There’s an intriguing argument in The Mediated Construction of Social Reality, by Nick Couldry and Andreas Hepp, concerning our dependence upon digital media and how we respond to its failure. From loc 5527:

We feel the costs viscerally: when ‘our’ media break down –we lose internet connection, our password stops working, we are unable to download the latest version of software required by the device or function we want to use –it is as if the social infrastructure were itself, in some respect, breaking down: recursivity has been interrupted, ontological security becomes threatened.

I take their point to be that our reliance upon digital media isn’t simply about specific purposes. For digital media to fail does not frustrate us because it impedes a particular purpose. In an important sense, our purposiveness as such, has come to rely upon digital media. For this reason, there is a latent trauma inherent in its breakdown. We experience its failure in terms of a impeded capacity to act within the world, as opposed to simply frustrating specific actions.

The argument is underdeveloped, as can be seen by the “in some respect” clause within it. It’s nonetheless an important and provocative one. It left me wondering if anyone has done qualitative research about experiences of wifi breaking down in terms of the affective fallout from such a failure? My experience of this has tended to be one of whole categories of action being foreclosed when this happens, as in a real sense I lose the ability to proceed with my work, rather  than it simply being a contingent impediment to particular tasks. I imagine there’s a great deal of variability in how people respond to such a situation but I nonetheless think Couldry and Hepp are pointing towards something very interesting.

An exercise in free-writing, undertaken at a writing workshop at the Becoming Academic conference at the University of Sussex.

I write to eliminate the clutter in my head, the accumulated debris which emerges within me as I make my way through the world, trying to understand my experiences as I go. If I am free to write, I am free to be within the world and my experience feels most full and most thick when I am externalising my internal reactions to the world. What C Wright mills called ‘the feel of an idea’ preoccupies me and my orientation to the world feels changed in those times when I seize upon that feeling, run with it it and make something new ‘out there’ from a reaction I had ‘in here’ to the world. But what can be difficult is when I can’t run with that feeling, when nascent ideas bubble up inside of me but circumstances preclude my running with them. Contingencies intervene and prevent my exploration of these things I feel moved to explore. If I don’t write, I feel in partial motion, stuck in the early stages of a range I cannot complete. If I can’t write, I feel somehow incomplete, as if my capacity to react to the world is subtly mutilated. I write to eliminate the clutter in my head and without writing I am inundated by mess.

I wonder if there is something performative about my writing, as if I bring myself into being through the process of doing it. I wonder why I feel so compelled to share my writing, as if it somehow isn’t real or can’t become real unless it is out there in the world. It’s a repeated exercise, conducted thousands of times, which has left me feeling extremely comfortable with the prospect of sharing my writing. But I’m still not entirely sure why I do it and at times it feels like a compulsion.

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself when reading through two books by Nick Couldry in which he develops a materialist phenomenological approach to understanding social reality. The first is The Mediated Construction of Social Reality (with Andreas Hepp) and the second is Media, Society, World. It’s in the latter book that he considers the representational power of media. From loc 683:

Media institutions, indeed all media producers, make representations: they re-present worlds (possible, imaginary, desirable, actual). Media make truth claims, explicit or implicit: the gaps and repetitions in media representations, if systematic enough, can distort people’s sense of what there is to see in the social and political domains.

There is a political economy underpinning this, in terms of the capacity to make such representations and the gains accruing from this capacity. The common reference points which accumulate as a consequence serve a broader economic purpose. From loc 701:

However, if basic consumer demand –for fashion, music, sport –is to be sustained at all, it requires ‘the media’ to provide common reference points towards which we turn to see what’s going on, what’s cool.

The interests and influence in play here have been crucial to the unfolding of late modernity. Media has been a site through which power has consolidated. What we are seeing with ‘post-truth’ is a deconsolidatiob of this apparatus, taking place at a number of different levels. From loc 886:

Representations matter. Representations are a material site for the exercise of, and struggle over, power. Put most simply, our sense of ‘what there is’ is always the result of social and political struggle, always a site where power has been at work. 150 But fully grasping this in relation to media is difficult: because the role of media institutions is to tell us ‘what there is’ –or at least what there is that is ‘new’ –media’s work involves covering over its daily entanglement in that site of power. Media aim to focus populations’ attention in a particular direction, on common sites of social and political knowledge. Media institutions’ embedding as the central focus of modern societies is the result of a history of institutional struggle that is becoming more, not less, intense in the digital media era. It is essential to deconstruct the apparently natural media ‘order’ of contemporary societies.

#SocMedHE17: Making an impact
Tuesday 19th December 2017
at Sheffield Hallam University

The third social media for learning in HE conference: #SocMedHE17: Making an impact,  considers the role that social media – when used in formal and informal learning contexts – can play in addressing the major challenges currently being faced by Higher Education. This conference is accepting submissions from students, academics and managers from national and international HEIs.

The pressures on universities are hard to ignore. In the UK, the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and its core metrics – employability, teaching quality and retention – directly influence the direction of university strategies; while the National Student Survey (NSS) reveals specific contextual challenges that demand attention. Internationally, the titles may be different, but the pressures will be similar.

For the full call please visit:
http://go.shu.ac.uk/socmedhe.  

#SocMedHE17 encourages submissions (research, practice or discussion papers) that provide evidence of educators and students using social media to make a positive impact on these challenges in formal and informal learning environments. Indicative themes include:

  • engaging, stimulating and challenging learners
  • reaching and engaging different groups of learners
  • innovative ways of meeting learning outcomes and enabling learning gain
  • enhancing employability outcomes
  • building staff and student digital capability and confidence
  • scaling up excellence for broader impact

Please visit the conference site: http://go.shu.ac.uk/socmedhe for the full call, booking and planning information, and outputs from the previous SocMedHE conferences.

Follow us on Twitter @SocMedHE for regular updates
Use #SocMedHE16 to discuss the event.
Email socmedhe@shu.ac.uk

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Do you want your research to produce more impact? Many researchers are excited about the potential social media offers for generating impact but with 500 million tweets per day, 3 million blog posts per day and over a billion websites they face an obvious challenge: how do you ensure you are heard above the din? How can you use social media effectively without spending all your time online? How can you use social media as part of a multi-faceted and cost-effective impact strategy?

This workshop offers a practical introduction to these challenges, exploring how to use social media to engage with groups beyond the academy and ensure the impact of research. The session will include an overview of key considerations and group discussion of practical problems. The focus throughout will be on practical and sustainable techniques to build ongoing relations with publics outside the academy.

At the end of the day, participants will have learnt about the opportunities and challenges posed by social media for researcher impact, as well as having designed a bespoke impact strategy relevant to their own projects. Participants also have the option of purchasing five hours of coaching via Skype to support the implementation of this strategy. This includes a free copy of Social Media for Academics.

Eventbrite - Making an Impact with Social Media

by Nick Fox and Marguerite Regan

For the past 18 months, the British Sociological Association (BSA) group Sociologists outside Academia (SOA) has been focusing on the potential for careers working as applied or practical sociologists, beyond the traditional remits of academia.  Sociology is essential not only for understanding the big problems that face society, but also the daily issues that need addressing at work, at home or in the community.  We believe sociologists have the concepts, the theories and detailed knowledge of organisations and human interactions that can address such everyday situations.  

In the US and elsewhere, sociology has already established a profile for solving these kinds of problems, but much less so in the UK.  That’s not to say there aren’t UK sociologists already using their skills and knowledge in applied settings.  Some call themselves ‘consulting sociologists’, others run businesses that provide sociological expertise to industry, local government and voluntary organisations.  There are also many sociologists working in areas where they bring to bear their knowledge and expertise, even if they don’t have the job title ‘sociologist’. But there is a lack of visibility around this application of sociology outside academia.

Last year an SOA workshop kick-started work on developing a field of applied and practical sociology here in the UK.  We considered the kinds of knowledge, skills and models needed to solve the problems that organisations, businesses and the public-sector face, and started to map out how careers as an applied sociologist could pan out. Doing this kind of applied sociological work required specific skills to explore how social and cultural factors link individual experience to everyday events. Generic skills were also needed, including reasoning, communication and collaborative working.  

SOA now wants to evolve this work further, by developing a curriculum in applied sociology for final year undergraduate students.  This curriculum can not only be offered to universities as an option they might develop for their students, but will also be a way to really clarify the knowledge, concepts, and subject-specific and generic skills that an applied sociologist will need to work effectively in non-academic organisations and settings.

We invite applications from sociologists who would like to join an SOA task and finish group to work on this development of an applied sociology curriculum.  We conceptualise a six-month programme, in which the group will meet virtually.  At the end, we will seek funding for a public launch of our curriculum for applied sociology.

If you are a sociologist who works predominantly in a non-academic setting, but use your sociological skills and knowledge to inform your work, we would like to hear from you.  We would also welcome one or two current undergraduate or master’s students to join the team, to provide input in terms of what is needed educationally in an undergraduate applied sociology curriculum.

Unfortunately, we cannot pay any fees for this work, and we do not have a budget for face-to-face meeting expenses.  This will be a labour of love, for those wanting to flex their sociological imaginations, and due credit will be given to all those involved.

Please contact Nick Fox, SOA co-convenor (n.j.fox@sheffield.ac.uk) for more information about the project and details of how to apply.   Applications will close on 19 June 2017 and successful applicants will be notified shortly thereafter.  

Which character from the Irvine Welsh novels has the most depth? While Francis Begbie might have counted as the most vivid, particularly as he was brought to life in Robert Carlyle’s unforgettable performance, I’d be surprised if anyone thought of him as the deepest. Yet that’s the impression one is left with after reading Irvine Welsh’s latest novel The Blade Artist. I don’t mean depth in terms of the psychological coherence of the characterisation, as much as that Welsh has clearly spent a great deal of time reflecting on Begbie and what makes him who he is.

The Blade Artist begins in California. We meet Jim Begbie, succesful artist and devoted husband and father, facing down two men on the beach who threaten his wife and daughters. We soon see the remarkable, most of all happy, life he has built for himself across the Atlantic. A balance which is shattered by the news that his son Sean has been murdered, prompting Begbie to fly back to Edinburgh in order to attend the funeral.

His transition is explored through his return to Leith and reacquaintance with the familiar figures from his older life. He finds himself sympathising with the police’s lack of interest in his son Sean’s murder, wondering to himself “Why indulge people like that when they would simply take each other out if you left them to their own devices?”. He’s baffled in the face of old rivals, astonished “now to think that he cared enough about this guy to consider doing that”. In the face of the leering optimism of Sean’s mother that they might reconcile, he can only find her grotesque and idiotic.

Finding his way to an old boxing gym when he returns, he suddenly relates to past acquaintances in a new way. Those who had “been keeping him at arm’s length for years” were now suddenly “welcoming him into the ‘he used to be a bam but he’s alright now’ club”. They had joined this club a long time ago but in finding membership in it, he realises there’s still a place for himself in the city and once more feels at home there.

There were two figures integral to his transformation. The first, John Dick, “believed in him, despite Franco being determined to present all the evidence to the contrary” and ran the prison scheme which “brought in the writers, poets and artists, to see if anything would gel” and “Saw a spark ignite in a few, Frank Begbie being the most unlikely. Amongst these was Melanie, the art therapist, now his wife:

But who was she? She was good and strong and I was bad and weak. That’s what hit me most of all from being around her. That I was weak. The notion was ridiculous; it went against everything I’d come to believe about my persona and image, against the way I’d consciously forged myself over the years. Yet who else but a weak man would spend half his life letting others lock him up like an animal?

I was one of the weakest people on the planet. I had zero control over my darker impulses. Therefore I was constant jail fodder. Some mouthy cunt got wide; they had to be decimated on the spot, and I was back in prison. Thus such nonentities were in total command of my destiny. That was my first major epiphany: I was weak because I wasn’t in control of myself. Melanie was in control of herself. In order to be with somebody like her, to live a free life, not in a tenement or scheme on the breadline, or even a suburb and crippled with a lifetime of debt, I needed a free mind. I had to get control of myself.

His work began to receive recognition when he was granted day release to take part in an exhibition in Edinburgh. It soon won celebrity sponsorship, with prominent figures fixating on his portrayal of the life he had denied the man he killed, as well as his wider tendency to mutilate representations of celebrities in the name of art. Social recognition comes to provide a momentum of its own, sweeping him along in changes that are already underway, not least of all through his relationship with Melanie.

Much of all his change involves a changed relation to himself. Throughout the story, we see Begbie respond to situations through self-restraint, in full awareness of his inclination to lash out. This illustrates the continuity of his character, as the old impulses are marginalised rather than annihilated. What has changed is how he relates to himself and the world, with new concerns leading to an eery distance from the social world which formed him.

To the outside world, such a change is baffling. It comes from nowhere and invites accusations of insubstantiality. An accusation that has a kernel of truth given that he is still the same person, he simply orientates himself to the world in a different way. But there were moments in his past in which he sought change:

Ah’m just no feelin it, he says, recalling slivers of alcohol-fuelled violence, bonhomie and shagging. Then the long periods in between, of being stuck in a cell. Coming out. A fresh start. A new bird. Big plans. Resolutions made.

Then another wide cunt. Another incident.

Rather than a life time of stasis being followed by a sudden change, we can instead see his life as involving a whole sequence of impeded attempts to change. Frustrated attempts to become something other than he was, lacking both external guidance and the conditions within which he might enjoy success. For all its flaws as a novel, The Blade Artist captures the dynamism inherent in becoming who we are, the constant activity at work even when people fail to outwardly change and the possibility of significant transformation which always remains latent within them. In the end do we really change? The Blade Artist would suggest not but does so in a way that reminds us of the limitations of treating fictional portrayals as akin to qualitative data.

From The Mediated Construction of Reality, by Nick Couldry and Andreas Hepp, loc 2896-2912:

While there are only so many bodies of a certain size that can fit into a finite space –there are certain natural limits to spatial packing, beyond which the attempt to pack just has to stop (otherwise, bodies get crushed) –the same is not true in time: there is literally no limit to how many messages, each sent in a non-synchronous mode, can ‘be there together’ in one’s inbox, each requiring response ‘now’ across a range of communicative platforms. The situation is very different with white noise, where countless signals cancel each other out so that nothing distinct can be heard. The challenge of communication overload is that each message can be heard –as the carrier of a distinct meaning –yet it cannot be attended to, since the time required for doing so is lacking. In this way, contemporary arrangements for communication tend to generate time-packing demands on individuals, from moment-to-moment, which along with the related of communicative obligations they can never, in principle, fulfil.

‘thin time’ where there is no wider normative framework for ordering action-sequences relative to each other. But they are deeply problematic in ‘thick’ time, or what Robert Hassan (2003, p. 233) calls ‘network time’, that is, ‘digitally compressed clock-time’ in which the temporal calibration of obligations within particular figurations is intensified. The contemporary workplace and the social relations of those periods of intense change in one’s social networks (such as adolescence or early adulthood) are likely to be periods of ‘thick time’ when the burden of communicative obligations left unfulfilled due to time-deficits is felt more strongly (Turkle, 2011). Problems of coordination in periods of ‘thick time’ become potential problems for any wider figurational order.

Special Issue of Chinese Journal of Communication: The Platformization of
Chinese Society

Extended Abstract Submission Deadline: July 1, 2017
Full Paper Submission deadline: February 28, 2018

Guest Editors: Jeroen de Kloet, Thomas Poell, Zeng Guohua

Full text: http://jeroendekloet.nl/the-platformization-of-chinese-society/

We are currently witnessing a fast process of platformization of Chinese
society. Social media, as well as platforms for collaborative consumption,
are emerging as new power players that challenge older institutions and
disrupt economic sectors like news, hospitality, and transport. Yet, in the
light of omnipresent government regulation and intervention,
platformization presents us with a very different set of problems and
questions than in the West. In the same way, we need to critically
interrogate the seemingly ‘natural’ connection between online platforms and
‘global capitalism’, which has been theorized through the notion of
‘platform capitalism’ (Smicek, 2016). Again China presents an odd case, as
it is hard to read China as a capitalist society (Nonini, 2008). Against
this background, the aim of this special issue is to critically engage with
the platformization of China, using China as a method (cf. Chen, 2010) to
interrogate, complicate, and complement current research on the global rise
of the platform society (van Dijck & Poell 2015). We thus ask in this
special issue: what does the platform society mean for China, but also,
what does China mean for our thinking about the platform society?

This special issue aims to empirically scrutinize different platforms that
are currently popular in China. The Chinese process of platformization
appears to differ on at least three crucial dimensions with developments in
the US and Europe. First, there are vital differences in the political
economy of platforms: the ownership structure and business models of
Chinese platforms are different from those in the US. This also has
implications for the ownership of data, raising issues of surveillance,
control and marketing of data (Couldry & Hepp, 2017; Dyer-Witheford, 2014).
Second, vital differences need to be taken into account in terms of the
architectures and affordances of platforms: user and programming interfaces
(and its semiotics), algorithms (what is made visible and invisible), and
infrastructures (how are third parties plugged into the platform ecosystem)
(Hookway, 2014; McVeigh-Schultz & Baym, 2015; Plantin et al., 2016).
Finally, Chinese online platforms appear to be characterized by particular
types of user practices and cultures, which differ from those in other
parts of the worlds (Poell, de Kloet & Zeng 2014; Qiu, 2016). Given that
the societal impact of new technologies is for an important part shaped by
how these technologies are integrated in social practice, these differences
greatly matter.

The contributions we solicit for this special issue will each focus on one
specific type of platform, following a typology based on a preliminary
inventory (see below). We envision contributions that analyze a particular
platform and its role in societal relations through the three dimensions
sketched above. These contributions are expected to build on the fields of
media and cultural studies, software studies and/or platform studies, in
their investigation of one of the following types of platforms:

1.     Public social media (e.g. weibo and douban)
2.     Private social media (e.g. weixin).
3.     News and search platforms (e.g. baidu)
4.     E-commerce services (e.g. taobao)
5.     Media sharing platforms (e.g. youku and tudou)
6.     Transport platforms (e.g. taxi didi and mobike)
7.     Food services (e.g. meituan and eleme)
8.     Dating platforms (e.g. tamtam and blue’d)

Evidently, we will welcome strong paper proposals, focused other types of
platforms as well.

Timeline

1200-word extended abstracts should be submitted by mail to Jeroen de Kloet
(b.j.dekloet@uva.nl) and Thomas Poell (Poell@uva.nl) by July 1, 2017. The
abstract should articulate: 1) the issue or research question to be
discussed, 2) the methodological or critical framework used, and 3)
indicate the expected findings or conclusions. Decisions will be
communicated to the authors by July 15, 2017.

Full papers of the selected abstracts should be submitted by February 28,
2018. All submitted manuscripts will be subject to a rigorous blind
peer-review process. All accepted manuscripts will be published online
first. The planned printed publication date is an issue of CJC in 2019.

Submissions should conform to the editorial guidelines of the Chinese
Journal of Communication found at http://www.informaworld.com/cjoc under
“Instructions for Authors.”

In The Mediated Construction of Social Reality, Nick Couldry and Andreas Hepp take issue with the primacy of face-to-face interaction that has so often been assumed within social thought. Our embodied interaction is taken to be primary, often assumed to be unmediated, with the mediation of interaction through technology seen as additional to it. From loc 697:

Berger and Luckmann, as was common in sociology for a long time, wrote as if there is first face-to-face ‘everyday life’ and then there is a supplement: what we do, technologically, to mediate that everyday life. This was hardly true through most of human history, at least since the discovery of writing, but today it would simply be bizarre to ignore how the reality of everyday life is inseparably linked with media, when supermarket checkouts read our credit cards with our personal data, when our everyday communication happens to a high degree via mobile devices, platforms and interactive systems, and when children learn to play through the means of internet-connected tablets. Under these circumstances it makes no sense at all to think of everyday reality as a ‘pure experience’ that can be contrasted with a (somehow secondary) ‘mediated experience’. Everyday reality, from the beginning, is in many respects mediated, which means that the complex social world of interconnections constructed from everyday life’s foundations is mediatized.

Much rests on how we conceptualise face-to-face interaction. If we demarcate it as a sphere of interaction which is in some sense given, it obscures the role of media in shaping such interactions and how these interactions in turn contribute to the shaping of media. As they write on loc 632:

We cannot analyse the social world via a simple division between ‘pure’ face-to-face communication and a separate presentation of the world to us ‘through’ media. Many of the communicative practices by which we construct our social world are media-related ones. Our daily communication comprises much more than direct face-to-face communication: mediated communication –by television, phones, platforms, apps, etc. –is interwoven with our face-to-face communication in manifold ways. Our face-to-face interaction is continuously interwoven with media-related practices: while we talk to someone, we might check something on our mobile phones, get text messages, refer to various media contents.

The challenge lies in conceptualising such interweaving. If we see interaction as constituted through its mediation, it becomes difficult to unpick how particular interactions might be shaped in particular ways by particular media. This is why I think a causal powers approach to media could be so valuable, even if it’s currently rather underdeveloped. This is what I think Couldry and Hepp do, albeit using a different terminology, in their analysis of longer term processes of mediatization. Each of these four changes, discussed on loc 918, make specific claims about how the causal powers of media facilitate the emergence of new dynamics in face-to-face interaction:

But, unimaginably for Schutz or anyone writing up to the 1980s, even our mediated communication can have enhancements which make them closer in specific responses to the face-to-face communication; for instance, video calls with simultaneous text messaging and email stream, enabling two parties to share simultaneous focused attention on the same external communicative stream, that is, an email attachment or website (contrast the simple phone call). A second deepening is the embedding not just of particular communicative streams into everyday life, but of the inputs from past communications (continuous streams of information from both Mitwelt and Umwelt): think of the feedback loop that operates when, while communicating with somebody else face to face, we are also checking information on earlier interactions on our smartphone, involving other communication partners. We are involved in a ‘multi-level’ construction of the social world, acting on various ‘levels’ of communication at the same time. Third, and also unimaginable to Schutz, is the already discussed continuous availability of media as a current resource in face-to-face communication, from showing pictures on one’s digital device to the use of video even in the most intimate of settings. And fourth, we are living through an integration of all these three shifts into the habits and norms of all communicative behaviour, both face to face and mediated. Increasingly we expect that our comments and gestures can be mediated for future commentary, circulation, etc., unless, that is, we insist they should not be re-circulated (Tomlinson, 2007, pp. 94–123).

How exciting does this look?

Call for Papers: Special Issue on Computational Propaganda and Political Big Data

We welcome manuscripts from scholars across the social and computer sciences, and are particularly interested in research from teams of authors from both domains of inquiry. Please submit your papers online to our web-based manuscript submission and peer-review at www.liebertpub.com/manuscript/big<http://www.liebertpub.com/manuscript/big>.

http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/2017/01/17/call-for-papers-special-issue-on-computational-propaganda-and-political-big-data/

Computational propaganda—the use of information technologies for political purposes—is on the rise. Many different kinds of political actors use a wide range of computational systems, social media platforms, and big data analytics to understand and manipulate public opinion. The political use of algorithms over platforms like Twitter and Facebook has received much journalistic attention, but it can be difficult to relate the dissemination of content over social networks to changes in public opinion or voter preference. The firms behind these platforms, however, increasingly acknowledge that politically motivated algorithms and automation can have deleterious outcomes for public life. How does big data get used for political purposes? Can the behavioural impact of politically-motivated big data manipulation be measured? How does the structure, function or affordances of computational propaganda vary across platforms, issue areas, or country cases?

This Big Data special issue on Computational Propaganda and Political Big Data, scheduled for publication in December 2017, aims to advance our understanding of how the Internet can be used to spread propaganda, engage with citizens, and influence political outcomes. We welcome submissions that utilize big data or engage with methodological, theoretical, practical, and ethical issues associated with politicized use of big data. The special issue seeks to describe and discuss:

– the effects of computational propaganda, automated social actors and bots on Internet platforms, Internet users and political processes.
– measurement of the distribution and impact of fake news;
– linking, sharing, and citation structures across large numbers of voters or supporters;
– the political economy of big data mining;
– the political inferences that can be made by reverse engineering de-personalized data, analysing relational data, or assembling shadow profiles on people not represented in political data;
– the path from exposure to computational propaganda to behavioural change;
– the use of the drones, smart city sensor networks, the Internet of Things or proprietary device networks for gathering politically valuable big data.

The editors also  seek research on the computationally creative ways of mitigating the impact of computational propaganda: alert systems for identifying algorithmically-based political manipulation or high levels of automation over device networks and social media platforms;  big data driven systems for source verification or fact checking that might raise trust in computing; ways of detecting the origins of manipulative content on massive social network platforms.

The deadline for manuscript submission is June 1, 2017. We welcome manuscripts from scholars across the social and computer sciences, and are particularly interested in research from teams of authors from both domains of inquiry. Please submit your papers online to our web-based manuscript submission and peer-review at www.liebertpub.com/manuscript/big<http://www.liebertpub.com/manuscript/big>.


Many researchers are excited about the potential social media offers for making an impact with their work. However 500 million tweets per day, 3 million blog posts per day and over a billion websites poses an obvious challenge: how can you ensure you are heard above the din? How can social media be used by busy researchers in an effective and efficient way?

This workshop offers a practical introduction to these challenges, exploring how to use social media to engage with groups beyond the academy and ensure the impact of research. The session will include an overview of key considerations and group discussion of practical problems. The focus throughout will be on practical and sustainable techniques to build ongoing relations with publics outside the academy.

At the end of the day, participants will have learnt about the opportunities and challenges posed by social media for researcher impact, as well as having designed a bespoke impact strategy relevant to their own projects. Participants also have the option of purchasing five hours of coaching via Skype to support the implementation of this strategy. This includes a free copy of Social Media for Academics.

Eventbrite - Making an Impact with Social Media

Mark Carrigan is a Digital Sociologist and Social Media Consultant. He is Digital Fellow at The Sociological Review and recently completed three years as Research Fellow in the Centre for Social Ontology at the University of Warwick. He is the author of Social Media for Academics, published by Sage in early 2016. This is the first book length guide to the use of social media within higher education and has been widely praised across a diverse range of reviews.

A disturbing scenario from John Urry’s What is the Future? From loc 2996-3045:

The final scenario involves the development of the Fortress City. Rich societies break away from the poorer into fortified enclaves. Those able to live in gated and armed encampments would do so, with much privatizing of what were, in many societies, public or collective functions (Davis 2000; Graham 2011; Leichenko, Thomas, Baines 2010: 142). Outside the enclaves would be ‘wild zones’ which the powerful would pass through as fast as possible. Systems of long-range mobility would only be available for the super-rich. Bauman maintains that one key technique of power is: ‘escape, slippage, elision and avoidance, the effective rejection of any territorial confinement’ –to have the power to avoid being trapped by others, to escape into ‘sheer inaccessibility’ (2000: 11). There are many examples of such elites exiting from where obligations would be extracted. The elite, we can suggest, are increasingly ‘absentee landlords’ with potential for exit mobility, if and when the ‘going gets tough’ (Bauman 2000: 13; Urry 2014a).

This future involves ‘fortressed’ walled cities and an extensive ‘security-ization’ of populations, similar in some ways to cities in the medieval period which provided protection against raiders, invaders and diseases. Those outside the enclaves would be unable or unwilling to travel far. Long-distance travel would be risky and probably only undertaken if people or machines were armed. The rich would mainly travel in the air in armed helicopters or light aircraft, a pattern already prefigured in contemporary Sao Paulo, as noted above (Budd 2013; Cwerner 2009). Futurists Gallopin, Hammond, Raskin and Swart thus argued: ‘the elite retreat to protected enclaves, mostly in historically rich nations, but in favoured enclaves in poor nations, as well …Pollution is also exported outside the enclaves, contributing to the extreme environmental deterioration induced by the unsustainable practices of the desperately poor and by the extraction of resources for the wealthy’ (1997: 34). 

Such an energy-and knowledge-starved city would entail falling standards of living, a greater focus upon the ‘products’ of the increasingly privatized security industry, probable re-localization of mobility patterns, towns and cities built for visitors deteriorating into ghost towns, and an increasing frequency of resource-related ‘new wars’ (Kaldor, Karl, Said 2007). These would involve private mercenaries as well as statist military forces; de-professionalized armies (sometimes made up of ‘boys’); the use of cheap weapons bought through the market/ internet; an asymmetry of military force with no fixed ‘fronts’ or treaties and peace processes; the military targeting of civilians through, inter alia, suicide bombing and drone attacks; the role of warlords combining entrepreneurial and military skills; and the tendency for such wars to last interminable periods of time. Lives in the Fortress City would be conducted with the continuous spectre of warfare, the militarization of young men and the raping of women and girls as constant threats to a decent life. 

This is a ‘neo-Mediaevalist’ vision of cities of the future. As in the Middle Ages, there would be little democracy, limited state power to govern legitimately, many non-state bodies with a mix of military and ideological powers, much illegal movement of peoples across borders, various empires, many new wars and intense conflict over scarce resources. City lives would be as in Hobbes’ Leviathan: ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’. Lovelock points to the ‘peaking’ of oil, gas and water, as well as ‘western life’ more generally. Shortages will make economic production and social lives more local than appeared likely during the increasingly mobile twentieth century (see Chapter 3 above).

From I Hate The Internet: A Novel pg 189-190:

Like Ray Kurzweil, who Christine identified with Dolos, the Greek spirit of trickery and guile. Ray Kurzweil was the king of technological liberation theology. Or, in other words, he was king of the most intolerable of all intolerable bullshit. He believed in a future where computers would reach a moment of technological singularity. The technological singularity was a bullshit phrase invented by the Science Fiction writer Vernor Vinge. 

The technological singularity was the name for a theoretical moment in the future when computers would achieve a critical mass of artificial intelligence and wake up and change everything. The way that computers would change everything is by emerging into consciousness and telling people like Ray Kurzweil and Vernor Vinge that they were fucking awesome. The computers and Ray Kurzweil and Vernor Vinge would hang out and kick back and rule the universe forever. 

This is not an exaggeration. This is what Ray Kurzweil believed. This bullshit was reported by major American media outlets. This bullshit was taken as gospel by cub reporters who did not understand regular old intelligence, let alone intelligence crafted by man. So Ray Kurzweil was the god of lies. Who would deny the puissance of a man who thought that his computer was going to wake up and hang out with him and tell him he was awesome? Everyone in Silicon Valley loved Ray Kurzweil. He was their High Priest of Intolerable Bullshit. He was the Seer of Pseudoscience. He worked for Google. He was a director of engineering.

Reluctantly cut from my digital sociology paper

Indeed, as Srnicek (2016) argues, this dynamics is integral to the nature of the platform itself, as a business model premised upon maximising opportunities for data extraction through situating itself as an intermediary between the interactions of existing actors. Each platform has an epistemic privilege in relation to the transactions taking place though it, the potential financial value of which encourages maximal data extraction from existing users and continued efforts to expand the user base. The more a platform grows, the more useful it is to its users and the greater the range and value of the data collected. The logic of platforms generates an ambition towards monopoly, which might manifest itself in a choice to pull out of areas where this seems impossible to achieve e.g. Uber in China (Stone 2017).

The explanatory challenge posed by platforms rests on the confluence of social, economic and technology factors within a rapidly changing environment, the intensification of which is being brought about in part by the platforms themselves. Srnicek’s (2016) work offers an account of how such an analysis could proceed, identifying the generic characteristics of platforms and the different forms they take. In the case of something like the ‘sharing economy’, we can see a clear business model: find a social interaction which already is or could be monetised, develop a digital platform which can be inserted as an intermediary within that interaction and rely on network develops to scale the new model in a way that will ultimately squeeze out any instances of the interaction which are unmediated or reliant on an older form of mediation. The precise character of these dynamics, as well as the changing situation of those caught up within them, is probably best pursued as a multi-disciplinary endeavour (Scholz 2016). But sociological thought offers powerful resources for making sense of the broader context within which this is taking place: how are the platforms scaling in this way? To what extent are they reliant upon declining social integration and to what extent are they contributing to it? How are social relations being transformed by increasingly large tracts of human activity being governed by the technical architecture and social imperative of large corporations based many thousands of mile away, whose local operations are concerned at most with recruiting new workers & safeguarding the platform against regulatory pushback? These questions are offered by way of example of the intellectual resources sociology offers for making sense of these changes.

 

In his wonderful memoir, Adults In The Room, Yanis Varoufakis reflects on the frustrations of politics and how they compare to academia. From loc 5504:

Possibly because of my academic background, this was the Brussels experience I least expected and found most frustrating. In academia one gets used to having one’s thesis torn apart, sometimes with little decorum; what one never experiences is dead silence, a refusal to engage, a pretence that no thesis has been put forward at all. At a party when you find yourself stuck with a self-centred bore who says what they want to say irrespective of your contribution to the conversation, you can take your glass and disappear to some distant corner of the room. But when your country’s recovery depends on the ongoing conversation, when there is no other corner of the room to retreat to, irritation can turn into despair –or fury if you grasp what is really going on: a tactic whose purpose is to nullify anything that is inimical to the troika’s power.

I found it fascinating to read this. Since encountering this paper by Richard French a few years ago, I’ve been interested in the implicit conceptions of politics which animate the publicly-orientated activity of academics. How do they think power works? How do they think problems are solved? How do they think challenges are negotiated? It seems as if Varoufakis’s intellectual interests (particularly game theory and political economy) left him well attuned to the dynamics of power but his nostalgia for academia certainly resonates with what French argues here:

Many academics misunderstand public life and the conditions under which policy is made. This article examines misconceptions in three major academic traditions—policy as science (e.g., ‘evidence-based policy’), normative political theory, and the mini-public school of deliberative democracy—and argues that the practical implications of each of these traditions are limited by their partial, shallow and etiolated vision of politics. Three constitutive features of public life, competition, publicity and uncertainty, compromise the potential of these traditions to affect in any fundamental way the practice of politics. Dissatisfaction with real existing democracy is not the consequence of some intellectual or moral failure uniquely characteristic of the persona publica, and attempts to reform it are misdirected to the extent that they imagine a better public life modeled on academic ideals.

What does it mean for policy to be insulated from politics? That’s the question we ultimately confront when investigating the putative depoliticisation of the economy. Matters which should be publicly resolved, through organised processes of contestation, instead get decided privately. We can cite examples of such transitions, consider whether they embody a broader tendency and offer explanations which account for this direction of travel.

However I’ve often wondered about the micro-social aspects of such a transition, specifically how policy makers make sense of this depoliticisation. Is it a naked power grab? Is it a response to the vagaries of the electorate? Is it an attempt to address issues of socio-economic change which are seen as being impossible to raise with the public?  Yanis Varoufakis offers a partial answer to these questions in his gripping accounts of Eurogroup negotiations in his political memoir Adults In The Rooms. From loc 4202

As he spoke, Schäuble directed a piercing look at Sapin. ‘Elections cannot be allowed to change economic policy,’ he began. Greece had obligations that could not be reconsidered until the Greek programme had been completed, as per the agreements between my predecessors and the troika. The fact that the Greek programme could not be completed was apparently of no concern to him. What startled me more than Wolfgang Schäuble’s belief that elections are irrelevant was his total lack of compunction in admitting to this view. His reasoning was simple: if every time one of the nineteen member states changed government the Eurogroup was forced to go back to the drawing board, then its overall economic policies would be derailed. Of course he had a point: democracy had indeed died the moment the Eurogroup acquired the authority to dictate economic policy to member states without anything resembling federal democratic sovereignty.

I happened to be reading this page of Yanis Varoufakis’ political memoir a few moments before Macron’s near certain victory was announced. From loc 3398:

Emmanuel Macron listened actively and engaged directly, his eyes radiant and ready to display his approval or disagreement. The fact that he had good English and a grasp of macroeconomics as well meant we were soon on the same page regarding Europe’s need for a genuine investment programme that would put its trillions of idle savings to work for the collective good. From my first meeting with him, I regretted dearly that it was Sapin who represented France in the Eurogroup and not Macron. Had they swapped roles, things might have ended up differently.

From loc 4308:

only one Frenchman was lending moral support, Emmanuel Macron, the French economy minister. Having no seat in the Eurogroup himself, he had called to wish me well just as I was stepping into the meeting. During the negotiations over the communiqué he sent me regular requests for updates. What was my feeling? How was the meeting going? I replied that I was prepared to bend over backwards to make a decent communiqué possible. ‘The first draft was appalling, let’s hope that they will not prove ridiculously stubborn,’ I texted him. At 10.43 Emmanuel responded, advising me to keep cool and seek a compromise but only if they moved in our direction. At 11.02 I texted back, ‘They are pushing us out of the door … They wanted to roll me into a communiqué that not even Samaras would have signed.’

Soon after becoming Finance Minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis found himself surrounded by civil servants whose loyalties he could not assume and staff parachuted in by a political party with which he had little prior affiliation. In his political memoir, Adults In The Room, he recounts his impulse to find “a minder whose loyalties would not be shared with any of my new Syriza comrades, let alone the deputy PM”. He turned to an old friend from university to serve this purpose, describing on loc 2873 the risks he sought protection from:

‘To keep me out of jail, Wassily,’ I replied. He understood. Ministers of finance are at the mercy of their minders. They sign dozens of documents, decrees, contracts and appointments daily. It is humanly impossible to examine closely everything they sign. All it takes is a hostile or absent-minded aide, and suddenly the minister faces the wrath of the public or a summons to court.

What is the danger here? The pace at which he is forced to work, the number of documents which he must formally assess, preclude a meaningful engagement with their content. This is something which could be exploited by those able to exercise an influence over what goes into his in-tray. The specific risks he faced were unique to his role as Finance Minister, as well as the times and circumstances under which he served.

However is there a broader lesson here about distraction and culpability? To what extent do our moral and legal notions of culpability rest on an assumption of the considered evaluation of our actions? If this is the case, it follows that distraction is something which political philosophers ought to take seriously. It has consequences at the moral level, in terms of how we attribute responsibility to persons. But it is also something we should consider in legal terms, if the attribution of culpability rests on assumptions about the socio-temporal conditions for evaluation which were absent in practice.

There’s a helpful summary on Wikipedia of the degrees of culpability recognised in criminal law in the United States:

  • A person causes a result purposely if the result is his/her goal in doing the action that causes it,
  • A person causes a result knowingly if he/she knows that the result is virtually certain to occur from the action he/she undertakes,
  • A person causes a result recklessly if he/she is aware of and disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk of the result occurring from the action, and
  • A person causes a result negligently if there is a substantial and unjustifiable risk he/she is unaware of but should be aware of.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culpability

If we accept the argument that distraction is socially and culturally produced, should this lead us to qualify the third and fourth dimensions of culpability? I want to sustain the argument that recklessness and negligence are in an important sense liable to be produced systematically, even if it remains extremely difficult to quantify such a claim. What does distraction mean for political theory and political philosophy?