digital sociology

Chapter Abstracts for Deb Lupton’s Digital Sociology book

Re-blogged from Deborah’s Lupton’s blog This Sociological Life:

I am pleased to announce that my latest book, Digital Sociology, has now gone into production with Routledge, and is due for publication around October this year. Here are the chapter abstracts to give some idea of the book’s contents.

1 Introduction: life is digital
In this introductory chapter I make an argument for why digital sociology is important and why sociology needs to make the study of digital technologies central to its very remit. It is argued that ubiquitous and mobile digital media have changed the ways in which social life is represented, conducted, monitored, managed and analysed. Digital technologies affect social relationships, concepts of identity and embodiment, the monitoring and organisation of people’s movements in space and the creation of and access to information and knowledge. I provide an overview of how digital sociology has developed and outline its four main aspects: professional digital use, analyses of digital technology use, digital data analysis, and critical digital sociology.

2 Theorising digital society
Chapter 2 provides a foundation for the ensuing chapters by reviewing the major theoretical perspectives that are developed in the book. The literature reviewed in the chapter is mainly drawn from sociology but also includes contributions from scholars in media and cultural studies, science and technology studies, surveillance studies, software studies and cultural geography. The perspectives that are discussed include analyses of the global information and new forms of power, the sociomaterial perspective on the relationship between humans and digital technologies, prosumption, neoliberalism and the sharing subject, the importance of the archive, theories of veillance (watching) that are relevant to digital society and theories concerning digitised embodiment.

3 Reconceptualising research in the digital era
Chapter 3 focuses on sociological and other social research in the digital era. The aim of the discussion is not to outline how to do digital research in detail. Rather I present an overview not only of some of the approaches that are available and their possibilities and limitations, but also of the more theoretical and critical stances that sociologists are taking to digital social research. I also devote attention to innovative ways of performing digital social research that are part of attempts to invigorate sociological research practice as a way of demonstrating the new and exciting directions in which sociology can extend in response to digital society.

4 The digitised academic
The higher education workplace has become increasingly digitised, with many teaching and learning resources and academic publications moving online and the performance of academics and universities monitored and measured using digital technologies. Some sociologists and other academics are also beginning to use social media as part of their academic work. In this chapter I examine the benefits and possibilities offered by digital technologies but also identify the limitations, drawbacks and risks that may be associated with becoming a digitised academic and the politics of digital public engagement.

5 A critical sociology of big data
Chapter 5 takes a critical sociological perspective on the big data phenomenon. The discussion emphasises that big data sets are systems of knowledge that are implicated in power relations. Big data are both the product of social and cultural processes and themselves act to configure elements of society and culture. They have their own politics, vitality and social life. Following an overview of the ways in which big data discourses and practices have achieved dominance in many social spheres, I discuss how digital data assemblages and algorithms possess power and authority, the metaphors used to describe big data and what these reveal about our anxieties and concerns about this phenomenon, big data hubris and rotten data and the ethical issues related to big data.

6 The diversity of digital technology use
Chapter 6 reviews research that has studied the use of digital technologies in different areas of the globe and how socioeconomic, cultural and political factors shape, promote or delimit the use of these technologies. I move from a discussion of the findings of large-scale surveys involving large numbers of respondents from specific countries or cross-nationally to in-depth qualitative investigations that are able to provide the detailed context for differences in internet use. The chapter shows that digital social inequalities are expressed and reproduced in a range of ways, including cultures of use as well as lack of access. Social inequalities and marginalisation may also be perpetuated and exacerbated online.

7 Digital politics and citizen digital public engagement
In Chapter 7 I examine the politics of digital veillance, activism, privacy debates, calls for openness of digital data and citizen digital public engagement. It is argued that while digital activism and moves to render digital data more open to citizens can be successful to some extent in achieving their aims, claims that they engender a major new form of political resistance or challenge to institutionalised power are inflated. Indeed digital technologies can provide a means by which activists can come under surveillance and be discredited by governments. Other negative aspects of citizen digital public engagement are outlined, including the ways in which the internet can incite discrimination and vigilantism and promote the dissemination of false information.

8 The digitised body/self
Chapter 8 addresses the ways in which digital software and hardware are becoming part of our identities as they store more data about our experiences, our social relationships and encounters and our bodily functioning. Digital sociologists and other digital media researchers have recognised the ways in which human embodiment and concepts of selfhood are represented and configured via digital technologies, digital data and digital social networks. It is not only the data or images produced via digital technologies that are important to research and theorise, but also how the objects themselves are used in practice. This chapter examines the incorporation of digital technologies into everyday lives across a range of contexts.

 

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TASA 2013 annual conference

Last week, the 2013 TASA conferences organisers Nick Osbaldiston, Catherine Strong and Helen Forbes-Mewett treated Australian sociologists to our annual get-together at Monash University in Melbourne. The special 50-year anniversary of TASA inspired a conference filled with memories, reflections, reunions and new connections. Keynotes by Professor John Holmwood, Professor Celia Lury and Professor Raewyn Connell all in one way or another reflected on the challenges and opportunities of the changing higher education landscape and sociology as a discipline. The stimulating plenaries also took up the conference theme, tackling questions such as the need for interdisciplinarity and the applicability of sociology outside of academia, as well as reflecting on the impressive history of sociology in Australia.

As in past years, the Cultural Sociology stream featured strongly in the TASA conference program. In eleven sessions we tackled theories and methods, the multiplication of modernity, professional subjectivities, state-public relations, memory and Australian identity, contested sexualities, styles, space and place, class and, of course, culture! It was fascinating to see once again the diversity and vibrancy of cultural sociological work in Australia. A particular highlight for us this year was to feature the first ever sessions on Digital Sociology in Australia. The abundance of papers around digital culture prompted us to put on two sessions on the theme and the popularity resonated in the jam-packed rooms.

Deborah Lupton opened the first session with her poignant characterisation of digital sociology. Her presentation was followed by some interesting case studies around Google Glass (Timothy Graham and myself, Theresa Sauter), the Google algorithm (David Collis), and Q&A (Erin Carlisle). In the second session I offered a critical perspective on the label ‘digital sociology’, illustrated with the example of Pinterest as a technique of self. Then, Tristan Kennedy reflected on ethical methodologies in online participant observation, Tim Jordan presented his research on ethical consumption apps (also on behalf of Kim Humphery) and Ashlin Lee theorised convergent mobile technology.

For those interested in the emergence of Digital Sociology as a sub-discipline, Deborah Lupton (deborah.lupton@sydney.edu.au), Alexia Maddox (alexia.maddox@curtin.edu.au) and I (t.sauter@qut.edu.au) are looking to establish an Australian Digital Sociology research network. Please contact any of us if you would like to join!

The Cultural Sociology group is now TASA’s largest thematic group. We are keen to strengthen the community further and to encourage collaborations between our members. A prime example of this was the pre-conference symposium on ‘Cultural Sociology Today’, which we held on Monday November 25, supported by La Trobe University Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Thesis Eleven Centre. (Please stay tuned for a more detailed blog-post about the day).

We hope those who attended the conference enjoyed the sessions. Many thanks to all speakers for their interesting presentations and to listeners for their collegiate, supportive engagement.

See you all at TASA 2014 in Adelaide and stay tuned for exciting new endeavours by the Cultural Sociology group in the new year!

Why should sociologists study digital media?

by Deborah Lupton
re-blogged from This Sociological Life

Why should sociologists be interested in the new digital media technologies? This is a question I have been thinking and writing about recently in developing my next book project on digital sociology (to be published by Routledge next year). Here are some of the reasons that have emerged in the literature:

  • Social life is increasingly being configured through and with digital media.
  • What counts as ‘the social’ is increasingly framed via digital media.
  • Digital media use and practice is structured through gender, social class, geographical location, education, race/ethnicity and age, all social categories with which sociologists have traditionally been interested.
  • Digital media are integral parts of contemporary social networks and social institutions such as the family, the workplace, the education system, the healthcare system, the mass media and the economy, again phenomena that have long been foci for sociological research and theorising.
  • Digital media configure concepts of selfhood, social relationships, embodiment, human/nonhuman relations, space and time – all relevant to sociological inquiry.
  • Digital media have instituted new forms of power relations.
  • Digital media have become central to issues of measure and value.
  • Digital media offer alternative ways of practising sociology: of researching, teaching and disseminating research.
  • Digital media are important both to ‘public sociology’ (engaging with people outside of academia) and ‘private sociology’ (personal identities and practices as sociologists) (see here for my previous post on this).
  • Digital media challenge sociologists’ role as pre-eminent social researchers: sociologists need to address this.
  • Digital media technologies can contribute to ‘live sociology’ and ‘inventive methods’, or new, creative ways of practising sociology.

As this list implies, digital sociology goes well beyond simply a focus on ‘the digital’. It raises major questions about what should be the focus and methods of contemporary sociological research and theorising. As such, sociologists writing about digital media are important contributors to debates about the future of sociology and how the discipline can remain vibrant, creative and responsive to new developments and social change.