Week two: digital sociology

As a marketing and communications practitioner, this is my first foray in sociology. When presented with the question of digital sociology, my knee-jerk, pre-article reading response was “the study of sociology using digital tools and methods.” After reading this week’s texts, It’s funny how my knee-jerk response is, sadly, what would be said by many seasoned sociologists.

In Dr. Longo’s video lecture, she stated that digital sociology studies how these digital spaces and mechanisms create and perpetuate “the social inequalities and hierarchies seen across race, gender, class, society,” etc. That was the moment of clarity for me, and I immediately understood it. As I dug into the readings, I couldn’t get how those seasoned sociologists ignored or rejected this notion, but reflecting on how people tend to “fetishize” real life over digital technology (Barnard), I got it: academics are just as likely to reject the impact and validity of digital as laypeople. It’s my belief that this fetishization, conversely, is why big data is so obtrusive: Nearly any and every moment of real life has been mirrored online or facilitated by digital devices. And nearly every digital interaction has some form of gatekeeping that requires you to enter personal information that is, in turn, sold, shared and exploited.

To me, that is the simple line between digital sociology and big data. Digital sociology looks at where individual and society converges/diverges in digital spaces through practice; analysis and critique (Barnard). Side note: though the digital realm has presented new ways to study and analyze individual and society, I think it has also compounded many societal issues. Big data is an output or byproduct of the digital realm with which sociology is concerned. As stated in the text, big data has disrupted the epistemological status quo in sociology by making traditional research methods inadequate, and that is one of the key issues that sociologists must reconcile (Gregory, McMillan Cottom, Daniels). Another side note: the text gave great examples of how researchers combined digital tools (eg. discussion boards, geocaching) and traditional methods to generate richer data.

1 comment

  1. Excellent analysis. You are correct. We are going beyond simply understanding how these digital tools work and shape our lives. Digital sociology is about the critical examination. This, I would argue, makes this subdiscipline very different from other computational sociology areas. I think that the Internet and the digital spaces it generates is itself an institution. It plays an active role in generating inequalities in other institutions. It is our job to investigate how to reduce or eliminate them.

Leave a comment