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Using social media as a social theorist

In the new year, I’ll be giving a talk at the Arctic University of Norway on using social media as a social theorist. This post is an initial attempt to get my thoughts on paper before the break, in order to make it easier to get the talk written when I get back from holiday. It might seem that using social media as a social theorist would be little different from using it as a sociologist or as an academic. For this reason, I’d be inclined to start with an introduction to social media for academics, before turning to the opportunities and challenges attached to social theory in particular. Here are the immediate ideas that have occurred to me but I’d hugely welcome further suggestions about topics it would be useful to cover:

  1. On an intellectual level, social theory cuts across fields and disciplines. On an institutional level, social theorists are embedded within existing networks and particular departments. The opportunities which social media offers to facilitate connections across disciplinary boundaries, the possibility to “curate the ideal academic department”, becomes even more valuable because of this intellectual/institutional tension. The talk will cover cross-platform strategies for building these connections and integrating them into everyday work routines.
  2. Many social theorists face a pressure to be more than a theorist, demonstrating empirical and/or methodological proficiency in order to ensure their employability. Social media can be a release vale which helps cope with the internal and external tensions generated by this demand. It also offers opportunities for those who “may toil in relative isolation from others who share their immediate interests”.
  3. The fragmentation of social theory creates practical challenges, as the opportunity costs of scholarship mean that mastery of a particular area can make it difficult to keep up to date with wider developments. Social media can provide invaluable in keeping up with new developments, drawing on much wider networks which can be built. It also provides accessible routes into new areas, as other social theorists reflecting on what they are reading can serve as a valuable bridge into a new literature.
  4. The opportunities which social media offers for pre-publication and post-publication exchange reduces reliance on the journal article, with all the limitations which this format has tended to entail for theoretical scholarship. It also facilitates meaningful intellectual exchange which isn’t tied to the publication process at all, extending conversations which might have previously taken place within closed networks (e.g. friends, collaborators) and providing the occasion for entirely new ones to take place. The fact these tend to be open by default means they are potentially a resource for others and even an invitation to join in.
  5. There might be pitfalls which are particularly pronounced for social theorists. Social media can amplify existing tensions or create new ones, with the risk that existing tendencies towards dogmatism are made worse. Therefore it’s important to understand what one considers a useful exchange (or otherwise) to be and how to orientate oneself towards ensuring this takes place.

I’ll try to illustrate each of these points with examples of social theorists using social media in this way. I might also introduce a couple of extended case studies (probably Daniel Little) to flesh out these points towards the end of the talk. Any further suggestions are much appreciated. It’s likely I’ll run this session in the UK later in the year, if it gets a good reception.

Categories: Organising Social Media for Academics social theory Thinking

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