Digital Sociology Podcast Episode 22: Susan Halford, the semantic web, symphonic social science and how sociologists can work with computer scientists

03.11.2019 - By Digital Sociology Podcast

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In this episode of the Digital Sociology Podcast I spoke to Susan Halford who is Professor of Sociology at the University of Bristol and the President of the British Sociological Association. 
Amongst other things she explains the emergence "semantic web" to me and we discuss why this is of interest to sociologists and what sociology my have to offer in understanding it. If the web is a massive database of documents then the semantic web is a way of identifying and connecting "entities" within those documents (WolframAlpha is an example of a basic version of the semantic web). Susan says that this is a significant ontological task of identifying what kinds of things do and do not exist in this space. For the semantic web to develop  huge amounts of data on all kinds of topics would need to be gathered and analysed which would also require decisions to be made about what kinds of data to include and exclude. 
We also discuss about the benefits and challenges of working working across the social sciences and computer sciences. 
I ask Susan about a paper she wrote with Mike Savage in which they outline a fascinating reading of the work of Thomas Piketty, Robert Putnam and Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett. They propose the approach taken by these authors can be applied as "symphonic social science" which could be used to approach big data. 
https://research-information.bristol.ac.uk/en/publications/speaking-sociologically-with-big-data(37fbb772-fa88-4371-974b-dd91ce57d86a).html
Susan also offers some of her opinions on why sociologists are sometimes a bit scared to work with "big data" and how we might be able to overcome this. 

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