Category Archives: Communication and Media

Smart phones, Simulacra, Prince and The Matrix: Why I (also) don’t want to be a Digital Witness

The election of the Pope, in 2005 and in 2013

Avid Sociology Lens readers (as I am sure you all are) will have already read Roger Tyler’s piece this week; “Digital Witness: Memory vs. Experience”. In it, he discusses his experiences of attending Glastonbury Festival and the summer solstice at Stonehenge, and how in both cases he felt showed examples of how obsessed we have become with the need to document and record our experiences as they are happening. Even as the fireworks go off or the sun comes up, we all reach for our smart phones; as if, if we don’t record something and share it with our friends it cannot possibly have happened.

By a strange coincidence (either offering support for the issue, or implying lack of imagination, I’m not sure which…) I was in the middle of writing an almost identical piece this week. Given that I am lazy, and there is no such thing as too much Sociological analysis, I want to build on the points made in the article, and see if I can usher in a few more theories along the way.

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Whose Voice is it Anyway? Gender and Power in Ventriloquism

Nina Conti (www.youtube.com)

Nina Conti (www.youtube.com)

Last week I went with a friend of mine to see a performance by comedian and ventriloquist Nina Conti. I really cannot recommend her enough, and as with all her performances I was in stitches. Whilst I could easily fill this post waxing lyrical at her talents, there is (as always) as sociological element to her work. Firstly, elements of her performance demonstrate how displays of emotion have become cultural currency, particularly for women. Secondly, it engenders interesting questions regarding power dynamics in interaction; there is a contradiction between her ‘powerful’ role as leader of the interaction, and the power-less position of being female.

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‘Real’ Men Don’t Rape, and Other ‘Sexy’ Language Dilemmas

conset

Following on from a report from the White House on student sexual assault, the Obama administration has recently released an anti-rape PSA to launch the ‘1 Is 2 Many’ campaign to address the issue of sexual assault and rape. If you haven’t already watched it then do: it has a refreshing and positive rhetoric, placing the focus on the perpetrator and not the victim. “If I saw it happening I would help her, not blame her”, Daniel Craig states. It follows an argument that is entirely reasonable but often forgotten, that it is more effective to teach people not to rape than it is to teach people not to get raped.

I like this advert for a number of reasons. It is clear and concise, moving and inspiring without being patronising, and doesn’t rely on ‘misery porn’ or fear to get its point across. It has a sense of hope and optimism, a “we can do this!” attitude. It is encouraging rather than threatening and manages to discuss rape whilst being approachable. I say all this because I don’t want to fall into the sociological trap of jumping straight into criticism without saying positive things, or to belittle how progressive this perspective is. This advert is a significant improvement on anti-rape campaigns that blame the victim, and I hope for more. However, there are overarching themes that this video throws up that I have to acknowledge, because despite liking this advert, it still has discursive effects and impact beyond simply preventing rape.

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The Internet of Things: some implications for sociology

Source: http://recode.net/2014/01/10/what-your-internet-of-things-is-saying-about-you-comic/

Source: http://recode.net/2014/01/10/what-your-internet-of-things-is-saying-about-you-comic/

This week BBC News asked “can wearable tech make us more productive?”  The news package covered a research project which has the broader purpose of investigating impact of wearable connected tech on every aspect of our lives. The umbrella term that (albeit loosely) confederates connected technology is the ‘Internet of Things’. Its advocates believe the Internet of Things is one of the most compelling ideas of the twenty first century.  The original definition of the Internet of Things referred to inanimate objects that had an electronic product code so they could be inventoried. Now, thanks to IPv6 (which provides 3.4×1038 addresses on the Internet), as utility (or the market) demands it, all our everyday objects such as TVs, microwave ovens and cars can be allocated an address on the Internet and offer the potential to transmit and receive digital data. However, an IP address is not a prerequisite of the Internet of Things. The term can also refer to devices that have the potential to produce digital data for the Internet. This includes technologies of the ‘quantified self’, such as the GPS enabled sports watch I use for example. (more…)

Obama’s Initiative for Young Men of Color & the Rhetoric of Individual Responsibility

[By Pete Souza (White House Flickr Account) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

A few weeks ago, President Obama announced a new initiative designed to increase opportunities for young Black and Latino men. Acknowledging that Black and Latino men lag behind other groups in educational achievement and employment, while outnumbering white men in jails and prisons, at first glance, the President’s “My Brother’s Keeper” campaign seems like a much needed and timely project. However, when examining Obama’s rhetoric more closely, the initiative falls short of addressing the root causes and structural reasons for racial disparities in the US and instead perpetuates a neoliberal language of individual responsibility.

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The Rapist’s Voice

Source: www.reddit.com/

Source: www.reddit.com/

 

**Warning: This posting contains content some readers may find disturbing.

Recently, a student told me about a 2012 Reddit thread where a Reddit user invited rapists to tell their stories and the motives behind their sexual assault(s).  Although the posts and all comments connected to the post were eventually deleted, the thread sparked heated debates not only on Reddit but on Jezebel and in the Huffington Post. And despite the site’s attempt to remove the content of the thread, it took me less than fifteen minutes find a large section of the postings and comments in the Museum of Reddit.

My initial reaction to this content was disgust and outrage.  I was concerned about the way a forum like this could re-victimize survivors and even validate sexual assault.  I was not the only one who found the thread dangerous.  A psychiatrist responded to the thread arguing that a forum like Reddit’s can be a trigger for rapists and would be rapists.

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Introducing Digital Sociology

Source: http://www.123rf.com/photo_24005597_education-concept-pixelated-words-sociology-on-digital-background-3d-render.html

Source: http://www.123rf.com/photo_24005597_education-concept-pixelated-words-sociology-on-digital-background-3d-render.html

For its emerging practitioners, Digital Sociology is an ambitious and exciting new development. The ‘digital’ in its name is intentionally vague. It signifies anything that involves the transmission of 0s and 1s so includes everything from the Web,  to the Internet of Things,  to downloadable music, to devices that capture our heart rate: they are all within Digital Sociology’s scope.  Digital Sociology is attempting to exploit all the opportunities digital technology can offer. Simultaneously, Digital Sociology plans to continue sociology’s tradition of critical engagement with technology; temper some of the unrestrained rhetoric that attends digital innovation. However, it aims to achieve this in a way that avoids interdisciplinary friction.

These are just some of the questions Digital Sociology asks – questions that could be crucial to the future of sociology:

  • How can digital technology enhance the job of research? For example, has there ever been a more flexible and convenient ethnographic data capture device than the iPhone?
  • How can digital technology amplify sociological voices; particularly beyond the academy? For example, blogs such as The Sociological Imagination, Discover Society as well as, of course, The Sociological Lens are taking pioneering sociology to a new, non-specialist, albeit English-speaking,  global audience.
  • How can sociology work with other disciplines to achieve new insights? For example, what are the new methods; particularly those being developed within disciplines such as computer and network science, that sociologists can put to inventive use?  Sociology confronts some of society’s most profound and seemingly insoluble problems; in this respect, has digital technology improved sociology’s repertoire of instruments and data sources?

However, perhaps most crucial to Digital Sociology is an epistemological position it shares with its affiliate discipline Web Science.  That is technology, from its visual design to its embedded algorithms; no matter how asocial, logical it appears to be, bares the imprint of people’s norms, values and intentions. Inversely, technology can alter the way we think of ourselves and each other.   Digital Sociology attempts to unravel this complex, mutually sustaining relationship.

If all or any of this interests you please see @BSADigitalSoc on Twitter and digitalsociology.org for further information. There will also be a series of Digital Sociology sessions at the British Sociological Association’s Annual Conference.

The Spectacle and Politics of Globalized Sports

The Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo

This month the 22nd Winter Olympic Games began in Sochi, Russia. The spectacle of the event has captivated persons from around the world to tune into watch their favorite sport or favorite athletes. Russia spent over $50 billion to prepare for the Olympics by building hotels, roads, stadiums, and to bring in artificial snow into the Southern resort town.  The Sochi Olympics are the first mega-sporting event to occur this year, but will likely be trumped by the upcoming World Cup in Brazil over the summer. Brazil’s price tag for hosting the World Cup is considerable less at around $9 billion dollars. Nonetheless, the cost of both of these events and the emphasis by the respective countries to show the world the capabilities of their nation reveal the increasing globalization of these world sporting events. The Olympics and the World Cup are two global sports spectacles that have considerable cultural and economic ramifications, and are a product of intense politicking to bring the events to one’s national home.

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The Myth of the ‘Skills Gap’ and the Attack on (Higher) Education

By movie studio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

In January, President Obama became the latest in a long list of politicians and high profile public figures in taking a shot at academic disciplines perceived to be ‘useless’ from a labor market perspective. Talking about manufacturing and job training, Obama (who has since apologized for his remarks) said: “I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.” This attack on disciplines, fields and degrees that do not tie in directly to what is perceived to be the workplace of today and tomorrow are nothing new. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory made similar, albeit much more explicit and vicious, remarks about higher education just last year, lashing out against the (inter)discipline of women’s and gender studies: “If you want to take gender studies that’s fine. Go to a private school, and take it. But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.” These and similar remarks point to two related notions that dominate in the debate about (higher) education: 1. The idea of a “skills gap” – that is the idea that workers and college graduates do not possess the right skills to fill vacant jobs in growing economic sectors. And 2. The idea that some academic disciplines are simply useless pursuits, as they do not help graduates secure employment. But do these ideas have empirical ground?

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From the defining issue of our era to “green crap” – the transformation of climate change discourse in the UK.

david-cameron-green-crap

Source: http://politicalscrapbook.net/2013/11/david-cameron-get-rid-of-all-the-green-crap/

As the saying goes ‘the jury’s in’; human activity is causing global temperatures to rise unnaturally and catastrophically quickly. The IPCC’s international panel of more than 800 scientists compiled over 9,200 peer-reviewed research papers to reach this verdict.  As a result, we are said to be initiating a mass extinction event analogous to one that annihilated the dinosaurs. Yet, climate change, once a totemic issue for politicians attempting to appear progressive, is becoming one of their marginal concerns.  For example, David Cameron, when he was working to detoxify the Conservative Party, went dog-sleighing in the Artic to signify his green credentials and commitment to address global warming. In the new era of perpetual austerity he has deprioritised the environment; Downing Street appointed a climate sceptic as Enviroment Secretary and reportedly recently referred to environmental levies as ‘green crap’.

Politicians in precarious states of power are notoriously sensitive to a construct known as ‘public opinion’. Public opinion is an analogue, shape-shifting beast only temporarily captured by various combinations of: opinion polls, newspaper columns, phone-ins, Tweets, blogs, emails, petitions, TV vox-pops, and whatever people in power imagine it is. Climate change’s deprioritisation reflects the reality politicians are not under pressure from public opinion to address it. There is probably a variety of complex psychological, sociological, economic, and political reasons that could tell us how and why how we’re arrived at point. I am going to suggest some reasons for this shift by applying Foucault to my PhD research data. (more…)