On the 16th July, Kim, Heather and Laura spoke at the inaugural event of a new British Sociological Association study group – Digital Sociology. The event – titled ‘What is Digital Sociology?’ – was organised by the group’s co-convenors, Mark Carrigan and Emma Head. As Mark and Emma set out in their ambitions and rationale for this new study group, the form, practice and distinctive features of ‘digital sociology’ remain vague and undefined. This study group – and the first event – are attempts to address this, bringing together ‘a diverse range of speakers who, in a variety of ways, work within the nascent field of digital sociology’ into ‘an open and informal exploration of a broad range of exciting work being undertaken by sociologists in the UK which could, in the broadest sense of the term, be characterised as ‘digital’’. In this post we reflect on how we came to be there. In three other posts, we share versions of the presentations that we gave. Kim discusses some of the challenges we have encountered in using digital methods in the project. Laura talks about our collective approach to ‘digital engagement’ and some of the tensions involved. Heather problematises the alignment between online impact and neoliberal academia.
We’d been invited to speak at the event by Mark on the basis of how we’d been using social media on the project. In reflecting on this generous and unexpected invitation, we discussed how we’d found ourselves positioned as ‘doing’ digital sociology in ways we never anticipated, in a panel alongside more experienced bloggers Ben Baumberg and Mark Murphy.
As we said on the day, we never saw ourselves or the project as ‘digital sociology’. While the words ‘sociology’ and, if not ‘digital’, then certainly ‘online’ and ‘social media’ featured in our original funding application, what you write in the bid and what happens aren’t the same. Yet, almost a year into the project, we can see how our work has begun, in several ways, to engage with some of the key aspects suggested by Deborah Lupton as making up ‘Digital Sociology’:
1. Professional digital media use: using the kinds of tools discussed above for academic purposes.
2. Sociological analyses of digital media use: researching the ways in which people’s use of digital media configures these sense of selves, their embodiment and their social relationships.
3. Digital data analysis: using pre-existing digital data for social research, either quantitative or qualitative.
4. Critical digital sociology: undertaking reflexive and critical analysis of digital media informed by social and cultural theory.
Engaging with the digital in both the data collection and by creating an online presence for the project, has brought us many rewards as well as some challenges. Speaking at the event provided a useful opportunity to reflect on these: the ways in which the digital has and is shaping what we do, how we do it and what we know through this project.
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