The biggest big data: qualitative observation

Sometimes I wish sociologists would write and share detailed observations of brief public moments. These vignettes could be compiled into a large data set others could use for analysis. It’d be qualitative big data. Obviously the data we’d record would be influenced by our background conceptual knowledge and interests, but what data isn’t? This could be the biggest big data set ever established.

Here’s an example:

Today I was walking through a public space; a park. In the park, which is a large, flat swath of grass without much else, there were two softball games being played. These games weren’t being played on formal softball diamonds, but rather on make-shift diamonds set up with small orange cones. Others who were enjoying the park were walking through the grass, generally following an informal path along where the two improvisational outfields merged. I walked between the two games, and then stopped to watch for a few minutes.

As I stood on a sidewalk that wrapped around the park, a group of young men, probably in their mid twenties, walked past. They pointed to a location directly across the park, between the two games, to indicate that was their destination. They also noticed the two games, and I heard one of them say ‘they’re playing softball, we shouldn’t walk through.’ He hadn’t seen the others walking through I guess, so they followed the sidewalk as one of them mentioned taking the ‘longer way.’

In the back of the group, one of the men said to everybody, “that’s ok, some of us could use it!” He then turned and smiled to the man next to him, the heaviest set of the group, who replied “what’s that supposed to mean?” The first man, who had made the comment, laughed, leaned over and grabbed the second man’s shoulders. The look on the second man’s face, however, was one of shame and embarrassment, not a laughing smile.


I’m sure I’ve done more interpretation in this short observation than I’d like, but I tried to keep it as descriptive as possible. How would you make sense of it?


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