Why should sociologists be interested in the new digital media technologies? This is a question I have been thinking and writing about recently in developing my next book project on digital sociology (to be published by Routledge next year). Here are some of the reasons that have emerged in the literature:
- Social life is increasingly being configured through and with digital media.
- What counts as ‘the social’ is increasingly framed via digital media.
- Digital media use and practice is structured through gender, social class, geographical location, education, race/ethnicity and age, all social categories with which sociologists have traditionally been interested.
- Digital media are integral parts of contemporary social networks and social institutions such as the family, the workplace, the education system, the healthcare system, the mass media and the economy, again phenomena that have long been foci for sociological research and theorising.
- Digital media configure concepts of selfhood, social relationships, embodiment, human/nonhuman relations, space and time – all relevant to sociological inquiry.
- Digital media have instituted new forms of power relations.
- Digital media have become central to issues of measure and value.
- Digital media offer alternative ways of practising sociology: of researching, teaching and disseminating research.
- Digital media are important both to ‘public sociology’ (engaging with people outside of academia) and ‘private sociology’ (personal identities and practices as sociologists) (see here for my previous post on this).
- Digital media challenge sociologists’ role as pre-eminent social researchers: sociologists need to address this.
- Digital media technologies can contribute to ‘live sociology’ and ‘inventive methods’, or new, creative ways of practising sociology.
As this list implies, digital sociology goes well beyond simply a focus on ‘the digital’. It raises major questions about what should be the focus and methods of contemporary sociological research and theorising. As such, sociologists writing about digital media are important contributors to debates about the future of sociology and how the discipline can remain vibrant, creative and responsive to new developments and social change.