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IM920 Digital Sociology

20/30 CATS - (10/15 ECTS)

Digital innovation is enabling new ways of knowing society, from online surveillance to behavioural analytics to real-time research. What are the implications of this for the relations between social science, computing and society?

New forms of computational social science have sparked intense debates across disciplines including sociology, computing and media studies in recent years. This course will provide an overview of these debates, and offers an advanced introduction to the key epistemic, methodological and normative issues they raise, such as: Do the sensational claims for a new computational science of society hold up? Do we really need new methods in order to study digital societies? What are the implications of the rise of computational sociology for the relations between social research and social life?

During the second half of the course, students will explore these questions in a more hands-on way, through seminars and lab sessions in which we experiment with digital methods in order to imagine new ways of practicing sociology with technology.

Module Convenor

Dr Noortje Marres

Indicative Syllabus

Weeks 2-5: Introduction to Digital Sociology

Week 2: What is digital sociology?

Digital innovation enables new ways of knowing society (Savage, Latour, Lazer et al): what are the new objects, methods and platforms of digital social inquiry emerging across disciplines, how are these changing relations between sociology, computing and society?

Week 3: What makes media technologies social?

Digitization has given rise to new social data, technologies and analytics. The session provides an overview of current approaches in social studies of digital media technologies and evaluates the challenges posed by digital sociality today.

Week 4: How and why to be reflexive in the analysis of digital societies?

What kinds of normative issues occur when researching digital societies? As well as discussing issues of informed consent and privacy, this session problematises the knowledge ideal that data analysis offers a neutral way to ‘capture’ behaviour or attitudes. A reflexive approach to studying digital cultures and handling data can be a solution to this.

Week 5: Who is Digital Sociology’s public?

Digital innovation is associated with the shift from audience to participation. The session discusses critical and constructive sociological analysis of this claim, and explores its implications for sociology, computing and their publics.

Weeks 6-10: Digital Sociology in Practice

Week 6: Introduction to Digital Sociology in Practice

Digitization invites a shift from sociology as ‘finished product’ to ‘on-going practice’. What difference does this make for how we understand the ‘context of application’ of sociology and interact with actors in the field? This session also introduces the topic and structure of the group projects.

Week 7: Methods 1: How to do field research in digital societies?

This session introduces a set of methods for undertaking field research on digital societies. Outlining the ethnographic practices of interviewing, observation, and participatory research, it asks what observing and engaging with social life “in the wild” can tell us about digital social relations, people’s sense of self, and meaning-making practices.

Week 8: Methods 2: How to do sociology with social media?
This session presents a second set of methods for researching digital societies which students will use in their group projects: capturing and analysing data from web sites, social media and video platforms. Group projects undertake data collection and/or field visits.

Week 9: Groupwork Session

This session is entirely dedicated to group work: analysis of materials and preparation of the final presentation.

Week 10: Issues in Digital Sociology + Student Presentations

Digital social science has spawned a range of ethical and political issues across sociology, computing and society. How do we engage with these issues as part of research practice? The second half of the session is dedicated to the presentation of group projects.

Illustrative Bibliography

Amoore, L., & Piotukh, V. (Eds.). (2015). Algorithmic life: Calculative devices in the age of big data. Routledge

Boyd, D., & Crawford, K. (2012). Critical questions for big data: Provocations for a cultural, technological and scholarly phenomenon. Information, communication & society, 15(5), 662-679.

Clough, P.T., Gregory, K., Haber, B., & Scannell, R.J. (2015). The datalogical turn. Non-representational methodologies: Re-renvisioning research, 12, 146.

Gerlitz, C., & Helmond, A. (2013), The like economy: Social buttons and the data-intensive web. New Media & Society, 15(8), 1348-1565.

Gillespie, T. & K. Foot et al. (2013) Media Technologies: Materiality, Technology, Society, Cambridge: MIT Press

Latour, Bruno et al. (2013) ‘The Whole is Always Smaller Than its Parts: A Digital Test of Gabriel Tarde’s Monads,’ British Journal of Sociology.

Lupton, Deborah (2013) Digital Sociology. London and New York: Routledge.

Marres, N. (2017) Digital Sociology: the reinvention of social research, Cambridge: Polity.

Marres, N and E. Weltevrede (2012) ‘Scraping the Social? Issues in Live Research,’ Journal of Cultural Economy.

Nafus, D., & Sherman, J. (2014). Big data, big questions| this one does not go up to 11: the quantified self movement as an alternative big data practice. International Journal of Communication, 8, 11.

Orton-Johnson, K. and N. Prior (Eds) (2013) Critical Perspectives in Digital Sociology, Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke.

Ruppert, E., Law, J., & Savage, M. (2013). Reassembling social science methods: The challenge of digital devices. Theory, culture & society, 30(4), 22-46.

Ziewitz, Malte. "Governing algorithms: Myth, mess, and methods." Science, Technology, & Human Values 41, no. 1 (2016): 3-16.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a conceptual and practical understanding of the role of emerging digital technology in the analysis of social phenomena across disciplines;

  • Identify and reflect on key methodological, epistemic and normative issues raised by digital infrastructures and practices for social inquiry;

  • Evaluate in practical terms the usefulness of digital platforms for the study of sociological phenomena;

  • Demonstrate an understanding of how digital devices may reconfigure relations between social science, computing, and society;

  • Develop an appreciation of innovative forms of participation and interactivity that digital technologies enable, and the potential of digital culture to transform the relationship between sociology, computing and their audiences.

Important Information:

Please be advised that you may be expected to have access to a laptop for some of these courses due to software requirements; the Centre is unable to provide a laptop for external students.

Gaining the permission of a member of CIM teaching staff to take a module does not guarantee a place on that module. Nor does gaining the permission of a member of staff from your home department or filling in the eVision Module Registration (eMR) system with the desired module. You must contact the Centre Administrator (J.Sharp@warwick.ac.uk) to request a module place.

Please be advised that some modules may have restricted numbers. Places are not allocated on a first-come first-served basis, but instead all external students requesting a CIM module as optional, who submit their request by the relevant deadline are given equal consideration.

We are normally unable to allow students (registered or auditing) to join the module after the third week of it commencing. If you have any queries please contact the Centre Administrator.