Arosio [Abstract]

Between digital traces and documentary analysis: The methodological challenge of self-tracking data
[Full text]

Laura Arosio [1]

Abstract: Trace analysis is a particular form of non-participant observation. It studies the physical and digital “footprints” left by individuals in the environments where they live. In this paper I use the classic and more restrictive definition of trace analysis and focus on intentionality as a feature that marks a boundary between trace analysis and other research methods. By doing this, I stress out the situationality and contextuality of (digital) data’s meaning.  I use an example involving digital data collected by individuals through mobile and wearable devices. The focus is on running routes mapped out using activity tracking apps. What happens when “traces” are intentionally created by users and shared with other people through social networks? What is the methodological challenge proposed by self-tracking measures when people attribute them a communicative intent? What is the boundary between trace analysis and documentary analysis?

Keywords: Trace analysis; Documentary analysis; Intentionality; Digital data; Self-tracking data; GPS art; Big data;

[1] PhD Associate Professor in Sociology, University of Milano Bicocca (Italy)