Monthly Archives: February 2017



Digital Sociologies


February 9, 2017 Dave O’Brien

How do we do sociology in the digital era? In Digital Sociologies (Policy Press, 2016) Jessie DanielsProfessor of Sociology at Hunter College and The Graduate Center, CUNYKaren Gregory a Lecturer in Digital Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, and Tressie McMillan Cottomassistant professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University, have brought together a wealth of scholarship to explore the challenge of digital. The book engages with a range of theoretical questions, including challenging the digital/traditional sociology binary, the role of institutions, digital’s impact on eduction, the racialized practices of Twitch, the meaning of motherhood, the quantified self, the question of the body, and the digital sociological imagination. The eclectic range of scholars, offering perspectives from across the academic life course and deploying examples from across the world, create an important intervention into our understanding of this emerging, and perhaps as a result of this book, established, field of study. Ultimately the book is a call for a new community of scholars to engage with this most important element of contemporary life.

February 28, 2017 at 10:55AM
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Weekly Summary Week 6

Image: Ministry of Stories, Flickr,

A sense of anxiety has prevailed this week induced by time passing without being lifestreamed, (spent within other communities) and broken ifttt applets. Unease has emanated from that social media feeling of returning from the bar on the EDC pub crawl to find the rest of the group has decamped elsewhere. Am I not flagging because I’m flagging? I feel the ‘internet does this to me’ in the instrumentalist sense of it enabling a continually renewed offer, the uptake of even a fraction of which I can’t hope to accept, with its unending exhortation to consume everything now – even, and especially, education.

This sense is compounded by some of the articles flagged up by my fellow-students (sincere thanks to them) in which I read repeated calls to action to do something about our black-boxed algorithms, our democracy, our education system … the list continues in this digital community in which we ‘find ourselves’. How long do we have to be there before action is taken? It is being taken, but just not evident amidst the constant scrolling attention-grabbers and fake news items of the social media we enjoin our educators to use. Capitalism’s constant press is getting in the way of learning whilst urging us to sign up for more, creating a ‘behind the curve’ angst whilst the money-makers are acting now, making money.

There might be more links to this summary if it were a summary rather a list of things to attend to and broken applets, but my thoughts have been on a philosophical road trip, musing about the online lectureweaving wall hangings, the point of learning and styles of learning

Comment on Hello FutureLearners! by FutureLearn by hwalker

Hi Cathy,

Am pleased that you have roamed into my site! And thank you for being so kind!

I agree: it’s fascinating to see just how different everyone’s lifestreams are and what others are focusing on.

That’s a really interesting interpretation of the video; I was interested in it as a marketing tool and hadn’t considered what else it suggested about our online experiences.

I’m off to have a look around your lifestream now. Hope your ethnography is going well.


from Comments for Helen’s EDC blog

Tweet! Alison, edX, Coursera …

I retweeted this ad in my Twitter stream because it joined the legion emails I receive from online learning providers constantly encouraging me to improve myself either by learning or investing in my own branding. In this neo-liberal age the two are converging.

Favourite tweets! Doteveryone

This organisation, founded by Martha Lane Fox, speaks of the need to shape technology to our needs rather than stand aside and be moulded by a few global corporations. An understanding of our relationship with technology is crucial for us and for future communities. We too readily submit to the exclusion caused by our black-boxed systems and are lured by the promise and shine of social media which may do nothing but feed upon us in a symbiotic spiral of captialism unless we mobilise critical change.

The community states,

Our citizens are engaging digitally with politicians who don’t understand the channels they’re using. Our end users are diverse, but our designers and developers are not.

We explore how digital technology is changing society, build proofs of concept to show it could be better for all, and partner with other organisations to provoke and deliver mainstream change.

I like the way the community has made an ethnographical inquiry into Libraries to see what they are doing at the very start of their project. It is an effort to understand what is actually going on that so many projects fail to do at the start and is echoed in Doteveryone’s claim that our politicians “don’t understand the channels they’re using”.

Spirit of the lecture

The Mooc I am enrolled in depends much on the video lecture. I have found these both useful and engaging, experiencing a sense of ‘getting to know’ the lecturer and sharing in some of his light-hearted asides. The lecturer creates a sort of ‘community-by-proxy’, linking students together who have watched the video clips apart.

Adams et al (2014) employ a phenomenological methodology when focusing on Mooc lectures. They examine the lived experience of students to offer new perspectives and throw additional light on well-rehearsed arguments tending to polarise xMoocs with their transmissive pedagogies and cMoocs with connectivist/constructivist approaches.

By Vinciane Lacroix (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The authors characterise the online lecture as being a “hermeneutic speech act”. Hermeneutics is the study of text interpretation and, here, the authors are saying that the videoed lecture is a punctive and interpretive act – the lecturer is not simply transmitting ‘dead’ knowledge from a script, but imbuing it with subjective interpretation by a type of performance. This claim is borne out by a phenomenological approach as the philosophy argues that no object is perceived without a subject and for objects to be appraised at all, they must be apprehended by a perceiving mind. Therefore, with regard to the online lecture, no discrete knowledge remains unenlivened by the subject who delivers it with her own interpretive colour.

It is the enlivening and particular spirit the lecturer brings to the address that can strengthen the immediacy and potency of the lived now experience the students in Adams’ paper relate. The lecturer is “recovering to spirit what might be lost to the letter” (Friesen, 2011, p.98) and it might help foster the engagement and sense of belonging argued to exist only within cMoocs.

Friesen states,

“Texts or written words (and to a lesser extent, speech itself) are only so many supports or prompts to realize and sustain the life of the spirit or, more modestly, the development of understanding and meaning.” (Friesen, 2011, p.98).

Friesen remarks on the texts of both the speaker and the note-taker in the lecture hall, arguing that these are “important only insofar as they capture and enable the creativity and originality of the speaker” (p.99). It is this authentic capture of the experience of a thing which is attempted by the ethnographer and similarly examined by the phenomenologist. It is also this spirit which prompts, perhaps, the imaginative creation of an ethnographic object.

Every act of understanding is the inversion of a speech-act, during which the thought which was the basis of the speech must become conscious” (Friesen, 2011, quoting Schleiermacher,1998, p.98.)

Friesen gives an historical account of the lecture, relating Goffman’s (1959) contention that the lecture superimposes the dramaturgical upon the textual. The text of the address carries with it the accumulated authority of the academic which she imbues with a life-force in the delivery. The effect of this animation is not lost or diluted on the Mooc student to which Adams’ students’ and my own experience can attest. Practices around text and the lecture have evolved over time as mediating technologies have similarly progressed, creating new configurations for discourse. The use of video lectures or student-led communication pedagogies needn’t be set in opposition, but can both claim a place in online courses.

Friesen, N. (2011). The Lecture as a Transmedial Pedagogical Form. Educational Researcher, 40(3), pp. 95-102.

Adams, C. et al. (2014). A phenomenology of learning large: the tutorial sphere of xMOOC video lectures. Distance Education, 35(2), pp.1–15.