Digital Sociology

But, there is something sociology must do. It is our disciplinary imperative to understand societies. Just as communication studies understands forms of communication, sociology must understand the social. If we have learned anything from internet studies it is that the internet is central to every form of social interaction in advanced modern societies. It is moving capital, reshaping global flows, building new institutional forms, reshaping firms, shifting our forms of social interaction and impacting our concept of the self. If internet studies is right, and I believe it is, then to understand modern societies we must understand what about the society is digital.

What is different about sociology’s approach is that we cannot, by virtue of the foundations of sociological knowledge, do this just to understand an end. We cannot care about the internet or the digital. That is not the sociologist’s job. Our job is to understand the means by which, the conditions under which, the context of internet technologies. We study process. And, if we are to matter, sociologists study inequality.

That is something that no other subfield can say quite the way that sociology can. The interdisciplinary fields are the best competition for bragging right’s on this. And, if we do it right, we should always be engaging feminist studies, black studies, African American studies, Latinx studies and so-on. Our contribution to how inequality shapes societies and people should be unique but it shouldn’t be in isolation. I will go so far as to say that no other disicpline can or will or has focused all of its tools and energies on unraveling macro and micro inequalities as they relate to technological change and technologies. I would hope that other fields would welcome us to these conversations because they matter so much more than academic status games.

Why Is Digital Sociology? – Tressie McMillan Cottom

The need for digital sociology is now.

Digital Sociologies . Policy Press.

The sociological imagination, as C. Wright Mills described it, is the task of comprehending the ways in which biography and history, the individual and society, intersect (Mills, 1959).

Digital technologies simultaneously offer liberatory possibilities for destabilizing old hierarchies while at the same time they create mechanisms for retrenching well-established patterns of inequality, stratification, and domination. It is through the recognition of this tension that we have come to see the need for the critical practice of what we now call “digital sociology” (Wynn, 2009; Orton-Johnson and Prior, 2012; Carrigan, 2013; Marres, 2013; Lupton, 2014; Orton-Johnson et al, 2015). Digital sociology provides a lens through which to understand the individual and society after digitization.

digital sociology is concerned first with social problems (social inequality, race, gender) and then with technology (Wajcman, 2002).

the need for digital sociology is now.

It is this inclination toward interdisciplinarity that Collins identifies that gives rise to digital sociology. “Digital sociology is best understood as an interdisciplinary practice,” writes Noortje Marres (2013). And this in line with how we think of the work collected here: making a contribution to digital sociology while drawing on an interdisciplinary practice. This collection is a response, in many ways, to Collins’ observation that as we become more interdependent and more interconnected, we need an interdisciplinary sociology to make sense of the networked world. A wide array of pressing social issues, and contemporary attempts to address them, make digital sociology necessary.

To understand such endeavors and the problems they are trying to address, we need scholars who are trained to understand digital technologies and who have sociological training that is linked to a politics of liberation. This “liberation sociology” takes the perspective of those seeking liberation from oppressive conditions, and is the framework from which we need to understand what it means to be a child that receives “one laptop” from a US-based non-profit or someone who uses an “app for their own good” coded by someone else (Feagin et al, 2015). As we conceive it, digital sociology is rooted both in interdisciplinarity and in the politics of liberation.

While the early days of the internet had many people, from commercial advertisers to esteemed scholars, contemplating how digital technologies might allow us to escape embodiment, few believe this now. As we move into the era of the Internet of Things, the digital realm is no longer a destination, somewhere to go that is separate from us, it is in thing, in us and on our bodies (Howard, 2015; Neff and Nafus, 2016).

Digital Sociologies . Policy Press.

Digital sociology is rooted both in interdisciplinarity and in the politics of liberation.

Digital Sociologies . Policy Press.

As I see it, digital sociology will:

observe macro changes in the digital society

observe changes in institutions that shape the digital society

observe and explain the effect of macro and institutional changes on groups

observe and explain micro effects and the everyday life of the digital society

How Digital Sociology? – Tressie McMillan Cottom

Digital sociology is because race, class, and gender are. Digital sociology is because capitalism is. Digital sociology is because inequality is. Digital sociology is immersed in the technologies reshaping social processes and, like the classic imperative to stand apart, must wrestle with our social location in a digital society.

Our work joins the work done by others in communication studies, black studies, feminist studies, black feminist studies, queer studies, disability studies and more to identify, describe, measure and explain modern life in advanced societies. That is why digital sociology.

Why Is Digital Sociology? – Tressie McMillan Cottom

The Price of Relevance Is Fluency: See the World Through Someone Else’s Eyes for a Little While

The price of relevance is fluency.

Chance favors the connected mind. Opportunities for serendipity increase with bigger, more diverse networks. Build personal learning networks. Expose yourself to new perspectives. Listen in solidarity. Be in the space. When we seek perspectives different than our own, share hunches, and connect ideas, we participate in created serendipity.

Yet these seemingly serendipitous events, are also based on our willingness to create connections and be in the space, and to put in the effort in the first place.

I often tell people that if you start connecting with others in online spaces, you won’t just find great ideas, but the great ideas will find you.

Created Serendipity – The Principal of Change

Serendipity is strongest in the streams emerging from the intersections of multiple networks. These streams “are the opposite of extractive: they are open, inclusive and capable of creating wealth in non-zero-sum ways.They are where our systems are best understood.

The gospel of the new economy is the transformative power of a diverse, genuine network.

The tools of digital sociology help us be in the space. The tools of digital sociology help us understand and serve our clients and customers.

There’s a constant complaint from people in positions of power, mostly men, who keep making the ridiculous assertion that they’re not able to speak in public. What they actually mean is they no longer understand the basis of the criticisms they face. And it’s a phenomenon we see from so many people who have a public platform, whether they’re CEOs or comedians or other cultural figures.

Some of this is a familiar issue: the powerful think that ordinary people have no right to criticize them. There’s nothing new there, and certainly a lot of the dismissive reactions are simply these people thinking that they’re better than their critics, and so don’t have to listen to the pushback. But even those who think they should still be at least pretending to take feedback from the public are mystified by what they’re hearing.

But there is something new that’s also helping cause all this fuss: the rate of change in culture is increasing.

Suddenly, even the most powerful people in society are forced to be fluent in the concerns of those with little power, if they want to hold on to the cultural relevance that thrust them into power in the first place. Being a comedian means having to say things that an audience finds funny; if an audience doesn’t find old, hackneyed, abusive jokes funny anymore, then that comedian has to do more work. And what we find is, the comedians with the most privilege resent having to keep working for a living. Wasn’t it good enough that they wrote that joke that some people found somewhat funny, some years ago? Why should they have to learn about current culture just to get paid to do comedy?

Here’s the thing, though: It’s not that hard. It’s not difficult at all to ask people how they want to be identified. It’s not tricky to listen to what people are saying about their concerns and their issues, and to try to understand what that means about how culture is evolving. It’s not hard at all to be humble about unfamiliar aspects of society and ask for information in respectful ways, then take those responses into consideration going forward.

And in fact, that’s the simple price of continued cultural relevance. If someone wants to maintain power in culture, all that’s required is a sincere and honest engagement with those who are granting that power through their attention and support. All it takes is a little bit of curiousity and some basic human decency, and any of us who are blessed with the good fortune to have a platform will get to keep it, and hopefully to use it to make things a little better for others.

The price of relevance is fluency

See the world through someone else’s eyes for a little while.

Tressie McMillan Cottom