Paper (to be) presented at the 3rd ESA Sociology of Culture RN mid-term conference, Università Bocconi, Milan, Italy, 9 october 2010. Session 46: Social networks and new forms of sociability.
Original title "Rationalised intimacy: towards a sociological understanding of social media"
Early sociological accounts of the Internet most often explored the difference between online and offline social realities with an emphasis on online social relationships as forming the base of a distinct space of possibilities. As a consequence of the social and semantic turn in web development, online space is now conceptualised in a profoundly different manner. Not only is it regarded as an extension of the social realm offline but indeed as a regulating layer thereof. To a large extent, the formation of the discursive field of social media is driven by self acclaimed experts with an aspiration to proclaim that we are witnessing a fundamental change of society and social relationships. Taking its point of departure in a framework of cultural studies and discourse analysis, this paper sets out to explore the arguments put forward in the 20 most influential popular scientific books published on the subject of social media. Arguing that these social media visionaries are important actors in the regulation as well as articulation of the meaning of social media, this paper highlights core assumptions and lines of arguments upon which the popular scientific texts are based. These assumptions and arguments, in turn, are put under sociological scrutiny in order to facilitate an understanding of social media that does not merely rely on utopian prophecies on technological innovation but rather takes into account a sociological understanding of the complexities of late modern society.