I’m one of the speakers at the What is Digital Sociology? Event organised by the BSA Digital Sociology group, which takes place on the 16th July in London. I’m looking forward to meeting other people involved and/or interested in this burgeoning field. Apart from anything else I’d be interested to hear more about their rationale for ‘committing digital sociology’ in the first place. So I might as well take the opportunity here to outline my reasons for setting up www.socialtheoryapplied.com. After all, engaging in digital sociology especially via blogs takes time and effort, both of which have been in a state of ever increasing commodification, academically speaking. So why bother?
Well my reasons are several, and among them are:
- The immediacy – this in an obvious one. Once the site started to generate adequate traffic (thanks readers), more people have read the blog posts and in a much shorter time span, than anything else I’ve published. I’ve always been frustrated with the snail-like pace of academic publishing. I was frustrated with this aspect of our work 13 years ago and I still am, and for the life of me can’t figure out why this frustration isn’t more widespread (I know this sentiment is shared among the academic blogging community but I don’t think that has reached any kind of critical mass just yet).
- My pedagogical interests: coming out of the field of adult education, I’ve always had a strong pedagogical/andragogical side to my work and academic identity. The site content and its delivery strongly reflect this side – it is designed to be accessible, informative, engaging, interesting and useful. It’s of course hard for me to judge my own success in this regard (time will tell probably), but at the very least I think the site helps to ‘normalise’ and demystify the world of social theory in the context of educational research. There’s a lot of work to be done but I feel progress is being made. This is certainly helped by the quality of the contributors thus far, whose involvement is much appreciated.
- Contributing to academic debate: Contributions to our knowledge bases are traditionally the preserve of academic publishing and conferences. I would very much like the site to develop to a stage where it made useful contributions to ongoing debates about the value of social theory in education research. Of course this doesn’t mean that it makes the more traditional methods redundant – instead it can act hopefully as a mediating mechanism for such debates in the future (and vice-versa) (I know this point has been made before but worth repeating).
- Social media and the public university: I’ve always held onto the notion that universities should be major players in the public sphere. I don’t have space to go into the reasons why but suffice to say that the university presence in public debate (of various persuasions) thus far suggests there’s room for improvement on that front. While I understand the concerns over neo-liberalism, marketisation, hollowing-out, etc in the context of academic life, I believe that digital technologies make it so much easier to reach-out to ‘publics’ including the general public. The opportunities that exist for engaging in open education are too numerous and too exciting to ignore. And I’ve certainly never wanted to exist in an ivory tower – how boring would that be?
The potential for digital media to change the impact of social science research is vast. Personally I don’t think we are anywhere near realising this potential. This inaugural event of the BSA Digital Sociology group will I hope help to move us on in that regard.
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to meeting everyone in July! – Mark Murphy