I recently picked up “Digital Sociologies” because it features Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom (recent MacArthur Grant recipient) and several other sociologists I’ve been following on Twitter and via their blogs.
What strikes me whenever I’m reading into the digital sociologies is how essential they are to the ethical education of every tech worker and educator. To “move thoughtfully and fix things”, we need this knowledge. “The need for digital sociology is now.”
Selections from the introduction:
The sociological imagination, as C. Wright Mills described it, is the task of comprehending the ways in which biography and history, the individual and society, intersect (Mills, 1959).
Digital technologies simultaneously offer liberatory possibilities for destabilizing old hierarchies while at the same time they create mechanisms for retrenching well-established patterns of inequality, stratification, and domination. It is through the recognition of this tension that we have come to see the need for the critical practice of what we now call “digital sociology” (Wynn, 2009; Orton-Johnson and Prior, 2012; Carrigan, 2013; Marres, 2013; Lupton, 2014; Orton-Johnson et al, 2015). Digital sociology provides a lens through which to understand the individual and society after digitization.
digital sociology is concerned first with social problems (social inequality, race, gender) and then with technology (Wajcman, 2002).
By conceptualizing digital sociology as starting from a black feminist standpoint, rather than bringing it in later to transform extant work, we hope to offer a more fruitful line of inquiry.
the need for digital sociology is now.
It is this inclination toward interdisciplinarity that Collins identifies that gives rise to digital sociology. “Digital sociology is best understood as an interdisciplinary practice,” writes Noortje Marres (2013). And this in line with how we think of the work collected here: making a contribution to digital sociology while drawing on an interdisciplinary practice. This collection is a response, in many ways, to Collins’ observation that as we become more interdependent and more interconnected, we need an interdisciplinary sociology to make sense of the networked world. A wide array of pressing social issues, and contemporary attempts to address them, make digital sociology necessary.
To understand such endeavors and the problems they are trying to address, we need scholars who are trained to understand digital technologies and who have sociological training that is linked to a politics of liberation. This “liberation sociology” takes the perspective of those seeking liberation from oppressive conditions, and is the framework from which we need to understand what it means to be a child that receives “one laptop” from a US-based non-profit or someone who uses an “app for their own good” coded by someone else (Feagin et al, 2015). As we conceive it, digital sociology is rooted both in interdisciplinarity and in the politics of liberation.
While the early days of the internet had many people, from commercial advertisers to esteemed scholars, contemplating how digital technologies might allow us to escape embodiment, few believe this now. As we move into the era of the Internet of Things, the digital realm is no longer a destination, somewhere to go that is separate from us, it is in thing, in us and on our bodies (Howard, 2015; Neff and Nafus, 2016).
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