Graph editors are very useful for qualitative research. As part of my ongoing engagement with visualising qualitative relationships between materials and actors during the analysis of ethnographic data, I repeatedly stumbled upon so-called graph editors. These are software programmes used by graph theorists, amongst others. In short, graph editors are able to design layouts of nodes (entities) and edges (relations).
Recently, I came across the editor gephi. This editor is a great contribution to my "workbench", because it allows to edit and layout a diversity of graph files, including two programmes (and their graph file formats formats) I have been using throughout the last years of analysis for my study on carbon accounting (see e.g. Lippert 20111):
- TAMS, an open-source social science qualitative data analysis software (exporting graphs for graphviz);
- yEd, a freeware editor for graphs (graphml format).
With the open source software gephi I can open both software programmes' graphs, modify and produce a coherent layout. Although, often graph editors are used for visualising large numbers of relationships (i.e. they are used for visualising quantitative data), I employ them to develop a variety of views of qualitative relationships and how they may form patterns. Of course their layout algorithms are everything but neutral, I find such designs of great help to draw together (Latour 19902) a "larger picture".
What is it I draw together? Humans, non-humans, any kind of entity performed as an entity, a black-box. Thus, using actor network theory, I identify actants and see how they relate to each other. I utilise the graph editor by connecting two nodes (say a human and a computer) by a third node which carries the signifier for their relation. Thus, a statement like "Clinton uses a Linux computer" I would represent using three nodes and two edges: node 1 (Clinton), node 2 (computer), node 3 (Clinton uses computer) and two edges, connecting them. This employment of the graph editor allows to add further relations, such as another actant, say Bush (node 4) who criticises Clinton's computer use (node 3).
For my recent research project I employed this method to revisualise some of my analysis. The graph at the top represents main actants and their relations revolving around the governance of carbon data (substantially, I shall report on this in some forthcoming publications).
- 1. "Extended Carbon Cognition as a Machine." Computational Culture 1 (2011).
- 2. "Drawing things together." In Representation in scientific practice, edited by Michael Lynch and Steve Woolgar, 19-68. Cambridge (Massachusetts), London: MIT Press, 1990.