Twitter Fever; how should (Digital) Sociology respond?

When describing the growing number of social science papers devoted to Twitter it’s now becoming difficult to avoid hyperbolic metaphors; an initial trickle of research is becoming a deluge. To date Web of Science has indexed over 150 papers from sociology alone that address Twitter. The rush to exploit Twitter’s research potential is understandable. There are now free tools available, such as Node XL, which, at unprecedented speeds and scales allow us to access, harvest, and analyse the traces of people’s thoughts, opinions and behaviours. Seemingly combining the scale and generalisability of methods such as national surveys with the granularity and detail of close textual analysis, ethnography, or participant observation (Driscoll & Walker, 2014, p1746), Twitter is often considered the holy grail of data sources. Sociology is responding to Savage & Burrow’s widely cited and knowingly provocative epitaph for traditional empirical sociology with initiatives such as Digital Sociology, but how should this new project position itself to Twitter-fever? The answer lies in finding a fine balance between being critical and constructive.

A “reflexive critique” (Lupton 2014) of new methods is crucial. A closer examination reveals many of the techniques used to sample and analyse Twitter data are limited or flawed. Twitter use is unevenly distributed among Web users in general and, even among those that use it, a significant percentage rarely send a tweet of their own, preferring instead to “listen” to the tweets of others (Graham, Hale, & Gaffney, 2014). There’s no reliable method for verifying the location of Tweeters. For example, from a sample of 19.6 million tweets collected by Graham et al. (2014) only 0.7 percent of tweets contained structured reliable geolocation information (p4). Since they are invisible to algorithms, Twitter’s intentionally nuanced cultural practices such as subtweets (tweets referencing an un-named but implicitly identifiable individual), quoting text via screen captures, “hate-linking” (linking to denounce rather than endorse) and, of course, irony, are ignored by automated methods of textual analysis (Tufekci, 2014). Much Twitter research is therefore completed with “only limited understandings of how best to work with the spatial and linguistic contexts in which the information was produced” (Graham et al. 2014, p1).

Yet Twitter analysis can yield its rewards see, for example, the contribution it made to the Reading the Riots project where it described the lifecycle of misinformation. Digital Sociology’s role is to integrate what works into the “development of a distinctive theoretical and methodological approach” (Lupton, 2014) to address our most important and challenging social problems. This begins with a critique then progresses to its own contribution.

While addressing misogyny online for instance, a critique of Twitter analysis reveals, in isolation, it is a poor substitute for sophisticated ethnography accompanied by historically situated and theoretically reflective analysis. ‘Proving’, through sentiment analysis, how many people make misogynist statements on Twitter, who gets retweeted the most; who’s the most influence misogynist in a network of misogynists is all very well but how does this help us understand misogyny; its consequences and possible counter-measures? Twitter, however, is still a rich source of data that should not be jettisoned in a rush to achieve a lofty critical superiority.

Twitter analysis can and should be integrated into Digital Sociology’s broader project. When any of us use technology we individually and collectively engage with wider society; its political and social history and the struggles that have preceded our temporal space. Misogyny on Twitter is technologically mediated symbolic violence that arguably reengages modern patriarchy with centuries of discursive action intended to humiliate feminist voices. Via religious, legal, and medical discourses, the antecedents of misogyny are deeply embedded in our collective conscience. It’s important to capture misogyny online, but also place it its full historical and social context. Rather than deployed as an end itself, Twitter research should therefore be absorbed into Digital Sociology’s arsenal of methods; be used to verify findings and catalyse further insights from comparing its data to other digital and analogue sources (Tinati, Halford, Carr, & Pope, 2014). Moreover, when required, the data should be analysed genealogically (Foucault, 1991) via historical and theoretical texts.

@huwcdavies

Driscoll, K., & Walker, S. (2014). Working Within a Black Box : Transparency in the Collection and Production of Big Twitter Data, 8, 1745–1764.
Foucault, M. (1991). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Penguin.
Graham, M., Hale, S. a., & Gaffney, D. (2014). Where in the World Are You? Geolocation and Language Identification in Twitter. The Professional Geographer, (July), 1–11. doi:10.1080/00330124.2014.907699
Lupton, D. (2014). Digital Sociology. Routledge.
Manovich L (2011) Trending: The promises and the challenges of big social data. Debates in the Digital Humanities: 1–17.
Tinati, R., Halford, S., Carr, L., & Pope, C. (2014). Big Data: Methodological Challenges and Approaches for Sociological Analysis. Sociology. doi:10.1177/0038038513511561
Tufekci, Z. (2014). Big Questions for Social Media Big Data : Representativeness , Validity and Other Methodological Pitfalls Pre-print.

‘Like’ your Existence or What is a Selfie?

By Dr Mark Featherstone.

This was first posted on the blog of the School of Sociology and Criminology, Keele University.

What is a selfie? Why do people take pictures of themselves and then post them on Facebook or Instagram? When I was a kid my parents took photos of me and my brother and hoarded them in biscuit tins stored in the backs of cupboards, but today we tend take as many pictures of ourselves as we do of each other. Why is this the case? If we take pictures of other people in particular situations in order to remember, why do we take pictures of ourselves? Is this in order to remember ourselves? Perhaps if we did not take pictures of ourselves in particular situations – at the beach, at a party, and so on – we might forget we were ever there. Perhaps if we did not take pictures of ourselves in banal, everyday, situations we might forget ourselves completely? We might forget we ever existed.

By nature the selfie tends to screen out the situation we find ourselves in – the distance between the hand and face means that it is only possible to capture so much background in the shot. As a result, the face, or if the photographer uses a mirror, the body, tends to dominate the shot. Thus, I’m not sure anybody takes a selfie to remember their friend’s party. Perhaps some people do, but I think the clue to the meaning of the selfie resides in the word itself – selfie. This is about the self. For this reason, I think that the majority of selfies are taken simply in order to assert the photographer / subject’s presence in the world. What does the selfie say to other people? It says ‘look at me, I am here’. This is why the celebrity, most especially the precarious celebrity, the celebrity who fears they may be forgotten tomorrow, really needs the selfie. The selfie tells everybody that they’re still around, they still exist. Of course, nobody cares about seeing a minor celebrity’s face over and over again, so what we find is that the celebrity selfie will tend to involve more and more exposure and in the end what the French writer Paul Virilio calls, over-exposure. Over-exposure is an effect of a kind of celebrity arms race – show more and more in order to try to attract more and more hits.

But what is over-exposure? Over-exposure occurs when the private sphere over-flows into public space and everything is on show. Another famous French post-modernist thinker, Jean Baudrillard, talks about this idea in terms of obscenity, which refers to a situation where what should remain off scene suddenly intrudes and flashes into view. In terms of the internet, this is exactly why hard-core pornography is obscene in Baudrillard’s use of the term – everything which would usually take place in private is here placed in full public view. We see everything.

Neither Virilio or Baudrillard place value judgements upon their ideas of over-exposure or obscenity – it’s not that they think saying too much or showing too much is morally bad, but rather that they understand that civilization has evolved through ideas of public and private discourse which are now in the process of being undermined by digital communication and social media. This is clearly problematic. What we know about Facebook, for example, is that we can very easily say too much. In a sense social media compels us to speak, to affirm our existence and our situation, to everybody and anybody who will listen. But this is problematic when what we say is not framed in the correct register – for example, when I become abusive or violent online. Or it may simply be the case that I am over-exposed in some other way that impacts upon my life in ways that I could not have foreseen or imagined. Consider a drunken night – I am photographed drunk with friends who post my image on Facebook. What impact does this have upon my future employment prospects and so on? The issue here, of course, is not that my behaviour is somehow morally offensive in itself, but rather that it becomes problematic and even deviant when it is captured, recorded, and transposed from private space into the public arena.

In response to this situation, Google recently announced ‘a right to forget’, where I can ask them to remove information relating to my name from its internet searches. In a sense this seems like a basic legal innovation relating to the right to privacy and so on, but in my view there is more at stake here connected to the reason we are ever over-exposed in the first place. There are, of course, many instances where people have had their name and image violently abused on the internet, and these people should no doubt have a ‘right to forget’, but what interests me here is the more general idea of the concept of a right to forget in the context of a technological society where it seems to me that we are desperate to remember, to the extent where we need to take photos of ourselves and post them on our Facebook pages in order to remember that we even exist.

The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman tells us that we live in a liquid modern world. Everything flows, and moves very quickly, and there is no permanence about the world. Life is precarious. Paul Virilio explains that speed is the measure of all things today. We live in what he calls a dromocracy. In other words, speed is what separates the winners from the losers. Life is a race. For Virilio’s French colleague Baudrillard, our world is characterised by a blizzard of signs. Everything flows through the media. What mattered today, 12 hours ago, 6 hours ago, 3 hours ago, 20 minutes ago, is now meaningless. Old news is no news. I am sure everybody can recognise elements of this world, the post-modern world, Bauman, Virilio, and Baudrillard theorise, but what has this got to with the selfie? My view is that in the face of this lightning fast, liquid society characterised by a blizzard of signs and information, everything begins to collapse and merge into an undifferentiated flow of opinions, perspectives, and general noise. How can we make ourselves heard under these conditions? How can we convince ourselves that we matter? How can we convince ourselves that we exist? The answer is that we must take to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram in order to reconstruct our world on a virtual platform which paradoxically confirms our concrete existence. Ironically, I know I exist because I can see my photograph on the Keele website. This digital image confirms my here-ness.

The problem with this is, of course, that this photo no longer really looks like me. This is a common, rather banal, complaint that we all have about our lives in photos, but the deeper meaning of this protest holds. In psychoanalysis my image is not me – it is an alienated version of me, my ego, which I use to imagine myself. This is necessary in order to give myself some sense of self, and identity over time, but it is also important that I do not begin to confuse myself with a two dimensional image, and collapse my life into some kind of virtual persona. However, it may be the case that this is exactly where we are today. We are lost in our lightning fast, liquid society, and buried in signs, symbols, ideas, and information that we cannot process, simply because of the speed which characterises their production, consumption, and redundancy. In the face of this situation, the cost of my survival is the banal practice of making myself heard and seen – I assert myself on the internet in the most basic way I can. I post a picture of my face with some snappy caption which confirms that I am an interesting person who deserves to exist or, if even this is beyond me, I simply affirm my existence without any symbolic support. Here, I simply exist because I exist – ‘here I am, and that is all’.

In his recent article in the London Review of Books, ‘On Selfies’, the writer Julian Stallabrass explains that the problem with the selfie and Instagram is that the image itself is obsolete, redundant, and subject to a kind of logic of disappearance from almost the moment it appears online. In this respect, my image disappears into obscurity the moment I upload it, and I find myself back to square one. As a result I must endeavour to transform myself into a kind of living image where I upload myself, my every thought, and every image, onto some social media platform or other in order to keep myself viable. Of course, this work, and this is work, does not come without its own costs. As we know success and over-exposure opens me up to constant surveillance by friends who sit in judgement about the value of my life, opinions, haircuts and so on. At this point, I exist, but unfortunately, I am now an object of public scrutiny. Here I exist in a kind of critical space – my existence condemns me to the possibility of violent critique.

Although the above describes the general condition of online identity, for the psychoanalyst the constant obsession with self-identity represents a particular condition – pathological narcissism or what is sometimes called narcissistic personality disorder. Named after the Greek mythological figure, Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image, pathological narcissism is a reflection of ego weakness, which leads the narcissist to seek to repair their self through constant construction and reconstruction of an ideal self. Moreover, this ‘exhibitionist self’ is also prone to seek to devalue others in order to boost their own self-esteem and position in relation to everybody else. As a result, the narcissist is not only self-obsessed, but also prone to violent outbursts against others.

However, what is interesting about the current discussion is that what I have sought to suggest is that the selfie is not the result of individual pathology, where particular narcissists seek to post images of themselves all over the internet, but rather that this is somehow a general cultural condition today, caused by the nature of our high tech global society that makes us feel very small, insignificant, and almost non-existent. The result of this situation is that in a sense we all become narcissists who have to reaffirm our identity constantly. This is what I think the selfie discloses about our contemporary world. But what can we do about this condition? Against this situation, which has become as normal, bland, and banal as the selfie itself, the truly radical act would be to become less ‘other centred’. The problem with the selfie is that although we take snaps of ourselves, the purpose of these photos is to assert our existence to the world of others. Everything relies on being seen by others. The generalised other, the other out there, the other I have never met, holds the key to my existence.

Against this situation, I think a better move would be to look inwards, and affirm yourself to and for yourself. Thus, I think that what would be truly radical today would be to avoid the selfie, avoid Facebook, and avoid Twitter, and focus on true reflexivity, where you can think, and be by yourself, and no longer have to rely on the cybernetic other to ‘like’ your existence.

What Does Data Do?

@DavidIanSkinner on the socio-technical ‘racialization’ our police service’s Big Data

Sociologists have rightly highlighted the key role of digital data in contemporary organisation and government. In their critical engagement with the Big Data debates and elsewhere, sociologists focus on the constructed and politicised character of data. But, in doing this important work, they have largely taken at face value a technocratic, functional view of data: i.e. that it is an instrument for knowing, operating, administering and organising. But perhaps we also need to be more curious about the varied, intended and unintended, social effects of data.

I will explain this by discussing my research into the police national forensic DNA database (NDNAD). My primary interest in the NDNAD has been the use of racialized data (that is data organised using racial/ethnic categories) in the operation, governance, and contestation of the database. As I wrote in an article in Sociology last year the NDNAD is racialized in a number of different ways. This can be seen firstly in the disproportionate numbers of people from minorities on the database: some estimates suggest that upwards of 70% of all ‘black’ men in the UK aged between 18 and 35 have profiles stored on the database. The DNA profiles in the NDNAD are routinely classified by “ethnic appearance,” which enables the monitoring of this disproportionate representation of non-white “ethnic minorities”. However this classification also facilitates research aimed at developing techniques to “ethnically profile” unknown suspects using crime scene DNA.

This double-edged role of data in monitoring and profiling underlines the slipperiness of ‘race’ in these processes. This is further stressed by the varied systems of categorization at play. Until recently profiles were assigned an ethnicity on the judgment of a police officer using Police National Computer witness identification codes. Meanwhile, data used to discuss the disproportionality of the racial composition of the NDNAD was derived using a different set of categories (the 16+1 Census classification) and a different means of classification (self-identification).

Susan Leigh Star’s notion of the boundary object is over-used and often abused but in this case it is helpful, as is Star’s sister concept of boundary infrastructures (discussed here). In the NDNAD ‘race’ is a bio-social-informational hybrid that depends on its mutability and overt contingency to operate across institutional contexts and locations: the custody suite; the forensic laboratory; the parliamentary committee and so on. This hybrid is at once an operational, administrative and research object. This blurring is interesting (and not just because it illustrates the contemporary propensity to repurpose data) since it has been an effective means of deflecting criticism of the use of race data in UK forensics.

It could be tempting to view race data as an add-on to the main business of the NDNAD: the collection of genetic material; its translation into digital profiles; and the storage, searching and matching of those profiles. However the ethical work around the database has been crucial to its successful operation. As it grew in size during the last decade it faced a serious crisis of legitimacy. Discussion of race data has been a continual feature of political debates about the NDNAD and of the systems of governance of the database set up to address that crisis. The data (its collection, publication and discussion) has been used to generate public trust in the NDNAD and associated scientific and policing practices by demonstrating openness, ethical scrutiny and compliance with equalities legislation.

The NDNAD seems an open-and-shut case of the coming together of socio-technology and institutional racism. Yet in parliamentary committees and in the internal systems of NDNAD governance, discussion of discrimination and structural disadvantage has been largely avoided or postponed. It is striking how data features in this. Firstly the comparison with different race data sets on arrest and incarceration are used to suggest that, since the disproportionality of the NDNAD is comparable to that in other aspects of criminal justice, the database itself is race-neutral. Secondly, there is a continual focus on the inadequacy of the existing race data and the categories used to construct the data; thus final judgment on the fairness of the database always awaits better, fuller information. Thirdly what ethical discussion of ‘race’ and the database has taken place has transposed consideration of racism into discussion of people’s right to self-identify the ethnicity of their DNA profile.

The example of the NDNAD should therefore make us think more broadly about the performativity of data and the inseparability of the technical and the discursive in socio-technical infrastructures of data. Race data says and does many things in the NDNAD and has been used to obscure its racist outcomes. Moreover the collection and discussion of race data has other stigmatizing and legitimating effects, suggesting to those who operate the system and beyond that, however hard they try to be fair, they cannot help but confront the reality of black criminality.

Digital Sociology at the British Sociological Association Conference

If you are attending the BSA conference in Leeds this week, these sessions might be of interest to you:

‘The Social Life of (Digital) Methods: roundtable discussion’, Conference Auditorium 2, Friday 25th, 5-6pm

As an inaugural conference session for the BSA Digital Sociology study group, this roundtable discussion explores digital methods and their implications for sociological research.  The following speakers will be taking part:  Susan Halford (University of Southampton), Deborah Lupton (University of Canberra), Noortje Marres (Goldsmiths, University of London), Mike Savage, (London School of Economics and Political Science).

All the speakers have made significant contributions to the work on the social life of methods, and to the developing field of digital sociology. Furthermore, the topics under discussion have wider purchase for sociology as a whole at a time of disciplinary uncertainty in a context of rapid social change.  The roundtable will cover a diverse range of topics under the broad theme of the ‘social life of methods’ including the ‘crisis of empirical sociology’, the significance of ‘big data’, the history of sociological methods, the digital turn in social life and the problems and prospects for a critical social science under contemporary circumstances. This session will
not only address the conference theme of ‘changing society’ but will do so in a way which explores how the repertoires of social research are both shaping and being shaped by these broader changes within social life.
The session will be chaired by Evelyn Ruppert (Goldsmiths, University of London)

 

‘An Invitation to Digital Public Sociology’, Roger Stevens Lecture Theatre 1, Thursday 24th April, 11-12.30pm

This session asks what ‘public sociology’ entails in a world of facebook, twitter, youtube, slideshare, soundcloud, pinterest and wordpress. What affordances and constraints do these tools entail for the task described by Michael Burawoy of ‘taking knowledge back to those from whom it came, making public issues out of private troubles, and thus regenerating sociology’s moral fibre’? What implications do these tools have for the relationship between the public and private in the occupational biographies of individual sociologists and, through aggregation and collective organisation, the discipline as a whole? In addressing such questions it seeks to draw out the continuities between the emerging field of digital sociology and the longer-standing concerns of public sociology. In doing so it addresses the claim made by John Holmwood at the previous year’s conference that the task of sociology in an age of austerity is to ‘occupy debate and make inequality matter’ and argues that the digitalisation of social life entails profound challenges and opportunities for sociological inquiry.

Speakers: Jesse Daniels (City University of New York), Deborah Lupton (Canberra University), Sue Scott (University of York and University of Edinburgh)

There will also be a session on the ‘Quantified self and self-tracking: data, self and health‘, more details can be found here.

 

Virtual Spaces, Real Scars: Understanding the Web’s Aesthetic Surgery Discourses

by Beck Nash @Becki__Louise

Aesthetic Surgery is an inescapable feature of consumer culture. The UK saw aesthetic surgery figures increase by 17% overall since 2012; the biggest rise since prior to the 2008 recession. This increase does not include the uptake of non-surgical procedures. In the UK, there is continuing contention over the regulatory status of the industry – particularly in regard to non-surgical interventions. Catty ‘have they/haven’t they’ conjecture surrounding celebrities, spectacular surgery ‘disaster’ stories (complete with graphic visuals of affected body parts), and focus on the beauty of those who have ‘got surgery right’, saturates media.

I am interested in the role of the web on the production and consumption of aesthetic surgery. How it has invaded everyday life as a form of normative body maintenance – sometimes to the point that potentially ruinous DIY surgery is an attractive option.

Accessible routes to altering bodies – diets, exercise, cosmetics, or technologies such as aesthetic surgery – and pressure to take responsibility for individual body projects sees conforming to prevailing beauty standards as imperative. Pierre Bourdieu placed the body in society as a bearer of symbolic value, demonstrated by the notion of physical capital. This means adhering to aesthetics considered valuable and desirable within society: presenting the body as a possessor of power and status. Aesthetic surgery has become an increasingly popular route for individuals to obtain bodies imbued with physical capital. This, more often than not, consists of youthful, slim, Caucasian bodies.

It is, furthermore, the Foucauldian notion of the gaze which drives preoccupation with aesthetic surgery. TV shows such as ‘Extreme Makeover’, ‘The Swan’, ‘I Want a Famous Face’, and ‘Botched up Bodies’ sensationalise surgery successes and disasters. The most popular videos on YouTube related to aesthetic surgery overwhelmingly detail ‘disastrous’ surgeries; often the aesthetic failure of celebrities. As stated, online and offline media from news to gossip sites are quick to latch on to dialogues concerning secret surgeries, botched surgeries, or less often, successful surgery. These mediums paint a picture of consumer-patients variably duped by unscrupulous surgeons, obsessively driven by celebrity facade, and/or wider societal beauty norms. It is rare to come across media that talk about conscious, informed agents operating rationally within a popular consumer market. This does not sell. The selling point is in the voyeurism of the grotesque; the disaster.

When searching for aesthetic surgery online, a simple Google search of ‘cosmetic surgery UK’ retrieves nearly 20 million results. Geographically specific aesthetic surgery services, nationally established aesthetic surgery providers, news related to aesthetic surgery, and connected searches, including ‘cheap cosmetic surgery UK’, ‘free cosmetic surgery UK’, and ‘cosmetic surgery UK reviews’. In just one page of results is an unsurprisingly diverse online landscape for what has been considered the most extreme and invasive of body modifications.

What is interesting, though – given how popular the consumption of aesthetic surgery is – is how little attention the web has received in relation to engagement with aesthetic surgery. The Keogh Report produced by the Department of Health in 2013 scarcely mentioned the Web. When it did, it was with flippant ‘alarm’ that some individuals were self-administering aesthetic injectables purchased online. There was allusion to social media being one of the major ways of communicating information and selling services to young people. Otherwise, the Web may as well not exist.

This is clearly one of the oversights of the Keogh Report. It is a well-trodden line that the Web is the largest human information construct in history. It allows us to create, communicate, and consume information and services. The growth of diverse online environments engaging with particular issues enables individuals to browse the web for information and services, whilst maintaining communications in spaces like discussion forums. The dissemination of information, accessibility to, and availability of products, and affording communication with other users sees the web as something of a ‘one-stop’ for exploration and decision-making on many issues.

An understanding of these spaces matter, because the web contains regulated information, products and services, whilst affording potential misinformation, illegal or counterfeit products and services. And there is little known about how individuals are engaging with these competing and contrasting web spaces.

There is awareness-raising being carried out; notably ‘Safety in Beauty’ started by beauty writer Antonia Mariconda. ‘Safety in Beauty’ aims to educate and empower consumers through providing information they should consider before settling on a particular procedure and provider. Knowing how people engage with the aesthetic surgery landscape on the Web is crucial to highlighting forms of information-seeking, knowledge-building and, ultimately, consumption of aesthetic surgery.

With this, it is imperative to explore a number of different online spaces to build an understanding of the competing, contrasting and sometimes contradictory discourse surrounding representations of the body and aesthetic procedures. There is a need to open up discussion of the web and not reduce it to research of single online spaces. This is what my own research intends to do. It is not about big data, and it is not reduced to observing and analysing single online spaces. It is about capturing a snapshot of numerous online spaces. We are lacking a dialogue concerning aesthetic surgery on the web; an issue that blurs boundaries between health and consumer markets; between bioethics and consumer rights; between medical expertise and beauty markets.

If we can get a handle on the dominant discourses surrounding the body, aesthetic surgery and the web, there is a real contribution to be made to understanding just how individuals are engaging with a practice where, currently, the spectacle of the disaster prevails.

Department of Health (2013) Review of the Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions, available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/192028/Review_of_the_Regulation_of_Cosmetic_Interventions.pdf
British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (2014) Britain Sucks, Available at: http://baaps.org.uk/about-us/press-releases/1833-britain-sucks
Safety in Beauty: http://safetyinbeauty.com/

Call for Papers: Media Sociology Preconference, ASA 2014

Call for Papers: Media Sociology Preconference, ASA 2014

Venue: Mills College (Oakland, CA)
Date: August 15, 2014

We invite submissions for a second preconference on media sociology to
be held at Mills College (Oakland, CA) on Friday, August 15, 2014.
(This is one day before the start of the annual meeting of the
American Sociological Association in San Francisco.) To encourage the
widest possible range of submissions, we have no pre-specified theme
again this year and invite both theoretical and empirical papers on
any topic related to media sociology. Submissions from graduate
students and junior scholars are particularly welcome.

Media sociology has long been a highly diverse field spanning many
topics, methodologies, and units of analysis. It encompasses all forms
of mass-mediated communication and expression, including news media,
entertainment media, as well as new and digital media. Outstanding
research exists within the different subfields both within and beyond
the discipline of sociology. Our aim is to create dialogue among these
disparate yet complementary traditions.

This preconference is also linked to a campaign to form a Media
Sociology section of the ASA that is theoretically and
methodologically agnostic and aims to support sociological work
related to any and all media. A petition supported by signatures from
over 200 current members was submitted to the ASA Council in November
2013, and we are optimistic that Media Sociology will become a
Section-in-Formation in 2015.

Papers may be on a variety of topics including, but not limited to:
-production processes and/or media workers
-political economy (including the role of the state and markets)
-media and the public sphere
-media content
-the Internet, social media, cellular phones, or other technology
-the digital divide
-new uses of media
-media globalization or diaspora
-media effects of media consumption
-identity, the self, and media

Invited Speakers

Last year’s inaugural preconference, held at NYU’s Institute for
Public Knowledge and Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, was very
well-attended and featured an invited keynote by Dhiraj Murthy
(Goldsmiths, University of London) and a plenary panel addressing the
theme, “Mapping the Field of Media Sociology” with additional
participants Rodney Benson (NYU), Andrea Press (University of
Virginia), Michael Schudson (Columbia University), and Eleanor
Townsley (Mount Holyoke College).

This year’s keynote speaker will be Clayton Childress (University of
Toronto – Scarborough). A special plenary session on “Media Sociology
as a Vocation” will feature a panel discussion on careers in media
sociology. We will announce further invited speakers in due course.

Submissions

Submissions should include:
-Separate cover sheet with: title, name and affiliation, and email
address of author(s).
-Abstract of 150-300 words that discusses the problem, research,
methods and relevance.
-Also include at least three descriptive keywords. Note: DO NOT put
identifying information in the body of the abstract; only on cover
sheet.
-Use Microsoft Office or PDF format.

Send abstracts to casey.brienza.1@city.ac.uk. Please write “Media
Sociology Preconference” in the subject line.

Abstract deadline is March 31, 2014.

Notification of acceptance will occur sometime in mid-April.

Contact Casey Brienza (casey.brienza.1@city.ac.uk) or Matthias Revers
(mrevers@albany.edu) for more information about the preconference.

An Introduction to the Sociological Blogosphere

What is Digital Sociology?

Prof. Ralph Schroeder: “Digital Transformations of Knowledge”

In recent years, there has been a proliferation of research projects and programmes under the labels of e-Science, e-Humanities, cyberinfrastructures, and e-Infrastructures. The broader term ‘e-Research’ encompasses all of these, and can be defined in shorthand form as: distributed and collaborative digital tools and data for online knowledge production. These digital approaches have transformed knowledge and reconfigured disciplines; especially the relation between computer science and other fields, but also more fundamentally between scientific approaches and others that are less scientific. Recently, ‘big data’ is adding to these transformations. This talk will present a wide range of case studies in this area, to ask about the consequences of e-Research and related changes – for scholarship, and for how we understand the world around us: what kinds of new disintermediations and intermediations are taking place between the knower and the objects of knowledge, and how can we understand these changes from a sociological perspective?

The interdisciplinary lecture series “Internet & Society”, organised by the Institute of Political Science and the Sociological Research Institute, as part of the Digital Humanities Research Collaboration, explores the social, technological and political interactions of the Internet and society. More information can be found underhttp://www.gcdh.de/index.php?cID=341. 

The pedagogical value of Twitter: enhancing the collective identity of independent learners

Last year I taught on a newly designed module in my school and was struck by the value of Twitter as a learning resource and teaching tool. ‘Current Issues in Society’ is a first year undergraduate module that has deviated quite considerably from the conventional teaching format. Usually, a module is made up of a one hour lecture and a one hour seminar each week over the course of an academic term. Albeit a tried-and-tested formula, this roster can, at times, stifle the pedagogical process. Particularly for those just beginning their degree, this teaching timetable can sometimes feel disjointed, with students only starting to grasp the content and rationale of a module in the latter weeks of term. Independent research and reading are a crucial means by which to ‘bridge the gap’ but this often leaves students navigating an unfamiliar academic terrain alone. At the beginning of their degree, students are not only faced with the challenge of familiarising themselves with their lecturers and peers, they must also grapple with a step change in their educational development. Namely, they have to negotiate the transition from passive to active independent learner.

‘Current Issues in Society’ broke the mould in a number of important respects to respond to some of these challenges. The module ran as a mini-conference over one afternoon each week, with an opening plenary, two hour workshop and closing plenary. This format facilitated intensive and collaborative working between staff and students. Many positive outcomes of the course can be ascribed to this format, but I’d like to focus here on an important adjunct to this shakeup – the introduction and use of Twitter. The module in question lent itself particularly well to this innovation with the primary focus of the course being on the uses (and abuses) of evidence, arguments and theory in current affairs. Before, during and after each mini-conference, students were encouraged to tweet their reflections and any content relevant to the topic of that week.

teachingwithtwitter

Online dialogue between students and staff extended teaching beyond the classroom

As a result, students availed themselves of the opportunity to engage with the news in a way that many never would have done before. Not only were students accessing and consuming academic knowledge in a novel format but they were also able to generate, map and track their own knowledge in a concise and compelling new way.

Twitter as a heuristic in that process allowed students to engage with the content of the course in their everyday lives – not for just a few hours a week. Students were able to interact with their peers and the content of the module well beyond the classroom. This proved immersive so that students more seamlessly developed new ways of interpreting and using the news in their wider academic work, whilst thinking sociologically in their day to day lives. Crucially, it enabled students to integrate this way of looking at the social world and themselves within it through a medium that is often (falsely) considered separate from more formalised pedagogic methods.

teachingwithtwitter2

Students recognised the value of the module and use of Twitter

Thinking and working alone are key features of independent learning. However, due to the open forum of Twitter, students could see each other engaging with material and continuing the sociological discussion (with themselves and others) beyond the classroom. This sort of symbolic feedback cultivated a collective identity amongst students, such that they were able to situate themselves and their own work within the School. Using Twitter opened up new avenues for students to explore, develop and play with the material of the course. Perhaps most importantly though it offered students the reassurance of being ‘alone together’ in their transition to active independent learners.

After the course last year, there was a clear realisation amongst the students that engaging with current affairs and thinking sociologically outside of their lectures and seminars can greatly enhance their understanding and experience of the academic programme. Without the use of these more innovative teaching methods, I doubt students would have come to the same realisation so easily.

The module will be running again this semester. Follow @SSP_Cissues to see how we get on!

Daniel Edmiston is a PhD student in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds.