This week I presented the first paper at the first ever session bearing the title ‘digital sociology’ that has been held at The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) annual conference. The TASA annual conference is the pre-eminent meeting for sociologists around Australia, and there were over 400 of us in attendance at the conference. There were two sessions on digital sociology and each was packed out, a welcome indication that a lively interest in the topic is beginning to grow in Australia. They were convened by Theresa Sauter from QUT.
I used my presentation as an opportunity to introduce the concept of digital sociology, to explain why the title is now being used and why it is important that sociologists engage in theorising, researching and using digital technologies. The accompanying full paper that was published in the conference proceedings reviewed some of the work of British sociologists who have written about the digital world and the impact on sociology of new forms of digitised knowledge (see below for links to the PowerPoint slides and full paper).
I have written numerous posts about digital sociology exploring these issues (collected here) and I am a regular user of social and other digital technologies as part of investigating the possibilities, potential and drawbacks of engaging with these technologies as a sociologist (posts on this are here). I am currently working on a book entitled Digital Sociology for Routledge that is bringing all these topics (and many more) together. Suffice to say that digital sociology has become my major research interest, extending previous work I carried out in the mid-1990s and into the early 2000s on personal computers.
Other presentations at the two digital sociology TASA sessions included an examination of Google Glass using Tarde’s concept of the monad (Tim Graham and Theresa Sauter), David Collis’ analysis of the ‘savant garde’ and algorithmic logic, a project looking at Twitter as used in the Australian news debate television program Q&A in the context of theories about the public sphere (Erin Carlisle), Theresa Sauter again with her discussion of the use of the term digital sociology and a case study of Pinterest, Tristan Kennedy’s talk on ethical issues in online participant observation research, a paper on the use of apps to engage in ethical consumption (Kim Humphery and Tim Jordan) and Ashlin Lee’s analysis of convergent mobile technology. These were all interesting presentations that sparked much discussion among those attending the sessions.
As I noted in my presentation, many sociologists, including those in Australia, have been researching computer technologies and online interactions ever since personal computers began to be available to the general public in the mid-1980s. These topics are not new, but what is new is that the technologies have changed and become ever-more pervasive in everyday life as we have moved from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and now to Web 3.0 (the Internet of Things). The term digital sociology incorporates these developments by encompassing all things digital, and is also a nod to other disciplinary terms now in use such as digital anthropology, digital humanities and digital cultures.
I hope to see digital sociology grow in interest from this first entrance into the TASA space and that, like the BSA Digital Sociology study group that was established earlier this year, a TASA thematic group will develop. Australian researchers are invited to contact me if they would like to join an Australian Digital Sociology research network.