A Sociological Review Foundation Workshop
Goldsmiths, University of London
Saturday 2nd December 2017
09.30-18.00, followed by wine reception

The Sociological Review is delighted to announce the opportunity to take part in a one-day workshop on Sociology and social media. This workshop will be taking place exactly a year after the Value & Values event. It will allow issues to be raised by the sociological community and provide a forum in which they can be discussed, instigating a public debate about the implications of social media for sociology.

Social media has rapidly become a central part of British Sociology, with most academic departments, research centers and journals now maintaining an online presence. Social media has also increasingly been taken up by sociologists as individuals, though perhaps in part as a response to the pressures of an institutional culture demanding ‘impact’. Some sociologists relish intervention in public debates, while others see it as a burden. Some claim that social media offers exciting new forums for scholarly debate, while others see it as a turn away from serious scholarship, driven by the impact agenda and an uncritical embrace of platform capitalism.

We believe that social media offers profound opportunities for the discipline at a time when its institutional presence is imperilled. However, realising these opportunities necessitates that we think systematically about how the discipline and its practitioners embrace social media, working to develop shared standards about online behaviour and shared aspirations about how sociologists can use this space productively.  If social media is here to stay, we urgently need to address what this means for the discipline in a way that extends beyond the individualised responses which have heretofore been dominant.

Call for Participation

Sociology and Social Media: Problems and Prospects is an attempt to initiate what we hope will be a much broader conversation. We invite contributions in two forms:

Issues: five-minute talks framing a practical issue social media raises for the discipline. There will be four discussion sessions on the day: trolling and harassment, professional standards, career development, public sociology and miscellaneous. Each issue should be pitched to one of these categories. We hope to record each five-minute question and publish it on our blog for further discussion, including blog posts from those not present at the event.

Proposals: ten-minute talks identifying potential solutions to problems which social media raises, offering proposals about courses of action which individual practitioners or the discipline as a whole should pursue. These talks will also be recorded and published on the blog to facilitate further discussion.

The deadline for call for applications of participation is September 18th 2017, 17.00 BST. We cannot accept any late applications. Decisions will be communicated on 16th October 2017

Applications for Participation

Registration Only

Registration is free, but it is essential that you register.

Please note, places are strictly limited. In the event that you are no longer able to attend this workshop, please email Jenny Thatcher: events@thesociologicalreview.com. Failure to give notice of cancellation or ‘no shows’ may result in rejection of applications to attend future TSRF events.

Registration Only

Travel Bursaries 

There are a limited number of travel bursaries available for ECRs and PGRs who have their call for participation accepted. Applications for bursaries should be made during the submission of participation. Bursaries will be capped at £150.00 for UK based applicants and £250.00 for non-UK based applicants.

For academic inquiries about this event please contact Mark Carrigan: mark@markcarrigan.net

All other inquiries about this event including applications, bursaries etc, should be directed to Jenny Thatcher: events@thesociologicalreview.com

October 27th 2017, 1:30pm to 5:00pm, Manchester UK

In only a matter of years, blogging has become a mainstream part of academic practice. Research projects, networks and centres regularly maintain blogs, with the intention of promoting their work and building their connections. However it can be difficult to ensure this activity is worthwhile, rather than an additional burden in already busy working lives.

This afternoon workshop will help you ensure that blogging contributes to your research project, research network or research centre. It is led by one of the most experienced academic bloggers in the UK: a personal blogger for almost fifteen years, founding editor of The Sociological Imagination, digital fellow at The Sociological Review, former editor of the LSE’s British Politics & Policy Blog and founding member of the editorial board at Discover Society.

This three hour session will address the full range of issues faced by those maintaining blogs for research projects, research networks or research centres:

  • How do I find the time for blogging?
  • What should I post on our blog?
  • How do I increase the audience for our blog?
  • How do I assess the success of our blog?
  • How can I make our blog more visually appealing?
  • How can I integrate our blogging with other social media?
  • How can we collaborate effectively on our blog?
  • How do we use the blog to promote our publications and events?

There will be plenty of time for general questions, as well as opportunities to network with other academic bloggers. In addition to this, participants also have the option to purchase five hours of additional coaching via Skype to offer ongoing support. This includes a free copy of Social Media for Academics.

Register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/to-blog-or-not-to-blog-research-projects-centres-and-networks-tickets-36779381119

When Tweets Turn Sour: Avoiding Legal Pitfalls on
Social Media
2 hour masterclass, £12-13 per person
When:6-8pm, Wednesday 28th June 2017
Where: NUJ,Headland House, 72 Acton Street,
London, WC1X 9NB
Who for: Anyone using Twitter for PR,
media/journalism or any kind of professional work

Book your place via Eventbrite:
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/when-tweets-turn-
sour-tickets-34619598150?aff=erelpanelorg

When Tweets Turn Sour
www.eventbrite.co.uk
Pressure on journalists to use social media grows daily,
but fast-changing criminal and civil case law makes this
perilous terrain – as Katie Hopkins, Sally Bercow and
George Monbiot have found. Designed for professional
communicators, this masterclass covers up-to-date case
studies of privacy, libel, contempt, as well as copyright
and emerging issues such as information security, and
reputation management.Holly Powell-Jones is a
journalist, media tutor and researcher who lectures on
Media Law and Ethics for Goldsmiths University, London
College of Communication and City, University of London.
She also trains journalists, businesses, charities and
schools on managing the risks of new media and runs a
police-funded project in secondary schools on social
media law and ethics. She is completing a PhD on youth
cyber offending.

#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

What does social media mean for academic writing? Most answers to this question focus on how such platforms might constrain or enable the expression of complex ideas. For instance, we might encounter scepticism that one could express conceptual nuance in 140 characters or an enthusiasm for blogging as offering new ways to explore theoretical questions beyond the confines of the journal article. However these discussions only rarely turn to writing in a more biographical sense, as a recurrent activity which is both personally meaningful and professionally necessary.

Social media is certainly offering us more occasions for writing. The most obvious form this takes is the personal blog, providing one with a platform for exploration whenever we are taken by the feel of an idea worth exploring. However I suspect that many academics who sustain a personal blog do so because it serves a purpose prior to writing, serving as a common-place book or ideas garden. In such cases, the time spent blogging serves as a preparation for writing, even if it is sometimes an oblique one. There is no necessary tension here between blogging and writing, even if sometimes the former can hinder the latter, for instance when the familiarity of the blog draws us away from more formal writing that might not be going well.

What about online writing that doesn’t serve this preparatory function? In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself thinking about the challenge of ephemera increasingly confronting academics. I mean ephemera in the literal sense of “things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time”. Long-established examples include book reviews, newsletter articles and short pieces in magazines. With the growth of social media, we are seeing a rapid expansion in opportunities to produce such ephemera. Multi-author blogs and online magazines will often be sources of invitations to write, as well as offering opportunities for this to qualified parties who are seeking them out. Such writing rarely constitutes much of a commitment in its own terms. One of many reasons I enjoy writing of this sort is that the usual temporal horizon rarely exceeds a few hours work. For instance, it might take a while to read a book for review but not to write the review itself.

To call ephemera a ‘challenge’ may be misleading. In many ways, I remain convinced this is an opportunity, for the enjoyment of intellectual richness and diversity at the level of both individual scholars and scholarly communities. But unlike blogging in the preparatory sense discussed above, it can often take away from time and energy available for ‘real’ writing. The number of opportunities can itself prove problematic, as invitations and inclinations lead to over-commitment in the face of this abundance. For instance, in the next couple of weeks, I’m supposed to write an article for a magazine, a book review for a blog symposium, a blog post for a newspaper and a piece of sociological fiction for a zine. If I’m being realistic, it seems unlikely I’ll complete them all and thus the writing that was chosen rather than invited is likely to fall by the wayside. Though I think it’s a shame that I experience this as in some sense a distraction, despite my enthusiasm for the planned pieces. Much of this is related to journal articles, as things I should be writing but feel little inclination to, leaving it hard not to see a distance from academia as involving a gain rather than a loss of intellectual freedom.


A subsequent conversation made me think back to Richard Rorty’s remark about universities enabling one to “read books and report what one thinks about them”. Is the promise of ephemera a matter of keeping in touch with this aspiration within a university system which militates against its realisation?

In his detailed study of Sartre’s rise to prominence as an authoritative public intellectual, Patrick Baert argues that the general intellectualism embodied by Sartre depended upon social conditions which no longer obtain. Such intellectuals “address a wide range of subjects without being experts as such” and speak “at, rather than with, their audience” (pg. 185). In doing so, they depend upon a broad support for intellectual life within society alongside a concentration of cultural and intellectual capital within a small elite. Without the hierarchy this gives rise to, one in which enough of the subordinate are invested, it cannot be tenable to pronounce with such perceived authority across such a broad range of subjects. This hierarchy is manifested both in educational institutions but also in the disciplines from which such general intellectuals emerge. However general intellectuals are not dependent upon these institutions, instead being able to leverage their authority into income from the media (non-fiction, print journalism, broadcast media) and often being able to rely on family wealth. The authority invested in their discipline, alongside “the confidence of the right habitus and an elite education” mean “they can speak to a wide range of social and political issues without being criticised for dilettantism” (pg. 185).

What led to their decline? Baert identifies numerous intellectual factors, including the emergence of theoretical movements which “questioned, if not undermined, the erstwhile superiority of philosophy over other vocabularies” (g. 185). The professionalisation of the social sciences facilitated the challenge of claims by philosophers about the social world which were effectively just bad sociology. Their expansion meant that there were now subject experts in areas upon which philosophers used to make pronouncements, implicitly or explicitly casting such outpourings of opinion as inadequate. Much as the authority of philosophy was undermined from within, so too was educational authority eroded from without as mass higher education contributed to a softening of the disjuncture between educational elite and the population at large. As Baert puts it, “with higher education also comes a growing scepticism towards epistemic and moral authority, an increasing recognition of the fallibility of knowledge and of the existence of alternative perspectives” (pg. 186). The declining acceptability of speaking at such public audiences was compounded by the erosion of the deferential attitudes which had previously characterised the media. Indeed, over time the media came to include subject experts who felt competent challenging the lauded experts.

Baert suggests that social media further intensifies this trend. He recognises that gatekeepers still exist online and that most bloggers have little audience. But nonetheless he argues that “the technology has made a difference, once which surely has further lessened the likelihood of authoritative public intellectuals” (pg. 186-187). In the place of such generalists, we see expert public intellectuals who resemble what Foucault described as the specific intellectual. Such figures “draw on their professional knowledge, whether derived from their research in the social and natural sciences, to engage with wider societal or political issues that go beyond their narrow expertise” (pg. 187). Their capacity to exert an influence rests on “intellect and acquired knowledge, and mastery of the inductive technology (observational skill, statistical methods, lab machinery etc.) to acquire or verify that knowledge” (pg 187-188). Dialogical public intellectuals often draw on the affordances of new technology to “get their message across” and position themselves against those who rely on traditional media, “emphasising how the new technologies permit frequent and intense interaction” (pg. 189). In doing so, they embody a prior trend towards more iterative and dialogical forms of engagement, constructing themselves as learning from their public while the public learn from them.

It’s striking how much less detailed Baert’s description of the latter category is compared to the preceding two. Indeed the only figure named is Michael Burawoy, in relation to his plea for public sociology rather than his performance of it. This intellectual self-presentation is something which investigation might reveal to be a self-marketing strategy for intellectuals seeking to stake out ground within an increasingly competitive marketplace of ideas, within which social media has removed barriers to entry while also generating a whole new arena of interaction through which to cultivate a relationship with one’s hoped for audience. To be fair to him, Baert perhaps recognises this, stressing that “the situation is often more complex than the bloggers themselves tend to acknowledge” and point out they will often continue to write for newspapers and magazines etc (pg. 189). But how seriously this claim to dialogical interaction should be taken is an empirical question. How much does this interaction shape their views? How much of this interaction do they respond substantively to? How long do they spend each week engaging in such interaction? Without substantive interaction, this dialogical relation is in part imagined, a constructed audience reproduced in the mind and reality through limited interaction with a small subset of it.

My suggestion is that social media is far more hospitable to the conditions of the general intellectual than Baert suggests. The intellectual self-presentation of the dialogical scholar, orientated towards extending their network and cultivating their online audience, represents a strategy conducive to success in the attention economy if they can balance this time-demanding pursuit with the exigencies of their day job. The increasing reliance of journalists, particularly freelancers, on social media for networking and research mean such figures will inevitably be invited to contribute to features and discussions beyond their area of expertise. Even if the dialogic public intellectual has a self-understanding grounded in circumscribed expertise, their digital footprint will inevitably push beyond this and lead others to tempt them still further.

In a way, this post is the latest part of an extended conversation with myself about whether to say ‘yes’ when I get asked to contribute to features on subjects I have opinions about but no expertise. To name some recent examples: selfie culture, conspiracy theories, algorithmic culture, hipsters, the meaning of tolerance. With one exception, I’ve always said ‘no’, largely out of caution. It’s possible there has been a misunderstanding, such that someone infers the existence of a trajectory of research from one blog post on a topic whereas actually that single blog post represents the sum total of my engagement. It’s also possible they’re made in relation to a university affiliation, something which I’m certain is the case with those last minute e-mails explaining the journalist has an imminent deadline and needs an expert quote taking an agreed stance to complete a nearly finished article.

But I suspect something more is going on, in which the price of admission to public platforms has changed from expertise to a capacity for cogency, a quickness in response and the willingness to comment. The invitations are there for generalists emerging from the academy, liable only to grow if they pursue even the most basic strategies of visibility and connection through social media. The rewards are there, in so far as such activity can be plausibly glossed as public engagement potentially generative of impact. The costs potentially faced by generalists are weak from within the academy, liable to be restricted to those who have an extremely high profile and thus counteract the anonymity of abundance or those who inadvertently provoke a controversy with ill-thought out statements on controversial topics that lead them to be held to account. Under such conditions, the reflexivity of the individual intellectual becomes key, something unlikely to change when the academy remains as fragmented as is currently the case.

What it means to be an intellectual is changing in an age of social media and we’ve yet to really get to grips with what this means.

This is the fifth of Walter Benjamin’s thirteen rules for writing. I would love to know more about what this meant in practice to him. How often did he record his ideas? Where did he record them? How did their quantity and quality wax and wane in different circumstances? My conviction that blogging constitutes a technology of scholarly attentiveness rests on its capacity to habituate this practice.

A really fascinating discussion between Kristi Winters and The Wooly Bumblebee (HT Philip Moriarty). The latter’s experience could be seen as a model for de-radicalisation in the more toxic spaces within social media. An important reminder that platform incentives might encourage this behaviour but they don’t necessitate it. Furthermore, just because someone has come to act a given way doesn’t mean they will always act that way.

This essay on ‘the cult of cruelty’ has some interesting points to make about the role of what danah boyd calls persistence and searchability in facilitating incivility online. It makes it possible to trawl through someone’s activity, enabling a degree of engagement with choices and representations that would not otherwise be possible:

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately — the ways in which people exact their hurt. It’s common for people to subtweet about their hate-follows and hate-reads. Nothing distinguishes between the hate cultivated for people we know as opposed to strangers — we’re all fair game for someone else’s vitriol. People have no problem playing armchair therapist; they analyze our lives from a computer screen and then proceed to deliver play-by-play commentary on how we should live our lives based on how they live theirs. Many have come to believe that an online representation of one aspect of our lives is the complete story, the whole of our lives. Who we are, the content of our character, is reduced to what we choose to publish. The choices we make — from what we wear to how we parent and whom we love — should be obvious based on the collective’s personal experience and we’re admonished in text or in forums for “not getting it”. We crave authenticity yet we vilify others for their public missteps, for being human. People talk smack behind our backs to then kiss-kiss, hey, how are you? to our face. People leave hateful comments tearing apart our appearance: Why is she naked in every picture on Instagram…ugh! Who does she think she is? Why does she wear such unflattering clothes? If she didn’t want to hear about how bad she looks she shouldn’t be posting pictures of herself online. Apparently, being public is an open invitation for hate, and it’s frightening that groups exist on the Internet devoted to the care and feeding of that hate.

It also makes it possible to trawl back through the incivility that has been directed at us:

We live in a country that espouses free speech, but many are forced into silence in fear of the hate avalanche. In a private Facebook group, many women talk about not reading the comments of their published articles out of self-preservation. “Don’t read the comments is a constant refrain. Women leave social media because they’re beaten down by people in fear of losing their privilege. A whole group of people has been reduced to a patronizing “snowflake” moniker because of their inability to toughen up, and it’s as if the Internet has become Darwinian in the sense that only those who hate, and those who can withstand and endure that hate, survive. A few years ago, I was the subject of a man’s ire, someone whom I believe I knew (or at least had come into contact with during my agency career, which makes the whole situation that much more unsettling), who wrote about how much he hated me because I stood up for women who had been ridiculed online because of their appearance. Fifteen years ago, a small circle of literary bloggers posted cruel blind items about me and I remember being at work, in front of my computer, reading these posts and my whole body going numb.t

There’s an excellent overview of ‘hate reading’ here:

Underlying all this is a weirdly common human tendency toward “hate-reading.” Call it that for short, at least, because it also includes “hate-listening” and “hate-watching.” In short, many people seem strangely drawn to material that they know, even before they’re exposed to it, will infuriate them. And hate-reading in its purest form involves not just seeking out the aggregated fodder of Media Matters or Newsbusters, but actually going straight to the source: a conservative mainlining Keith Olbermann; a liberal recklessly exposing herself to a Rush Limbaugh monologue.

A lot of us do this, but why? No one knows for sure, but there are a few potential explanations. One is that hate-reading simply makes us feel good by offering up an endless succession of “the emperor has no clothes” moments with regard to our political adversaries. In this view, we specifically seek out the anti-wisdom of whoever appears dumbest and most hateful as a means of bolstering our own sense of righteousness. “If the commentary is dumb enough, it may actually have a boomerang effect in that it reassures us that our opponents aren’t very smart or accurate,” said Mary McNaughton-Cassill, a media psychologist at the University of Texas San Antonio.

There’s a fascinating footnote in Radio Benjamin, loc 395-410, discussing Adorno’s description of Benjamin’s ideas as ‘radioactive’:

The full sentence reads, “Everything which fell under the scrutiny of his words was transformed, as though it had become radioactive,” … Although Adorno’s metaphor uses a different register of boundary crossing, the German radioaktiv, like the English radioactive, shares with Rundfunk, or radio, a connotation of atmospheric spreading, dispersal, and uncontrolled movement across and within borders and lines of containment; the airwaves, like the air or the atmosphere, represent a quasi-invisible scene or medium of transmission. While the German does not directly imply the coincidence of these two (roughly contemporary) modes of radiality, the notion of Benjamin’s gaze, and from there his work, effecting a radioactive transformation suggests the potentially dangerous, if also exciting and new, power of radio and its power to broadcast.

Radioactive ideas effect a transformation. Viral ideas simply pass through. The logic of social media platforms too easily inclines us towards a concern for virality. What we should aim for is to use their affordances to ensure radioactivity, even if this registers much less impressively on a numerical level.

I saw the science journalist Simon Makin give an excellent talk yesterday on how social and natural scientists can make their writing clearer. He offered some excellent tips to this end, including assuming your reader is exactly as intelligent as you are, but has absolutely none of your knowledge. For this reason, clarity isn’t about being simplistic: aim to clarify without simplifying.

What struck me in the discussion of drafting and redrafting was how likely this is to fall by the wayside when rushing. If you’re working to a deadline, particularly when other deadlines immediately follow them, it’s unlikely you’ll invest the time needed to do this. His description of drafting involved careful tinkering, picking and poking at a text in a way which leads to incremental improvement. As opposed to simply trying to get it out of the door so you can move onto the next demand.

This isn’t simply a matter of time. It also reflects the moral psychology of rushing. When we rush, we close down our engagement with the objects of our attention. Things that might have been deeply meaningful to us instead become obstacles to surmount. We simply can’t care about the clarity of our writing in the same way when we’re rushing.