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Rationalized Intimacy and Disciplinary Social Networks

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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"

Original abstract:
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.

Published in: Technology
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Rationalized Intimacy and Disciplinary Social Networks

  1. 1. Rationalized Intimacy and Disciplinary Social Networks Dr Martin Berg Senior Researcher @ Good Old, Sweden Senior Lecturer in Sociology @ Halmstad University Research Affiliate @ MEDEA Collaborative Media Initiative Paper (to be) presented at the 3rd ESA Sociology of Culture RN mid-term conference, Università Bocconi, Milan, Italy, 9 october 2010
  2. 2. Introductory remarks Corporate post-doctoral research project focusing on social media Enormous gap between scholarly and corporate lines of reasoning Pop-science and ”business manifestos” are influential interpreters of contemporary society and function as regulatory devices drawing boundaries in the discursive production of knowledge Proto-theoretical attempts to explain the current state of the field The point of departure is often the technological development per se Which are the main arguments and core assumptions and how do they build up the foundational logic of a proto-theory? Paper (to be) presented at the 3rd ESA Sociology of Culture RN mid-term conference, Università Bocconi, Milan, Italy, 9 october 2010
  3. 3. Methodological concerns The most influential/best-selling ”business manifestos” under scrutiny (approximately 10-15 books). Texual analysis focusing on lines of reasoning, core assumptions and proto-theoretical patterns. The texts are widely used as a point of reference within the industry and could hence be regarded as important actors in the discursive production of knowledge and visions of the future. As a corporate researcher, I am being torn between different fields of thought, radically contradictory expectations and conflicting aims. A modest reconciliation between corporate and scholarly thought. Paper (to be) presented at the 3rd ESA Sociology of Culture RN mid-term conference, Università Bocconi, Milan, Italy, 9 october 2010
  4. 4. There’s a revolution... ”how blogs are changing the way businesses talk with with customers” "how blogs, MySpace, YouTube and the rest of today's user- generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values” ”how mass collaboration changes everything” ”the surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives” "how social media transforms the way we live and do business." Paper (to be) presented at the 3rd ESA Sociology of Culture RN mid-term conference, Università Bocconi, Milan, Italy, 9 october 2010
  5. 5. Conception of social change Social change is thought of as induced by technological development and the changing patterns of social interaction that it provokes. Social change is often assumed to occur as a complex interplay between micro- and macroscopical processes. There are two major tendencies in the empirical material: A tension between increased levels of rationalization and intimacy. In order to sustain the above mentioned processes, social networks work in a disciplinary fashion demanding authenticity and trust thus surveilling rather than liberating actors. Paper (to be) presented at the 3rd ESA Sociology of Culture RN mid-term conference, Università Bocconi, Milan, Italy, 9 october 2010
  6. 6. Rationalized Intimacy The development of social technologies has led to a dramatic increase in social connectivity/visibility and it is often argued that they leverage "old" patterns of sociability.  Social technologies are thought to challenge contemporary society by lowering the transaction cost for social organization thus making the barriers of group action collapse.  Decline of traditional institutional power goes hand in hand with new forms of social cohesion, dispersion of power and late modern processes of differentiation.  Paper (to be) presented at the 3rd ESA Sociology of Culture RN mid-term conference, Università Bocconi, Milan, Italy, 9 october 2010
  7. 7. Rationalized Intimacy Actors in the new economy must seek to reduce inefficiency and avoid obstructing intermediaries in the economic or social chain of transactions. It appears to be the case that processes of rationalization go hand in hand with the notion of intimacy and it is assumed that close relationships characterized by trust and dialogue are crucial in order to maintain the "new social order". Social interaction and interpersonal communication are thought of as marked by efficiency, rapidity, simplicity and smoothness. Embarrasing or costly social situations should at all times be avoided. Paper (to be) presented at the 3rd ESA Sociology of Culture RN mid-term conference, Università Bocconi, Milan, Italy, 9 october 2010
  8. 8. Disciplinary Social Networks People’s enmeshment in social networks have changed the conditions of social interaction and it appears to be the case that this entails changes at a macroscopical level that are nourished by a fear of being caught "doing something inappropriate".  Technological development includes the possibility of ubiquitous social documentation through cameras together with a simultaneous interlinkage between individuals, places, actions and so forth through the function of tagging.  The possibilities of creative self-expression have increased, yet they go hand in hand with a higher level of social control: ”[w]hat happens in Vegas stays on YouTube” (Qualman 2009). Paper (to be) presented at the 3rd ESA Sociology of Culture RN mid-term conference, Università Bocconi, Milan, Italy, 9 october 2010
  9. 9. Disciplinary Social Networks The decline of traditional forms of authority implies the rise of another, yet much more complex authority that gains legitimacy through the individuals’ desire to express themselves. We are dealing with the emergence of a regulatory regime made possible by an urge for increased visibility and social connectivity. The social technologies that once was thought to provide a social space characterized by playfulness and curiosity have evolved into a mechanism of social control that "rewards first-class behavior and punishes improper behavior" (Qualman 2009: 240). Paper (to be) presented at the 3rd ESA Sociology of Culture RN mid-term conference, Università Bocconi, Milan, Italy, 9 october 2010
  10. 10. Disciplinary Social Networks The desire for belonging, recognition and sense of social community provide that actors are willing to lead a life characterized by openness and transparency. This state of affairs demands a streamlined self-presentation and provides that social action needs to be bound up with careful consideration. It is through the lack of freedom that perceived freedom to express oneself emerges: it is a question of gaining agency through the disciplinary power of the networks. Online processes appear to govern actions in the offline social realm. Paper (to be) presented at the 3rd ESA Sociology of Culture RN mid-term conference, Università Bocconi, Milan, Italy, 9 october 2010
  11. 11. Through a sociological lens Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck: Increased individualization and reflexivity. Intimacy is an important feature of late modern personal relationships. George Ritzer: McDonaldization of self and subjectivity; an interrelationship between efficiency, calculability, predictability and control through nonhuman technology. It often leads to the opposites of the four features (inefficiency, unpredictability,  incalculability and loss of control). Michel Foucault: Subjectivation through subjection: it is through the impossibility of exceeding the rules of the social game that actors can engage in playing.  Paper (to be) presented at the 3rd ESA Sociology of Culture RN mid-term conference, Università Bocconi, Milan, Italy, 9 october 2010
  12. 12. Through a sociological lens Erich Fromm: The distinction between "freedom from" and "freedom to" can provide a framework for analyzing the feelings of anxiety that comes with the decline in traditional authority. Are the social networks acting as yet another authoritarian system helping the individual in contemporary society to cope with or perhaps eliminate uncertainty by prescribing certain patterns of thought and action? Christopher Lash: "In technological forms of life we make sense of the world through technological systems" (2002: 15). Paper (to be) presented at the 3rd ESA Sociology of Culture RN mid-term conference, Università Bocconi, Milan, Italy, 9 october 2010
  13. 13. Where do I go from here? Deepening the theoretical framework and analytical schemes. Interrelating the characteristics of late modern society and different conceptions of cultural/communicative capitalism. Strengthening the conceptual constructions ”rationalized intimacy” and ”disciplinary social networks”. Narrowing down the scope of the study even further. What are your suggestions? Paper (to be) presented at the 3rd ESA Sociology of Culture RN mid-term conference, Università Bocconi, Milan, Italy, 9 october 2010
  14. 14. Thank you! martin@goodold.se twitter.com/martinberg +46 73 54 65 010 Download this presentation from slideshare.net/drberg Paper (to be) presented at the 3rd ESA Sociology of Culture RN mid-term conference, Università Bocconi, Milan, Italy, 9 october 2010

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