Real Social Analytics in BJS

1280px-social-mediaOur article in the British Journal of Sociology is (early) online . This article argues against the assumption that agency and reflexivity disappear in an age of ‘algorithmic power’ (Lash 2007). Following the suggestions of Beer (2009), it proposes that, far from disappearing, new forms of agency and reflexivity around the embedding in everyday practice of not only algorithms but also analytics more broadly are emerging, as social actors continue to pursue their social ends but mediated through digital interfaces: this is the consequence of many social actors now needing their digital presence, regardless of whether they want this, to be measured and counted. The article proposes ‘social analytics’ as a new topic for sociology: the sociological study of social actors’ uses of analytics not for the sake of measurement itself (or to make profit from measurement) but in order to fulfil better their social ends through an enhancement of their digital presence. The article places social analytics in the context of earlier debates about categorization, algorithmic power, and self-presentation online, and describes in detail a case study with a UK community organization which generated the social analytics approach. The article concludes with reflections on the implications of this approach for further sociological fieldwork in a digital world.

 
Cite: Couldry, N., Fotopoulou, A. and Dickens, L. (2016), Real social analytics: A contribution towards a phenomenology of a digital world. The British Journal of Sociology. doi: 10.1111/1468-4446.12183

 

Telling the story of the stories article

Telling the story of the stories: online content curation and digital engagement

The last (I think) of the research Outputs from the Storycircle project (Goldsmiths, University of London) that ended in July 2013, just got published online in the academic journal Information, Communication and Society. The title ‘Telling the story of the stories: online content curation and digital engagement’, is partly a quote from one of the participants in the study, a community reporter.

In the article, with co-author Prof Nick Couldry (LSE), we explore tensions between the imaginaries and material hindrances that accompany the development of digital infrastructures for narrative exchange and public engagement. Digital infrastructures allow civil society organizations to become narrators of their community lives, and to express solidarity and recognition. Often full development and implementation of such infrastructures result in drastic changes to an organization’s mode of operation. Drawing from empirical material collected during an action research project with an organization of community reporters in the North of England, here we examine the visions of ‘telling the story of the stories’ that motivated such changes, the experiments in web analytics and content curation that in practice realized these visions and the socio-economic contexts that constrained them. We attend to the wider social imaginaries about the digital as they help us understand better how social actors construct the worlds they want to inhabit within information society through mundane everyday practices. Examining how perceptions of digital engagement translate into such concrete practices is necessary in order to gain insight into the ways in which material infrastructures, such as resources and technologies, intertwine with social and cultural expectations about how life should be with digital technologies.

Outputs of NEMODE project

The NEMODE-funded research has now finished and has provided the following outputs (published at the NEMODE website):

Report on Research placement

The Final Report from the placement is available here: AFotopoulou_Nemode End of Placement052014

Slides:

‘All these emotions, all these yearnings, all these data’, a presentation on platform openness, data sharing and visions democracy. Slides available here: AFotopoulou NEMODE slides 01

‘Climbing Gotzilla with Fitbit: Apps, sensors and all these data’ presentation slides available here: AFotopoulou NEMODE slides 02

Forthcoming Outputs:

  • Participation now! section of Open Democracy (e-magazine) commissioned piece about the Quantified Self. Participation now is a platform co- ordinated by the Open University, which aims to facilitate debate and mutual learning among the many different actors involved, so that we better understand these new forms of public participation in the broader social and political context in which they are situated.
  • Article in The Conversation: Curated by professional editors, The Conversation offers informed commentary and debate on the issues affecting our world.
  • Academic Paper entitled Quantifying the Self: All these emotions, all these yearnings, all these data has been accepted by the Academic Committee of the 10T H IN T E R N A T I O N A L CO N F E R E N C E  CR O S S R O A D S I N CU L T U R A L ST U D I E S that will be held in Tampere, Finland, July 1-4, 2014.

 

Tracking biodata: sharing and ownership

The placement has now finished and has provided the following outputs (published at the NEMODE website):

Report on Research placement

The Final Report from the placement is available here: AFotopoulou_Nemode End of Placement052014

Slides:

‘All these emotions, all these yearnings, all these data’, a presentation on platform openness, data sharing and visions democracy. Slides available here: AFotopoulou NEMODE slides 01

‘Climbing Gotzilla with Fitbit: Apps, sensors and all these data’ presentation slides available here: AFotopoulou NEMODE slides 02

Forthcoming Outputs:

  • Participation now!section of Open Democracy (e-magazine) commissioned piece about the Quantified Self. Participation now is a platform co- ordinated by the Open University, which aims to facilitate debate and mutual learning among the many different actors involved, so that we better understand these new forms of public participation in the broader social and political context in which they are situated.
  • Article in The Conversation: Curated by professional editors, The…

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Fresh: two articles published

Two articles based on our collaborative work in the Storycircle project (Goldsmiths, completed July 2013) have just been published in March, Digital citizenship? Narrative exchange and the changing terms of civic culture, in Citizenship Studies, and News in the community? Investigating emerging inter-local spaces of news production/consumption in Journalism Studies.

In Digital citizenship we explored the possibilities for new forms of ‘digital citizenship’ currently emerging through digitally supported processes of narrative exchange. Using Dahlgren’s (Dahlgren, P. 2003. “Reconfiguring Civic Culture in the New Media Milieu.” In Media and the Restyling of Politics, edited by J. Corner, and D. Pels, 151–170. London: Sage; Dahlgren, P. 2009. Media and Political Engagement. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.) circuit of ‘civic culture’ as a model for exploring the interlinking preconditions for new acts of citizenship, we discuss the contrasting outcomes of research at three fieldwork sites in the North of England – educational (a sixth form college), civil society (a community reporters’ network) and social (a local club). Each site provided clear evidence of the elements of Dahlgren’s circuit (some depending on the intensive use of digital infrastructure, others predating it), but there were also breaks in the circuit that constrained its effectiveness. A crucial factor in each case for building a lasting circuit of civic culture (and an effective base for new forms of digital citizenship) is the role that digital infrastructure can play in extending the scale of interactions beyond the purely local.

 

In News in the Community we examined the emergence of new, inter-local spaces of news production and consumption, drawing again on our extensive fieldwork and interviews with community reporters trained by a community reporter organisation based in the north of England. Practices of news production and content generation are focused on people’s own communities and they are underpinned by an ethos of production, which is grounded in a critical consumption of news and collective processes of skill acquisition. Through an analysis of motivations and practices, we account for the values that sustain community reporter communities and discuss how such practices, while emerging from the place of local community, also extend across wider communities of interest. It is suggested that an evolving practice of skill sharing and mutual recognition could potentially stimulate the regrowth of democratic values.