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Digital Sociology

What is it? Where is it? What does it do?

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  1. What is digital sociology? Why is the term not commonly used, when the terms' digital anthropology', 'digital cultures' and 'digital humanities' have been in use for some years? Here I examine this question, using various sources obtained from and available on the web. In using Storify to present this material for professional sociological purposes, I am, of course, engaging in one form of digital sociology. In fact I began this discussion on Twitter ....
  2. Digital Anthropology
    I first began to think about the term 'digital sociology' when I came across a sub-discipline of anthropology that calls itself 'digital anthropology'. Digital anthropology appears to have become a quite well-established, if new, field in anthropology. There is a masters course available at University College London, which trains people in how to use anthropological techniques to research people's use of digital media in specific locations, and also equips them to use social media themselves for professional purposes. It includes study of the theory of digital culture, methodology in digital technology and anthropological studies of the consequences of digital culture.
  3. This book brings together the latest research in digital anthropology:
  4. Digital Cultures
    There is also a field called digital cultures that takes a cross-disciplinary perspective on the digital, although perhaps with a greater historical, literary studies, art and design or cultural and media studies rather than a social sciences inflection. It is offered at many universities, including my own, the University of Sydney.
  5. Digital Humanities
    The term 'digital humanities' has been in use for some time (an older term for the same area is 'humanities computing'). Digital humanities may include the curating of digital collections and using data from large computerised data sets by scholars and researchers from the humanities such as historians, philosophers, foreign language study, linguistics, literature, art, theatre, music and cultural studies. Such scholarship may also include reflections on the role of digital media in society and on these disciplines themselves and involve the use of digital media methods for professional purposes such as teaching and the dissemination of research findings. There is a clear overlap between digital cultures/digital humanities.
  6. Digital Social Sciences/Digital Social Research
    These titles 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. This is evident from the website for the Oxford e-Social Science Project:
  7. See also the Digital Social Research website sponsored by the British ESRC:
  8. 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:
  9. So What About Digital Sociology?
    It is not as though 'digital sociology' does not exist. It has 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. Since the advent of the internet, sociologists and others 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 fat activism and how 'mummy bloggers' share their experiences with other mothers on the web.

    The term 'digital sociology', even though it is not yet often used, seems to me to encapsulate the concerns of all of these in a neat descriptive term that also references other disciplines and their use of the term 'digital'. 
     
    Where is Digital Sociology?
    This is the only course I have discovered thus far which uses the term 'digital sociology' to describe itself. It brings together the Sociology and Computing Departments at the University of London and trains students in both sociological research methods for analysing digital cultures and in using digital technologies themselves.
  10. The University of York offers a MSc in Social Media and Interactive Technologies that also addresses many of the concerns of digital sociology.
  11. It also offers a MSc in Social Media and Management which brings together management and organisation theory with social and cultural scholarship on digital technolologies.
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