Tenth research centre of Sciences Po, the médialab was established in 2009 to help social sciences and humanities take full advantage of the huge amount of data made available by digitization.
Its three primary missions — methodology, analysis, and theory — are highly integrated:
The first of these missions is to help Sciences Po researchers who are struggling with new data for which there is no established methodology.
The second mission is to analyse how digitization changes the media and mediations that are the subject of social sciences and humanities, particularly in economics, political science, history and sociology.
The third one is to identify how digitization both multiplies the data and changes existing practices, and gains a new grip on the fundamental questions of social theory.
Digital methods, media studies, and social theory are the three pillars of the médialab. This unique combination of methodology, analysis and theory, explains the originality of its organization. Indeed, unlike other centers at Sciences Po, the médialab is composed of a small number of academics and a large number of engineers who are all likely to publish (either articles, software, or methods). In this sense, its organizational model is similar to a laboratory for scientific instrumentation’s.
The other singularity of the médialab’s organization is to rely equally on three areas: social sciences, digital data engineering, and information design, which has become a necessity due to the mass and the heterogeneity of data that disrupt the reading habits.
Over the last years, the médialab fully devoted itself to make digital data suitable to the three missions it had initially set:
On the numerical methods level, many software have been developed that help organize, automate and visualize research on digital or scanned data. These tools and instruments have been integrated in many research projects (TRUST and SOWELL in economics, “La Fabrique de la Loi” in political science, DIME-SHS in survey methods, TOFLIT and EAT Datascape in history, AIME in anthropology). They are also used in classes, particularly in the ones on controversy, developed within the framework of the FORCCAST project. The médialab works with a large number of Sciences Po researchers while developing an international network with other centers sharing the same interests.
Finally, on the social theory level, important articles have been published on new techniques to follow the traces of human activity. The visualization of such traces allows to consider new definitions of both society and its actors.