The quantified self movement: some sociological perspectives

Today's Track Workout

Today’s Track Workout (Photo credit: nocklebeast)

The concepts of ‘self-tracking’ and the ‘quantified self’ have recently begun to emerge in discussions of how best to optimise one’s life. These concepts refer to the practice of gathering data about oneself on a regular basis and then recording and analysing the data to produce statistics and graphs relating to one’s bodily functions, diet, illness symptoms, appearance, social encounters, phone calls, work output, computer use, mood and many more aspects of everyday life.

The advent of digital technologies able to assist in the collecting, measuring, computation and display of these data has been vitally important in promoting the cause of the self-tracking movement. While people have been able to monitor and measure aspects of their bodies and selves using non-digital technologies for centuries, mobile digital devices connected to the internet have facilitated the ever more detailed measurement and monitoring of the body and everyday life in real time and the analysis, presentation and sharing of these data.

These technologies include not only digital cameras, smartphones and tablet computers, but also wearable wristbands, headbands or patches with digital technologies embedded in their fabric able to measure bodily functions or movement and upload data wirelessly. Tiny sensors can also be incorporated into everyday items such as toothbrushes, pyjamas or watering cans to measure such activities. Blood pressure cuffs and body weight scales can be purchased that connect wirelessly to apps. Global positioning devices and accelerometers in mobile devices provide spatial location and quantify movement. Apps that regularly ask users to document their mood can monitor affective states. There seems hardly a limit to the ways in which one’s daily activities can be monitored, measured and quantified. Some committed self-trackers even regularly send stool and blood samples for analysis and use commercially available genetic tests as part of their efforts to construct a detailed map of their bodily functions and wellbeing.

While the concept of self-tracking is not particularly new, the term the ‘quantified self’ (QS) to represent a social movement facilitated by digital technologies is novel. The QS movement was first developed by two Wired Magazine editors, who set up a website devoted to the movement in 2008, and thus began as a technologically-informed phenomenon. According to the Wikipedia definition ‘The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical)’ . This definition immediately begins to construct a view of the body/self as a machine-like entity, with ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’ (glossed as ‘performance’ in the definition) that can readily be measured and quantified.

How might the QS movement be interpreted through a sociological lens? One way of analysing the phenomenon is via the theoretical perspectives offered by the ‘risk society’ thesis developed by Ulrich Beck (1992). In a world in which risks and threats appear to be ever-present, the certainties promised by the intense self-monitoring of the ‘self-tracker’ may be interpreted as a means of attempting to contain risk, to control the vagaries of fate to some extent. Beck describes the concept of self-reflexivity, or seeking information and making choices about one’s life in a context in which traditional patterns and frameworks that once structured the life course have largely dissolved. Self-tracking represents the apotheosis of self-reflexivity in its intense focus on the self and using data about the self to make choices about future behaviours. In relation to health matters, self-tracking offers users of such technologies a strategy by which they feel as if they can gather data upon their health indicators as a means of avoiding illness and disease. The self-knowledge that is viewed as emerging from the minutiae of data recording a myriad of aspects of the body is a psychological salve to the fear of bodily degeneration. As one self-tracker has noted, his tracking efforts have ‘made me believe I had more power over my health than I thought’.

Another perspective that may be adopted is that drawing on the philosophy of Michel Foucault. Foucault’s writings on the practices and technologies of the self in neoliberalism are pertinent to understanding the QS as a particular mode of governing the self. Self-tracking may viewed as one of many heterogeneous strategies and discourses that position the neoliberal self as a responsible citizen, willing and able to take care of her or his self-interest and welfare. As Foucault and others using his work have noted, neoliberalism promotes the concept of the citizen who needs no coercion to behave productively and in the interests of the state. Rather, the citizen voluntarily takes up modes of practice that both achieves self-interest and conforms to state objectives (see Lupton, 1995, for this perspective applied to public health).

The QS movement takes up and interprets a view of the body/self that positions it as amenable to improvement, an object of persona enterprise and work. Here an integral source of knowledge is that offered by metrics. The statistical aspect of the practice of self-tracking – the ability to produce ‘numbers’ measuring aspects of one’s life – is integral to the approach. It is assumed that the production of such hard/objective data is the best way of assessing and representing the value of one’s life and that better ‘self-knowledge’ will result: tellingly, the QS official website has as its motto ‘self knowledge through numbers’. The implication of this motto is that ‘self-knowledge’ as it accomplished via self-tracking and the production of ‘numbers’ is a worthy goal for individuals to aspire to. The more we know about ourselves and our bodies, the more productive, wealthier, wiser, healthier, emotionally stable and so on we can be.

The lure of ‘numbers’ is that they appear scientifically neutral and exact. The body/self as it is produced through QS, therefore, is both subject and product of scientific measurement and interpretation. Using self-tracking facilitated by digital technologies encourages people to think about their bodies and their selves in different ways; through numbers and as the product of computerised technologies. Such a transformation extends further the move from the haptic (touch sensations) to the optic or visual understanding of the body/self within medicine, as well as the increasing focus on the metric as a valued source of knowledge in many other aspects of social life. As one’s bodily states and functions become ever more recordable and visualised via data displays, it becomes easier to trust the ‘numbers’ over physical sensations.

As recent sociological analyses into questions of measure and value have argued, there has been a huge increase generally into the use of metrics in many aspects of social life, which has been greatly impelled by the development of technologies for achieving quantification (Adkins and Lury 2012). Yet there is a politics of measurement: numbers are not neutral, despite the accepted concept of them as devoid of value judgements, assumptions and meanings. The ways in which phenomena are quantified and interpreted and the purposes to which these measurements are put are always implicated in social relationships, power dynamics and ways of seeing.

The surveillance society literature (for example, Lyon, 2007) might interpret the QS movement somewhat differently. According to this literature, in the surveillance society, digital technologies are increasingly monitoring and measuring individuals, whether this is achieved via the closed circuit television cameras that have become ubiquitous in public spaces, the loyalty cards offered by businesses or the mobile digital technologies one can now carry or wear upon one’s body. Much of the surveillance society literature has focused on the ways in which others use the data they collect on individuals using digital technologies for security or business reasons. What remains to be fully explored is how the data that are collected voluntarily by an individual using such approaches as self-tracking (in other words, self-surveillance or participatory surveillance) are used by that person for her or his own purposes (Lupton, 2012).

The latest self-tracking technologies allow people to broadcast their ‘numbers’ to many others via social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter. Self-surveillance here moves from an inner-directed preoccupation with the body/self to a performative mode, inviting further scrutiny from one’s friends and followers. Social media tools and other digital platforms also allow people to collate their self-gathered data with others interested in the same phenomenon, or compare their data against others’ data. Indeed at least one multinational workplace has already instituted a competition requiring participating employees to upload and display to all other workmates data they have collected on their bodily movements and weight loss using self-tracking devices as part of efforts to motivate them to achieve higher fitness levels.

Approaches from postphenomenology developed in science and technology studies and philosophy offer a theoretical approach to think about the ways in which humans interact with their technologies (see, for example, Ihde, 2009). These perspectives address such issues as the ontological nature of the human/technology interaction, the ways in which technologies are incorporated into concepts of embodiment and selfhood and how they extend or enhance these and how social relations are configured through, with and by technologies. For this theoretical position it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate technology from its user, as both are viewed as mutually constituted. Research questions focus on how the user/technology assemblage is configured, and how this assemblage views itself and interacts with other human and non-human actors or assemblages. There are complex ontological issues here in relation to the ways in which the human/technology assemblage is constructed and reconstructed.

Little specific academic research has been published that has specifically addressed the QS movement thus far, as it is such a new phenomenon (although for some interesting blog posts that have begun to explore some of these issues see my collection The Sociology of the Quantified Self). Yet from a sociological perspective a number of interesting questions about the quest to achieve ‘self-knowledge through numbers’ arise, including the following: What types of people are attracted to self-tracking? How do they use the data they produce? How are concepts of the body, self, social relationships, health and happiness both configured and negotiated via these data? How do members of their social networks respond to the sharing of data produced through this self-surveillance? How do self-trackers’ doctors or therapists make use of the data they produce? What the implications of shared data derived from self-tracking for patient empowerment? How does the digital device construct reality for its user, how it is incorporated into the routines of everyday life, how does it shape social encounters, how does it present users to others and to themselves? There is much more here to investigate in relation to the attempt to achieve ‘self-knowledge through numbers’.


Adkins, L. and Lury, C. (2012) Introduction: special measures. The Sociological Review, 59(s2), 5—23.

Beck, U. (1992) Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage.

Ihde, D. (2009) Postphenomenology and Technoscience. New York: State University of New York.

Lupton, D. (1995) The Imperative of Health: Public Health and the Regulated Body. London: Sage.

Lupton, D. (2012) M-health and health promotion: the digital cyborg and surveillance society. Social Theory & Health, 10, 229–44.

Lyon, D. (2007) Surveillance Studies: An Overview. Cambridge: Polity Press.

A sociologist’s adventures in social media land

I have recently published a number of blog posts on the topic of digital sociology and using social media for professional academic purposes. I have added a little additional material and collected these posts together in an e-document entitled Digital Sociology: An Introduction

Below is the preamble to this document. The complete document can be accessed here.

Like many academics, I was quite oblivious to the virtues of using digital social media for professional purposes for rather a long time. Although I used Facebook for private reasons to keep in touch with family and friends, and had signed up to and LinkedIn to connect with other academics, for several years these were the only social media platforms I used.

Then one day earlier this year the scales fell from my eyes. I wrote a piece for an online news and discussion site, The Conversation. This site was designed for academics to write accessible articles directed at the general public, who in turn are invited to comment. After only a few hours following publication of the article, more than 500 people had read it, and several had commented.  A couple of days later the post had accumulated over 2,000 views and many more comments. I was amazed by the way such a forum offered instant feedback on my ideas and a large readership. This was such a different model of publishing from the one I was used to: academic journal articles and books, which took many months and often years to appear in print following completion of a manuscript and even longer for responses to appear.

I soon decided to set up my own blog so that I could engage in such public engagement under my own terms: yes, gentle reader, the very blog that you are reading here. I then joined Twitter, a micro-blogging social platform that I had previously thought only as a forum for celebrities to post inanities and politicians to spread propaganda (my Twitter handle is @DALupton).

Again, I was surprised at what I found. I initially had set up a Twitter account as a way to publicise my blog posts but I then found that it was a really useful way to engage with academics and others working in or interested in the same topics I was. I found that people shared links to interesting blog posts, news articles, journal articles and books. They chatted about their latest research or debated a contentious issue, and I readily joined in. Using Tweetreach, a tool to document how far one’s tweets were travelling, I found that some days I was reaching up to 80,000 Twitter accounts. This is thanks to the exponential nature of the practice of retweeting, where one’s followers retweet one’s tweet to their followers, and so on. The power of online social networks was obvious.

I then decided that I needed a way of preserving, curating and sharing all the interesting blog posts and news articles that I had discovered via Twitter. I signed up to Delicious, a digital bookmarking site, to achieve this (my collections are here). I then discovered Pinterest, a curating platform for images, and found that it provided a fascinating way to collect images relevant to my research and share these with others: see my boards here. I set up an account with Storify to make ‘social stories’ using material drawn from the web (they can be viewed here), and shared my PowerPoint presentations on ShareSlide (here). I used to start up a weekly newsletter, Health & Society, to publish some of the great information I was discovering online about one of my major research interests. I experimented with Pearltrees to curate and bookmark websites (see these here). Using an online wizard I even made my own app providing key concepts on medical sociology (see it here).  And of course I used Twitter to let other people know about these initiatives.

After using all these platforms and investigating what they could offer as part of my professional practice, I wrote a post for my blog on how sociologists can use Pinterest, another for the online forum Crikey on making an app for academic purposes, and a further three-part series for my blog on the topic of digital sociology.

Digital Sociology: An Introduction gathers together these articles in one place as a resource for others who might be interested in using social media in their practice as an academic, as well as for those who might be interested in what the term ‘digital sociology’ might encompass. I have also added some additional material on using Storify, Pearltrees and infographics tools.

Does using these social media tools take time out from other academic work? Yes, of course. But I would contend that it is well worth the time and effort. You can use these tools as little or as much as you want, depending on what you find you gain from them. And judicious use of these tools both contributes to and enriches your research and teaching efforts and attracts more readers to your other more ‘traditional’ academic research outputs. These are surely major goals for any academic.

These are the three main reasons I use social media as part of my academic professional practice:

  • Research: to let others know about mine, to learn about that of others and to gather material to support my research.
  • Creativity: using social media can be a great way to create items to share with others quickly and easily and often in a pleasing visual form.
  • Engagement: social media offer an accessible way to engage with other academics and non-academics.

Digital sociology part 3: digital research

In my previous two posts (‘Digital sociology part 1: what is it’ and ‘Digital sociology part 2: professional digital practice’) I presented an overview of the four practices of digital sociology and looked in more detail at professional digital use. This final post in this series on digital sociology looks at the various approaches to researching digital technologies from a sociological perspective.

Analysing digital data

Titles such as ‘digital social research’ or ‘digital social science’ tend to be used to refer to conducting ‘e-research’ using digitalised data sets that may be shared collaboratively using digital platforms. The focus, therefore, is on the collection and use of data and the tools to analyse these data rather than on the ways in which users of digital technologies are engaging with these tools and devices as part of their everyday lives: see, for example, the Oxford e-Social Science Project.

This approach is interested in the most efficient use of tools to store and analyse digital data and the ways of dealing with the constant churn of information on the web as well as the ethical issues around using such data such as copyright, privacy and data protection concerns. Research also includes investigation into how researchers engage with web archives as research tools and the reasons why they may choose not to do so.  ‘Naturally’ or incidentally generated data that are already collected by various web platforms (for example Facebook and Twitter posts, search engines, SMS messages and even GPS data) are used for analysis. Researchers may also elicit data for their own concerns, including using web-based surveys. This approach to digital data analysis is also interested in ways of recording and analysing data for qualitative analysis, including images, videos and audio data.

The terms ‘webometrics’ or ‘cybermetrics’ have been used to describe quantitative social research using digital data sets drawn from network websites and social media sites. While these approaches seem quite widely used in such fields as information science and technology, thus far they seem little used by sociologists.

Research into how people use digital and social media

As I commented in my previous post, people are now using digital and social media platforms and devices across the life span, from infancy to old age. Many of the consumers of media have also become content producers through the use of social media such as micro-blogging and blogging platforms and sharing tools such as YouTube and Flickr.

Since the advent of the internet,many sociologists and other researchers have used data from online communities to research many varied social issues, from the use of health-related websites for patient support and information sharing to the ways in which people with anorexia support each other in their ‘thinspiration’ quest, how people of ethnic minority groups represent themselves online, the articulation and organisation of online activism, self-presentation, self-identity and patterns of sociability on social networking sites such as Facebook and how ‘mummy bloggers’ share their experiences with other mothers on the web, to name but a few topics. Another topic of research has featured how people interact with their technologies: how they deal with the plethora of information streaming forth from the internet, what they use their digital devices for, how these devices are employed at home and in the workplace and so on. Children and young people’s use of digital technologies has come under quite a deal of scrutiny as well in a social context in which there is continuing concern about their ‘addiction’ to these technologies, their access to online pornography, cyberbullying or online sexual predation.

This kind of digital sociological research has clear overlaps with research in digital anthropology, digital cultures and cultural geographies of digital technologies, much of which is also directed at exploring the ways in which people interact with and use digital media using both qualitative methodologies (such as interviews, focus groups and ethnographic research) and quantitative approaches such as surveys and content analysis of digital material.

Critical digital sociology

A further topic of digital sociology research is that which directs critical attention at the ways in which sociologists and other academics themselves use digital media. This is a reflexive approach that draws on contemporary social and cultural theory to analyse and interrogate the kinds of subject positions or assemblages that are configured via digital technology use as part of professional practice. While such a critical approach does not preclude professional digital use, it opens up a space for reflection upon the implications and unintended consequences of such practices.

Burrows (2012), for example, has written on the ways in which metrics such as the’ h-index’ and ‘impact factor’ constructed via digital citation indices contributes to ‘a complex data assemblage that confronts the individual academic’ (p. 359). These metrics have become integral to the ways in which academics, academic units and universities receive funding and are ranked against others, and in the case of individual academics, to their prospects for employment and promotion. Uprichard (2012) has commented critically on the call for sociologists to use digital data in their research, focusing in particular on data-mining of the transactional data that is produced through live-stream interactions on the web such as Twitter and Facebook posts and updates. She argues that approaches to such data are often ahistorical and thus lack the richness of context. Further, they tend to be preoccupied with questions of method over sociologically imaginative ways of analysing the digital data that are collected. Other sociologists have addressed the ethical issues of using data from online communities and forums for research, including consideration of such questions as whether or not such communities constitute public or private space or whether researchers should make themselves known to communities when studying their interactions.

Very few sociologists (or other academics) have published critiques like these thus far. However the role played by digital technologies in the academic workplace looks to increase in importance as universities are moving (very quickly in some cases, more slowly in others) towards more extensive incorporation of online teaching as part of their credentialed courses. As an academic discipline sociology has traditionally played an important role in identifying and commenting upon the social and economic inequities underpinning the workplace and other social spheres. In this spirit, as digital technologies increasingly become part of the academic world, continuing critical and reflexive examination of these technologies and their implications for academic practice and selfhood should be an integral dimension of digital sociological research.


Burrows, R. (2012) Living with the h-index? Metric assemblages in the contemporary academy. The Sociological Review, 60(2), 355—72.

Uprichard, E. (2012) Being stuck in (live) time: the sticky sociological imagination. In Back. L. and Puwar, N. (eds) Live Research Methods (Sociological Review Monograph), in press. Preprint copy available here.

Digital sociology part 2: professional digital practice

In my previous post (‘Digital sociology part 1: what is it?’) I explained the concept of digital sociology and presented four aspects I considered integral to this sub-discipline: professional digital practice, sociological analyses of digital use, digital data analysis and critical digital sociology. In this post I focus on professional digital practice, or using digital media tools for professional purposes: to build networks, facilitate public engagement, receive feedback, establish an e-profile, curate and share content and instruct students.

It is clear that a revolution in how tertiary education is offered is on its way, as demonstrated by the recent decision of elite universities such as Princeton and Stanford to invest significant sums of money in massive open online courses which at the moment are provided free of charge to anyone who wishes to enrol (including, I note, an ‘Introduction to Sociology’ subject). The move towards open access and e-publishing of scholarly work also seems inevitable. Furthermore, creating en ‘e-profile’ is becoming an important part of academic work. Judicious use of social media allows you to exercise better control and manage the content of your online persona in a context in which search engines are constantly collating information about you.

For all these reasons, an understanding of how to present knowledge and promote learning in digital formats will soon become a vital part of academic practice. Here’s some specific ways in which academics can use some of the digital tools now available:

Building networks

Using platforms such as Twitter and Facebook can be a highly efficient way of connecting with other academics working in a similar area as well as interested people from outside academia. These platforms allow participants to join networks arranged around topic or discipline areas and to contribute in discussions and sharing information within these networks.

Facilitating public engagement

Blogging sites such as WordPress and micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter can be used as easily accessible forums in which academics can communicate their ideas in short form. Unlike traditional journal articles that are locked behind paywalls, these platforms are free to access and material can be instantly published, allowing academics to share some of their research findings quickly. They therefore allow academics to promote their research and share it with a far greater audience than they would usually find in the traditional forums for publication. Links can be provided to journal articles so that longer academic pieces can be followed up by readers.

Receiving feedback

Blogs and micro-blogging platforms also allow interested readers to comment and engage with authors, thus facilitating public engagement. You can ask a question in a blog or Twitter post and receive responses, or readers may simply chose to use the comments box to make remarks on something you have published. Quora is a social media platform designed specifically to ask questions of anyone who uses it. Once you have set up an account you can publish a question or answer other people’s questions, as well as follow others’ questions to see what the responses are. You can also follow topics or people.

Establishing an e-profile

Sites such as and LinkedIn as well as your university profile webpage are ways of providing information about yourself. In, designed specifically for academics, you can list and upload your articles, conference papers and books and you can follow other individuals and topic areas and be followed in turn.

Curation and sharing of content

Curation and sharing platforms such as Delicious, Slideshare, Pinterest,, Pearltrees, Bundlr, and Storify, as well as referencing tools such as Mendeley, Citeulike and Zotero, allow academics to easily gather and present information and, importantly, to then make the information public and share it with others online. On SlideShare you can share your Powerpoint presentations and the referencing tools allow you to gather lists of references on specific topics and then share these with others. Several of these tools, including Pinterest, Bundlr and Storify, allow you to insert your own comments or analysis on the material you have gathered.


The platforms listed above can also be used as teaching tools, providing new ways of engaging students both through classroom teaching and in student assignments, where students can use the tools themselves to collect, curate and present information. Students in any area of study need to be trained in using social media and other digital technologies as part of preparing them for their future careers, as these technologies are increasingly becoming part of the working world.

Some examples of using digital and social media in sociology

This blog post itself is an example of professional digital practice in action. It is an edited version of a longer Storify presentation, and I was first inspired to write on this topic by an exchange I had on Twitter (for the Storify presentation, which contains additional information on digital sociology including weblinks to relevant courses, books, articles and blog posts, go here.

Digital media are being increasingly used as part of academic conferences. For example, academics often tweet about the content of the presentations they attend, providing a ‘back-channel’ of communication that can be shared with both those participating and those who cannot attend. These tweets can then be presented and preserved in Storify as a record of the conference to which anyone can have access.

I have previously written in detail about how Pinterest can be used for sociological research (see my previous post on ‘How sociologists and other social scientists can use Pinterest’). As I commented in this post, this curation platform is a wonderful way of collecting images related to one’s research interests. It also offers various possibilities for teaching, allowing students to curate and comment on their own image collections. provides a platform to create online newsletters by collating material downloaded from other sites. It can be used by academics to collect recent blog posts, the abstracts from newly published journal articles or online news articles relevant to a specific topic which they then share with their social networks on a daily or weekly basis.

Sociologists may also like to think about making their own apps for teaching purposes. It is possible to access app maker wizards online that are easy to use and inexpensive. See here for my account of how I made my own app explaining key concepts in medical sociology.

Further Resources

The LSE Impact of the Social Sciences blog provides invaluable content for academics interested in using digital media. It also has a handbook on maximising the impact of one’s research (including via digital means) and a guide to using Twitter for academic purposes, both of which can be downloaded free

See also the University of Warwick’s research page for links to useful articles about creating an academic e-profile.

See my Delicious stack ‘Social Media and Academia’ for an extensive collection of articles and blog posts  and Mark Carrigan’s Bundlr collection on ‘Academia 2.0’ . Also see #mlearning and #digsoc on Twitter for tweets on this topic.

My next post ‘Digital sociology part 3: digital research’ will provide an overview of how sociologists can use digital data and research the ways in which digital and social media are used in everyday life.

Digital sociology part 1: what is it?

English: A tag cloud (a typical Web 2.0 phenom...

English: A tag cloud (a typical Web 2.0 phenomenon in itself) presenting Web 2.0 themes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is digital sociology? Why is the term not commonly used, when the terms’ digital anthropology’, ‘digital cultures’ and ‘digital humanities’ have been employed for some years? I have not yet come across any book that uses ‘digital sociology’ in its title (there are, of course, several books that focus on various aspects of the digital world from a sociological perspective without using this term). The only course I have discovered thus far which uses the term ‘digital sociology’ to describe itself is a MA/Msc in Digital Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. The term ‘digital social sciences’ tends to be used quite narrowly to refer to the use of quantitative methods (‘webometrics’) to analyse digital data.

Although ‘digital sociology’ does not yet seem to be in regular use, sociologists have engaged in research related to the internet since its inception. They have addressed many varied social issues relating to online communities, cyberspace and cyber-identities. Such research has attracted many different names, dispersed across multiple interests, whether it is entitled ‘cybersociology’, ‘the sociology of the internet’, ‘the sociology of online communities’, ‘the sociology of social media’, ‘the sociology of cyberculture’ or something else again. While the term ‘cyber’ was in vogue in the 1990s and early 2000s, reference to the ‘cyber’ seems to have been largely replaced by the ‘digital’ now that the internet has become more pervasive, moving from desktops to devices that can be worn on the body and transported to many locations, allowing the user to be constantly connected to the net. Digital sociology’ encapsulates the concerns previously addressed by ‘cybersociology’ and extends into this new era of mobile digital computer use. It is a neat descriptive term that also references other disciplines and their use of the term ‘digital’.

Despite the body of literature referred to above, it has been argued that in general sociologists have been slow to take up research involving social media and to personally engage in using social media for professional practice, such as blogging and Twitter (Daniels and Feagin, 2011; see also my earlier post ‘Where are all the sociology blogs?’). The sociology of digital technologies/digital sociology or whatever term is adopted must surely begin to expand as a sub-discipline in sociology, given the increasing prevalence of digital technologies. They are becoming an increasingly integral part of everyday life for many people in the developed world across the lifespan. Preschools and child care centres are now starting to advertise that they offer tablet computers as part of their facilities. At the other end of the lifespan, Wiis are used to support mobility for the residents of aged care facilities and social media devices are being introduced to older people to encourage them to engage in social connection from home. Digital sociology can offer a means by which the impact, development and use of these technologies and their impact upon and incorporation into social worlds and concepts of selfhood may be investigated, analysed and understood.

It seems to me that given the ways in which digital technologies have infiltrated everyday life and have become such an important dimension of how people gather information and connect socially with others the digital world should now be a central feature of sociological study and research. Not only should sociologists learn to use digital media for professional purposes, they should also be undertaking research that is able to explore the impact of these media in everyday life from a critical and reflexive perspective. Some sociologists have begun to do this: for examples see Gehl (2011) on the representation and management of the professional self online and Burrows (2012) on how metrics are having an impact upon academic practice and selfhood.

To summarise, here are the main activities in which digital sociologists can engage:

  •  Professional digital practice : using digital media tools for professional purposes: to build networks, construct an e-profile, publicise and share research and instruct students.
  • Sociological analyses of digital use : researching the ways in which people’s use of digital media configures their sense of selves, their embodiment and their social relations.
  • Digital data analysis : using digital data for social research, either quantitative or qualitative.
  • Critical digital sociology : undertaking reflexive and critical analysis of digital media informed by social and cultural theory.

This blog post is an edited version of my Storify presentation ‘Digital Sociology’, which includes much more detail and many weblinks to relevant courses, books, articles and blog posts as well as a list of further resources (it can be viewed here).


Burrows, R. (2012) Living with the h-index? Metric assemblages in the contemporary academy. The Sociological Review, 60(2), 355—72.

Daniels, J. and Feagin, J. (2011) The (coming) social media revolution in the academy. Fast Capitalism, 8(2), available here.

Gehl, R. (2011) Ladders, samurai and blue collars: personal branding in Web 2.0. First Monday, 16(9), available here.

My next blog post will continue on this topic, discussing professional digital practice in more detail.