Confronting Big Data: Methods and skills for a 21st-century sociology


In principle, sociologists should have much to contribute to Big Data analyses of the social world. Yet the methods training of most German-speaking sociologists is inadequate to deal with Big Data. This project investigates how methods, tools and skills drawn from the fields of sociology, data science and data journalism can be combined to enhance the sociological tool kit.

Portrait / project description (ongoing research project)

The project focuses on close analysis of the fields of sociology, data science and data journalism. In three subprojects, we examine the methods, skills and tools of each field, with specific reference to Big Data. We also review the current state of curricula and training in each area, and how that translates into career prospects. Finally, we indicate areas of overlap that might productively be used to bring science forward. The project recombines insights from the sociology of science, the sociology of professions and the emergence of organizational fields. The inquiry into the three fields also combines traditional social science methods with novel computational methods.


The rise of Big Data – data that are large, diverse, often unstructured and concern an array of phenomena – poses new challenges and opportunities for the social sciences in analysing and explaining the full gamut of social interactions. Given their training in linking theoretical concepts with empirical observations, sociologists should be primed for such analyses. But the methods they use are designed for different data and settings (e.g. representative samples, interviews) and are less suited to Big Data than those used in new fields such as data science and data journalism.


The project aims to indicate areas of overlap between sociology, data science and data journalism that might productively be used to bring sociological science forward. The project will also explore which aspects of sociology could contribute to other fields of data analysis. Based on this systematic comparison, we will formulate recommendations for how to expand tool kits. The aim of the new tool kits is to enhance social scientists’ employability and to increase data scientists’ and data journalists’ sensitivities for the construction and categorization of data.


The project will elucidate the educational challenges Big Data poses for sociology. It will provide insights into the newly emerging professional fields of data science and data journalism, and chart disciplinary developments at a key moment for sociology. Finally, the project will contribute to improving data literacy and to raising public awareness of the uses of Big Data.

Original title

Facing Big Data: Methods and skills needed for a 21st century sociology

Project leader

Prof. Sophie Mützel, Soziologisches Seminar, Universität Luzern



Further information on this content


Prof. Sophie Mützel Soziologisches Seminar Universität Luzern Frohburgstrasse 3
Postfach 4466
6002 Luzern

On this Subject