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CAN YOU DIGIT? DIGITAL
SOCIOLOGY’S VOCATIONAL
PROMISE
Stephen Barnard
St. Lawrence University
@socsavvy
Guiding Insights
 “In the final analysis, the
problems that we
identify and resolve
through technological
innovation will...
Goals of the paper…
 To make the case for a more digitally-attuned
sociology, and to forge a path in that direction.
 He...
When I started grad school, I
dreamt of a true commitment to
(Digital) Media Sociology…
Part my concern was with
tradition...
By time I left grad school,
networked classrooms looked
like this
Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence University
Im...
On the wrong side of our own
‘digital divide’
Digital Humanities has really
taken off…
While the potential for sociology
i...
“Digital Humanities” has
really taken off
Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence University
Figure 1: Google Ngram of ...
Digital Sociology is behind,
but showing promise
 Especially in the U.S.
 Only 2 references to “digital sociology” in th...
Lessons from the Digital
Humanities
 DH is inclusive and interdisciplinary
 Still, dialectics of inclusion and exclusion...
Two types of Digitality for
Sociology
Digital Scholarship Scholarship of the Digital
 scholarly work that leverages
digit...
The Reality of Digitality
 We live in a Networked
Society
 Castells 2009; Rainie
andWellman 2012
 Social relations are
...
A Tale of Two Fetishisms
Technology Fetishism Fetishism of the “Real Life”
 Fetishism
 “the habit humans have of
endowin...
Waking up to the Digital
World
DS is more than just
“Add digital data and stir”
It will take shifts in ontology and
episte...
Four issues DS must address
1) Update our analytical orientation
 Ontologies, epistemologies, methodologies
 Better acco...
In every great challenge
lies great opportunity
 The hybridity of fields and practices in the networked era
presents a va...
Closing remarks: we must
attend to the digital world
After all, other disciplines are
like
While a majority of sociologist...
Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence University
THANK YOU…
I look forward to comments
and questions
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CAN YOU DIGIT? DIGITAL SOCIOLOGY’S VOCATIONAL PROMISE -- ESS 2015

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The proliferation of digital technologies and augmented social relations offer great potential for the vocation of sociology. Although the greatest interest in the digital turn has centered on sources of data, digitality also provides many excellent methodological benefits as well as new and evolving subjects of analysis. This paper seeks to make the case for a more digitally-attuned sociology, and to forge a path in that direction. To accomplish this task, I begin with a brief history of digital sociology — in the U.S. and beyond — as well as a survey of other, related approaches that have gained greater traction in the field. Next, I examine the state of social life in the digitally networked era and make the case for sociology’s need to update its epistemological orientation to put an end to fetishisms of technology and the "real world." Finally, I outline an agenda for the future of digital sociology along with some suggestions for how it might be accomplished.

Full paper available here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2569223

Published in: Technology
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CAN YOU DIGIT? DIGITAL SOCIOLOGY’S VOCATIONAL PROMISE -- ESS 2015

  1. 1. CAN YOU DIGIT? DIGITAL SOCIOLOGY’S VOCATIONAL PROMISE Stephen Barnard St. Lawrence University @socsavvy
  2. 2. Guiding Insights  “In the final analysis, the problems that we identify and resolve through technological innovation will always be essentially human concerns which engender characteristically human solutions. Much the same can be said for the practice of sociology.” -Adrian Athique 2013: 263 Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence UniversityImage Credit  “media do not simply add a new element to the story, they transform it” -Livingstone 2009:8)
  3. 3. Goals of the paper…  To make the case for a more digitally-attuned sociology, and to forge a path in that direction.  Here’s how: 1. I begin with a brief history of digital sociology—in the U.S. and beyond—as well as a survey of other, related approaches that have gained greater traction in the field.” 2. I examine the state of social life in the digitally networked era and make the case for sociology’s need to update its epistemological orientation to put an end to fetishisms of technology and the “real world. 3. I outline an agenda for the future of digital sociology along with some suggestions for how it might be accomplished. Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence University
  4. 4. When I started grad school, I dreamt of a true commitment to (Digital) Media Sociology… Part my concern was with traditional media And the other part was with citizenship and digital media Image: Associated Press Image: Associated Press Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence University
  5. 5. By time I left grad school, networked classrooms looked like this Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence University Image credit: Chris Corwin
  6. 6. On the wrong side of our own ‘digital divide’ Digital Humanities has really taken off… While the potential for sociology is still right at our fingertips… Image credit Image credit Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence University
  7. 7. “Digital Humanities” has really taken off Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence University Figure 1: Google Ngram of book references to “digital humanities”
  8. 8. Digital Sociology is behind, but showing promise  Especially in the U.S.  Only 2 references to “digital sociology” in the Social Science Citation Index  Still, there is a lot of good, digitally-attuned sociology  digital inequality and literacy  (Hargittai, 2010; Hughey and Daniels, 2013; Schradie 2011),  digital culture and interaction  (Boyd, 2014; Marwick, 2012;Trottier 2013, Papacharissi 2010),  networked society and social movements  (Castells, 2013; Rainie andWellman, 2012; Earl and Kimport, 2011),  medical sociology and the quantified self (Lupton, 2014),  political sociology (Kriess, 2014),  media sociology, etc.  (Benson et al., 2012; Gillespie et al., 2014; Waisbord 2014) Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence University
  9. 9. Lessons from the Digital Humanities  DH is inclusive and interdisciplinary  Still, dialectics of inclusion and exclusion exist  …and they are destructive and distracting  Beware of buzzwords, determinism, and fetishism  DH is primarily a methodological intervention  But, digital interventions have also opened up entire new issues for the humanities, as they have for sociology Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence University
  10. 10. Two types of Digitality for Sociology Digital Scholarship Scholarship of the Digital  scholarly work that leverages digital tools in the process of academic inquiry.  data collection  content from social media platforms or other web sites  online surveys  other forms of digital data, however “big”  methods  social network analysis  digital ethnography  collaborative coding  publication outlets  blogs  social media platforms  paper sharing sites  open-access publications  the explicit consideration and analysis of issues arising from the proliferation of digital technologies.  In and around sociology, there is work on internet studies, digital inequality, augmented reality, media logic, and mediation/mediatization, among many others Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence University
  11. 11. The Reality of Digitality  We live in a Networked Society  Castells 2009; Rainie andWellman 2012  Social relations are “augmented” by technology usage  Jurgenson 2012; Coleman 2011 Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence University
  12. 12. A Tale of Two Fetishisms Technology Fetishism Fetishism of the “Real Life”  Fetishism  “the habit humans have of endowing real or imagined objects or entities with self-contained, mysterious, and even magical powers to move and shape the world in distinctive ways” (Harvey, 2003)  Characteristics:  Utopian celebration;Technological determinism; ignorant of political- economy  Sites of struggle  Big Data  It’s great, but relying on pre- selected, structured data has costs  Jurgenson’s Lexicon and the “IRL fetish”  resists changes in culture and technology by fetishizing that which is the apparent antithesis of technology, human sociality, and by constructing a dualistic view of reality, digital versus physical (Jurgenson 2012)  Characteristics:  Utopian celebration of f2f;Vintage nostalgia; separation fallacy;  Sites of Struggle  Digital Dualism vs. Augmented Reality  Atoms and Bits Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence University
  13. 13. Waking up to the Digital World DS is more than just “Add digital data and stir” It will take shifts in ontology and epistemology, theory and method, research questions and data collection, etc.  If we are not of and with members of society, then we can hardly expect to characterize them fairly or accurately in our research (Gans, 2014; cf. Barnard andVan Gerven, 2009) Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence UniversityImage Credit
  14. 14. Four issues DS must address 1) Update our analytical orientation  Ontologies, epistemologies, methodologies  Better account for the networked world 2) Keep structure and agency in balance  Resist deterministic and fetishistic frames  Leveraged affordances (Earl and Kimport, 2012) and mutual shaping (Trottier 2013) are steps in the right direction 3) Preserve meaning and thick description in the age of big data  Strive to maintain context; don’t forget the hard, interpretive work  Consider observational biases, interests and power relations 4) Broaden our definitions…of teaching, scholarship, service, and even sociology  We live in a complex, hybrid world  Our practices should be more…practical Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence University
  15. 15. In every great challenge lies great opportunity  The hybridity of fields and practices in the networked era presents a valuable opportunity to reevaluate sociology’s vocational promise.  While sociology has historically been attuned to viewing the world as a commingling of agents and interactions with/in institutional contexts, it is also possible for sociological approaches to recognize the emergence of a digital, hypermediated superstructure that augments traditional social relations.  Just as actors in other fields have developed networked practices and dispositions to suit changes to the media environment (Barnard forthcoming; Papacharissi and Easton 2013), sociologists can (and should) adapt to living and researching in a networked society.  A critical mass of society’s members (including many sociologists) belong to the networked public. We should listen to the members and start giving digital developments the attention they deserve. Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence University
  16. 16. Closing remarks: we must attend to the digital world After all, other disciplines are like While a majority of sociologists still have our heads buried in the sand Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence University Image credit Image credit
  17. 17. Stephen Barnard | @socsavvy | St. Lawrence University THANK YOU… I look forward to comments and questions

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