citizens (2020) Report
  • Pain, P, and Chen, G.M. (2019) The President Is in: Public Opinion and the Presidential Use of Twitter. Social Media + Society.
  • Park K, and Rim H. (2020) “Click First!”: The Effects of Instant Activism Via a Hoax on Social Media. Social Media + Society.
  • Procter, R., Vis, F. and Voss, A. (2013). Reading the riots on Twitter: methodological innovation for the analysis of big data. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 16, 3, 197-214. 
  • Schneble, C.O., Elger, B.S., and Shaw, D., (2018) The Cambridge Analytica affair and Internet‐mediated research. EMBO reports e46579.
  • Shlomo, N. and Goldstein, H. (2015) Editorial: Big data in social research. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society A, September 26th.
  • Sloan, L., Morgan, J., Housley, W., Williams, M., Edwards, A., Burnap, P. and Rana, O. (2013) Knowing the Tweeters: Deriving Sociologically Relevant Demographics from Twitter. Sociological Research Online, 18, 3, 7.
  • United Nations Global Pulse Research Briefs

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Practical classes & workshops 6
Independent study hours
Independent study 44

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Kingsley Purdam Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Reading continued

  • United Nations (2012) Big Data for Development: Opportunities and Challenges: A Global Pulse White Paper
  • Van Kleek, M., Smith, D. A., Tinati, R., O'Hara, K., Hall, W. and Shadbolt, N. (2014) 7 Billion Home Telescopes: Observing Social Machines through Personal Data Stores. In SOCM2014 Workshop on the Theory and Practice of Social Machines.
  • Viz, F. (2013) A Critical Reflection on Big Data. First Monday 18, 10.

Journals To Browse

  • Social Media + Society -
  • Big Data & Society -
  • Policy & Internet -
  • Data & Society -
  • Journal of Computer-Mediated Commutation


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