When ‘A’ claims they invented ‘X’ as a sociologist of technology my default position is often to respond with scepticism: as I did when I saw this picture above. I understand why Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Vint Cerf would claim they invented the World Wide Web and the Internet respectively. The status of inventor gives each of them a public plinth from which they can discuss how they think digital technology should be mobilised for the benefit of society. Examining their claims to fame is not an attempt to debunk these men’s status: it’s an exercise to show that technology never emerges in isolation. The sociology of technology tells us the invention and development of the Web and the Internet, like all technology, has to be understood within a broader social context that involves networks of people and technology as well as cultural values. I can’t do this statement justice here. By applying this logic to these t-shirts in the picture above I can, however, begin to show the value of the sociology of technology. (more…)
Is cash on the way out? In my own daily routines, I find myself using coins and notes less and less, to the point when I am often stuck for a pound coin to use the lockers at the swimming pool, or I audibly ‘tut’ when shopkeepers tell me there’s a charge for using my card. I just don’t carry cash very often. In fact, I don’t even physically use my debit card very often. I’ve got so used to using my phone or computer to buy stuff that I’ve learnt my 16-digit card number off by heart – a ‘skill’ which is either impressive or just a bit worrying.
Maybe this is a sign that I’m moving up the social hierarchy. After all, using less cash is associated with higher socio-economic status according to the Payment Council, so perhaps I’m moving up the foodchain. Or, as I’ve often feared, I’m not that special at all. This is a change which is affecting most people as we move into a world of contactless payments and methods of moving money around which might shake up those much-beloved institutions: The Banks. (more…)
It can be pretty difficult, sometimes, to justify your commitment to ‘ethnographic’ methods. Partly, perhaps, because most people don’t quite know what being ethnographic means. But also because ‘being ethnographic’ is often devalued by the very people with whom British social scientists are increasingly encouraged to engage as part of the ‘Impact’ agenda. I do not think I am alone among doctoral students in having struggled to explain to the ‘technical’ and policy experts I encountered during my research quite what ethnography is, and why anyone would bother with it – or listen to someone who had. Soundbites from Bronislaw Malinowski (whose Argonauts of the Western Pacific and Coral Gardens and their Magic constitute the ultimate methodological reference point for many anthropologists) such as ‘ethnography is about researching from “the native’s point of view” and attending to the “imponderabilia of everyday life”’ are (in addition to sounding uncomfortably dated) unlikely to convince someone who is not already on board. Ethnography quite simply produces ‘data’ (or, more appropriately, ‘narratives’) that are not formalized enough for the tastes of many who occupy powerful positions in business, development and government (but see this for an alternative view). Unless, of course, you accept, with Edward Said (and more recently David Price) that ethnography – and the ‘area expertise’ derived from its practice – is implicated in both earlier colonial, and contemporary American, military expansion. So what (if any) kind of relationship might there be between the type of knowledge produced by ethnography, and the wider power structures in which a researcher operates?
This weekend, a House oversight committee announced plans to investigate the Presidential influence over the Federal Communications Commission’s new proposal governing how broadband providers treat traffic on their networks. This investigation is a response to the FCC Chairman’s proposal to subject broadband providers like Verizon, AT&T, Clearwire, and Comcast to regulations similar to those of other utility service companies. According to an op-ed written by Tome Wheeler, the FCC Chairman, the regulations include “the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC”. (more…)
Christmas Shopping, Regent Street
In Payback, her reaction to the debt-fuelled financial crisis of 2007-08, Margaret Atwood rewrites Dickens’ Christmas Carol for the present day. She invites us to join ‘Scrooge Nouveau’ in his Tuscan villa, as he is visited by the Spirit of Earth Day Future. Scrooge Nouveau is confronted by two possible futures – one of ecological harmony and regular debt jubilees, the other unfolding in a lifeless desert where he sees himself fighting with other hungry survivors over the corpse of a house cat. Our modern-day miser finds himself doing desperate back-of-the-envelope calculations: should he invest in alternative energy and desalination plants, and so make a killing if the good future materializes, or corner the tinned food market and build himself a bunker in preparation for the bad? Atwood’s re-telling works as a neat parable of what Michael Hudson and Max Haiven take the contemporary financial services sector to be: a ‘pathologically self-obsessed form of economic planning.’ The financialization and securitization of our very life-cycle is reflected, as Jane Guyer observes, in the sector’s core products – its ‘student loans, 30-year mortgages, health insurance, and so on.’ The Christmas and New Year mediascape is likewise shot through with a pre-emptive financial futuricity. Flipping through British broadsheets this week will reveal festive ‘share tips for 2015‘ from the ‘best stock-pickers’ around. Monocle – essential reading for the transnational flâneur on the fly – has the ‘Forecast’ edition out too. In its pages we are introduced to the future of defense innovation, wearable medical technology, and even the science fiction scene – alongside the ‘politicians and entrepreneurs worth inviting out for a drink.’
Monocle’s anticipatory look at fashion and technology reflects an eminently financial temporality. It was, after all, the Wall Street fortune tellers of the early twentieth century who made the figure of the forecaster a recognizable and respectable one. There is, though, another way of experiencing time that may be foregrounded at this time of year. (more…)
It’s all over my newsfeed: Little girls swearing up a storm in the name of feminism. On Tuesday, October 21st, tee-shirt company FCKH8 released the newest online video sensation, “F-Bombs for Feminism: Potty Mouthed Princesses Use Bad Word for Good Cause.” The video features five six to thirteen year old girls, dressed as princesses, dropping the f-bomb left and right, interspersed with factual information about women’s inequality including the pay gap and sexual assault.
Not surprisingly, the video has had many, many mixed results. Some feminists are excited, spreading the word about a new popular video in the name of feminism, challenging the idea “pretty” girls as princesses, and of course, little girls being tough and swearing. On the other hand, there are many people upset with the idea of children using the “f” word, though they state in the video, “What the fuck? I’m not some pretty fuckin’ helpless princess in distress. I’m pretty fuckin’ powerful and ready for success. So what is more offensive? A little girl saying ‘fuck,’ or the fucking unequal and sexist way society treats girls and women?” But at the end of the day, even as a feminist, this video just doesn’t sit right with me. “F” in this case, is the grade I would give for the video (and no, I don’t mean F for fabulous).
I don’t want to stereotype computer scientists. I still cringe when I remember clumsily insulting a room of (mainly) computer scientists at a conference by showing the wallet inspector scene from The Simpsons. There are, however, some computer scientist communities who give all computer scientists a bad name. Witness, for example, the infamous kick-starter project to give a food substitute called Soylent to poor people (which for non-sci-fi fans took its name from the dystopian film called Soylent Green within which people are recycled into the eponymous food substitute and fed to the masses). Less crass, but arguably just as clueless is Google’s inability to recognise its Google Glasses are not cool and that some people would be upset if Google Glass wearers were, like mobile CCTV units, recording our movements and quirks. Equally, researches at Facebook seemingly lacked the necessary empathy to predict the notorious manipulation of user’s emotions experiment would cause widespread disquiet. (more…)
**Please note that this post has illustrations of sexual acts.**
Recently, and for the first time ever, Cosmopolitan Magazine published a list of sex tips and positions for “lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, queers- all lady-loving ladies in the crowd.” At first, as a member of the LGBTQQIAA community, I was shocked and excited at the seemingly legitimate public recognition of my sexual practices by the “sex gurus” themselves over at Cosmo. At a closer glance however, this list is a comical illustration that is not titillating to say the least, but ultimately is quite exclusionary in the understanding of lesbian sex. Needless to say, the lesbian sex Cosmo describes is not my sex, let alone a realistic portrait of most “lady-loving” relationships.
“Polished” by James Lee – originally posted to Flickr as Polished. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Polished.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Polished.jpg
It is the same old tale, just spun with a different color thread: “Women: don’t get raped.”
Recently, four students (note that they are all male) invented Undercover Colors, a nail polish for women that changes color (like a mood ring) when it touches rape drugs commonly slipped into drinks. Now, I do applaud the men for recognizing the all-too-common issue of rape and taking the initiative to do something about it. Only, what they did still places the blame on women.
University of Bristol BSc Sociology Graduates, 2011 – (authors own)
This is a guest post from Guy Sanders. Guy is a freelance graphic artist living and working in London. He specialises in promotional design and branding for theatre and entertainment companies. He holds a BSc in Sociology and Political Science from the University of Bristol. Guy’s interests include cultural criticism and the deconstruction of nation making. He tweets @GuyJSanders
Is The Sociology Finished Yet?
I completed a BSc in Sociology and Political Science in 2011. What followed immediately was a period of indecision about continuing my studies, and a prolonged period of misplaced commitment to jobs I didn’t enjoy or do well because now this was ‘real life’,and I needed to ‘get a job’. All of this was very un-sociological. Very uncritical. Very driven by having no job and none of the various kinds of capital (economic, social, Starbucks) that came along with having a job. I now work as a freelance graphic designer, helping arts and entertainment companies find images and words that best represent their products. It’s enjoyable, challenging and involves thinking critically. But that doesn’t mean it’s wholly “Sociology friendly”, even if I have, at the very least, ditched the Starbucks.