Archive for the ‘Sociology’ Category
This week I took a step back from the disciplines I have been studying and approached some literature on social media. My intention was not to become a social media expert but instead to approach the topic from the perspective of both sociology and politics. I read from one more technical textbook which examined both the structural nature and impact of networks within society; The Network Society by van Dijk, and one more narratively structured book centring on the beginnings, development and impact of the social media giant Facebook; The Facebook Effect by Kirkpatrick. Though both disciplines have a lot to say about each of the books I felt that certain topics and certain disciplines lent themselves well to providing comment on particular issues.
Structure and Sociology
The network society starts as a technically focused book and develops into an interesting sociological account of the impact of networks on everything from economics to social policy. With particular relation to the topics of social networking are the discussions of culture and psychology.
The book outlines a variety of perspectives on the cultural impact of networks and social media. This raises a common theme from the sociological literature with regards to technological v.s. social determinism i.e. whether peoples ‘use’ or technologies ‘structure’ and ‘purpose’ (if we take it to have explicit purpose) drives network development.
Equally, further points can be made with regard to the nature of modernity and social media; each country and even culture modernising at different rates and in different ways. It is not necessarily clear from the text how these interactions of different varieties of social media and/or what we might call the interaction of more ‘developed’ systems/networks have within the context of society. There is plenty of opportunity for interdisciplinarity here with both the social and political nature of Marxism offering some critiques within this context; in particular Weberian Neo-Marxism and it’s perspectivism.
Narrative and Politics
The Facebook effect documents the history of the site and it’s now famous owners. It would be impossible not to draw similarities between the formative processes which the site underwent and politics at large. Whether it be the questionable tactics used to obtain user informations paralleled with government spying for the “greater good” or the internal struggles between the site owners paralleled with every internal political dispute ever; the story of Facebook is undoubtedly one rife with politics. As is the case within the political discipline, Kirkpatrick does a fantastic job of historically recounting these ‘political’ struggles and disagreements even without explicit intention (though perhaps a little editorialised).
But, the book highlights an important feature of social networks and of politics often ignored on both accounts: politics (and Facebook) is not just about the relationship between those at the top and those at the bottom but with every individual at each level and everyone else. This of course provides substantial room for the discussion of the sociological factors that govern such complex interpersonal relationships.
Having reached this point in my reading I feel that I have a reasonable understanding of the basics of each discipline along with the topic I have chosen. My intention for the coming week is to return to my notes first and plan some aspects of my accounts of each discipline. When this process is complete the areas I find to be lacking in depth shall be the ones that are the subject of my further reading to come.
This week’s reading was somewhat disappointing. I had intended to get through more content however I found that much of what I was reading required a much deeper level of analysis to understand. For this reason, rather than exploring social networks or globalisation; I have focused more heavily on sociology and in particular one of the most famous thinkers to have influence the field: Karl Marx.
Both for Politics and for Sociology, Marx is held in very high regard. Despite how authors feel about the validity of Marx’s views; it is quite clear that most, if not all, commenter’s extend a degree of respect for the man regarding him as a thought leader both in his own time and beyond. Whilst I would have preferred a broader week of reading, the fact that Marx and Marxist theory exists so prominently both in sociology and politics I did not begrudge the topic the extra time I afforded it. I consulted two texts in particular.
This book offered a good introduction to Marx as a whole, in terms of both his contribution to politics and sociology. The thrust of the argument presented in this text is that Marx’s key contribution was his critique of the political economy. The author presents the case that whilst this was recognised to varying extents in politics and economics; sociological perspectives took longer to entwine themselves with Marxist viewpoints.
On reason for the eventually large scale adoption of Marxist theory within sociology is suggested to pertain to Marx’s views on materialism, in particular; Historical Materialism. The perspective argued that whilst history might have previously separated notions of personhood from thingness, history rather required a deeper account of interactions. For example, dissecting the “things” called institutions into the individual “people” they were made of. This view offers significant importance for sociology allowing far deeper consideration of the people that were previously amorphous entities. Many comparisons can be drawn between these notions and social networking. Not least because of the changing relationships such sites have had with their user bases over time but also at the level of individual users with the structural changes from simple lists of activity to Facebook’s features like “Timeline”. These most certainly can be argued to personalise “events” allowing them to become related much more closely to the individual they are associated with.
This book provided a good logical point of development for explaining the development of Marxist sociological theory. In particular it dealt with the ways in which Marxist theory has been modified or adjusted in what has been argued is a necessary process of modernisation.
This notion of modernisation does not reflect technological or social advancement explicitly but rather the sociological ideas about “modernity”. As before, this is essentially the view that different cultures/societies have modernised differently leading to “multiple modernities”. The author highlights that sociologists like Anthony Giddens have argued that modernity changes the social structure and as such requires a post-modern sociology. The means that only theories that account for such changes, only post-modern theories, are sometimes argued to be the only theories relevant to assessments of the modern world. This text’s author however, believes that Marxism exploits a loophole in this argument by way of the additional work done by one Max Weber.
The author argues that Max Weber’s neo-marxism, in particular the addition of Nietzsche’s perspectivism, is the key to incorporating Marxist theory into discussions of “modern” society. Perspectivism is the theory that the acquisition of knowledge is inevitably limited by the perspective from which it is viewed. This is infact a common view within sociology and has significant relevance to the nature of accounts of social networks. Does a persons experience of myspace or facebook vary if they are a “user”, a “business”, a “celebrity”, a “moderator”, a “site owner” and so on. When considered alongside political perspectives this is of course still deeply relevant. The nature of both a person’s position/perspective, the role that position/perspective implies and the power (or lack of power) that it entails all contribute the nature of the interactions they will experience.
For my reading this coming week it is my intention to focus on texts relating to social media. In particular The Network Society.
In the previous week I listed several books on politics I was considering as reading for introductory texts. Having looked into each of these; I found they were either very dense in their content or too specific in their details to give a broad enough introduction. Having re-examined recommended pre-reading and undergraduate introductory texts I came across the Routledge “Very Short Introductions” books and the recommendation of one university of the “Very Short Introduction to Politics”.
My initial reading of this text has prompted my decision to change my topic of discussion from “cryptography” to “citizenry on social media”. Having decided on Politics as my topic area over Politics Science; this offers the ability to make a variety of historical comparisons and contrast the developments of states and their relationships with their citizens against the development of social media sites and their relationships with users.
The book gave a relatively detailed account of the varieties of social organisation that have been implemented throughout history ranging from ancient despotism and feudalism to modern dictatorships and democracies. There are clear distinctions to be drawn between different components of these organisations and the emergence of social media. However, it is interesting how the development of end-user agreements and the rights that they hold/with-hold have mirrored some aspect of the development of many political histories.
Not wishing to miss out on a greater level of factual content I also completed readings of “Very Short Introductions” to “Democracy” and “Communism” and intend to look briefly at “Socialism”, “Human Rights” and “The United Nations” to bolster my contextual knowledge. I have also looked into the further reading of undergraduate texts on globalisation with a view to contrasting the interaction and relationships of states with the interactions between and relationships of users with different social media sites.
This week I have also completed notes on the topics of:
The Chicago School of Sociology
Critical Theory and
I will be looking to do some study on the nature of social media this coming week along with developing my knowledge of “modernity” in sociology with a particular focus on the nature of Post-Modernism.
I have chosen the topic of cryptography on the web and the disciplines of sociology and politics/political science (still undecided).
I decided the best way to start the process of research was to avoid looking at my topic in much depth and focus on grounding my knowledge in the two disciplines I’ve chosen. My reasoning was that this would better allow me to think about the cryptography within the context of my disciplines rather than read cryptography first and then need to refresh my understanding within new contexts of my chosen disciplines.
Whilst I am still undecided as to whether I will choose political science (a more theoretical approach to the nature of politics) or simply politics (closer to political history) but I am certain of my decision to examine the discipline of sociology. Having previously been heavily cognition/neurology oriented within psychology and less socially minded I felt this was a perfect opportunity for self development and so the choice of sociology was a ‘no-brainer’. Whilst psychology might be often associated with sociology, being that they are both social sciences, my particular psychological background means sociology is by all means a good distance outside my comfort zone.
I searched initially for “undergraduate sociology reading list[s]” and located an undergraduate reading list from City University London, University of Warwick and Brunel University London all of which touted Ken Plummer’s Sociology: The Basics as providing a sturdy foundation for undergraduate students. As such, this has been my first textbook on the topic of sociology.
The book establishes a basic description of sociology as a lens through which to view, examine and interpret the world. It is noted that “social” in sociology can have two similar but distinct interpretations. The first interpretations is “social” meaning the social ‘entity’ or ‘agent’. The second interpretation recognises “society” as a cumulative entity comprised of multiple agents. To make an analogy; this is the difference between describing the ways in which individual birds in a flock are influenced by their surroundings and describing the seemingly single entity that all the birds, moving together, appear to form.
In this way sociology offers two key opportunities. The first is to discuss issues such as the nature of culture, religion, ethics and any facet of social life in an both an abstract and society wide sense. The second is to allow for observations to be made of the ways these abstract concepts may influence the social world of the individual agents. In this way the discipline of sociology appears to be inherently interdisciplinary in and of itself; drawing on everything from medicine to theology in order to adequately represent the complex nature of social interactions.
I have encountered several topics of interest that I will research further:
Modernity: the discussion of the sociology of “modern” societies. In particular the idea of “multiple modernities”: as societies have advanced together technologically many have diverged in their modernisations forming new cultural and societal differences. The ways in which these differences interact with differing modernisation is the subject of this specific approach.
Discourse/Discourse analysis: The approach of analysing communication. This can be done from a variety of perspective to achieve ends. These ends include making theories about the interactions of humans or to further contextualise cultural expression within a wider societal context.
I am looking into what politically oriented undergraduate text would offer the strongest foundation and have identified several potential candidates using a similar approach of consulting University undergraduate pre-/reading lists:
It’s great that people are becoming more aware of these problems:
Have just been reading up on the Digital Economy Act, and its various ramifications. I have created a scribble that seems to me to show one of the key points – that only jumped out at me as I was doodling – that once again, the web has made Januses of us. I think that most of us are both copyright holders and copyright ‘acquirers.’
And in this case, the ISPs aren’t necessarily bad – if you are a struggling writer, musician or artist then if they are called upon to help you protect what you would think of as yours, you’re not really going to complain. (Speaking as someone whose household gets to buy stuff from royalties coming in from the British Performing Society.) However, most struggling artists, musicians and writers are (perhaps because they’re struggling , perhaps because it’s part of the creative process), also avid ‘collectors’ of what they might not necessarily have paid for… Obviously the issue is far more complex than this.
Certainly BT and TalkTalk have requested the review because of concerns about privacy (n.b. BT and TalkTalk took up a diametrically opposite stance on this very issue when it came down to Phorm and RIPA - perhaps they are now more wary of some of these issues). It certainly brings to the fore the issue of what is property on the web, what is private property on the web, and how far a government should allow intrusion into people’s lives in order to monitor or recover what might be defined as private.
John Stuart Mill wrote:
‘The things once there…mankind, individually or collectively, can do with them as they please. They can place them at the disposal of whomsoever they please, and on whatever terms…Even what a person has produced by his individual toil, unaided by anyone, he cannot keep, unless by the permission of society. Not only can society take it from him, but individuals could and would take it from him, if society…did not…employ and pay people for the purpose of preventing him from being disturbed in his possession..’ (From Heilbroner, p.129).
Mill saw that the principle of private property had not had a fair trial, and that reform could make changes to outdated laws, without recourse to outright revolution. He feared that Communism would stifle individual thinking and feared ‘whether there would be any asylum left for individuality of character; whether public opinion would not be a tyrannical yoke; whether the absolute dependence of each on all, and the surveillance of each by all, would not grind all down into a tame uniformity of thoughts, feelings, and actions…no society in which eccentricity is a matter of reproach can be in a wholesome state.’ (Heilbroner, .p132).
The doodle is JUST a doodle, it’s not good graphic design and it’s very messy.
The only constant is change. Heraclitus, 500 BC
A global crisis was predicted by Prof Beddington at the Sustainable Development UK 2009 conference because of the 50% food and energy jump, rise of 30% of fresh water need and climate change by 2030 when the population will reach 8 billion. The United Nations Environment Programme predicts widespread water shortages across Africa, Europe and Asia by 2025. The amount of fresh water available per head of the population is expected to decline sharply in that time.
In the introduction of the Future Society envisioned by the Science Community report the following problems are identified: In its “Japan Vision 2050”, the Science Council of Japan (SCJ) points to “global environmental degradation”, “population growth” and “the widening North-South divide” as major global problems of the 21st century that seriously threaten the sustainability of human society. As a way of solving these global problems, the SCJ proposes that steps should be taken to achieve a “balance between environment and economy“. In recent years, the creation of innovations has been attracting interest in many countries. This is due to the expectation that breakthroughs forged by science, technology and innovation could solve these major global problems of the 21st century, and could achieve sustainability for humankind.
The ideal society envisioned in the year 2025 will be a society in which people can live in health and safety, a society in which highly advanced information technology (IT) systems are widely used, a society in which Nature has been restored and local communities revitalized, a society in which efforts are made to solve the problems of the global environment and energy, and a society in which a suitable response has been found for the problems of water and food supply. This Report highlights innovations that should be promoted with a view to realizing this vision.
The suggested solutions are presented in 2 chapters out of which we only selected some of them:
- The ideal society of the future and the innovations to be promoted
To achieve a society in which everybody can live in good health by the year 2025, society will need to be given the means to address the problems of declining birthrates, aging and population shrinkage.
Biotechnology, information technology, and others must be integrated with a view to creating innovations that offer sufficient levels of medical and health care.
Here, I must add my short article written for the Bionanotechnology lecture about this life-saving technology.
By integrating the development of artificial rainfall technology, desalination plants powered by solar batteries, water-retentive gel technology, and others, it will be possible to prevent desertification and create green areas in deserts.
By launching satellites that can convert solar energy into microwaves and transmitting those microwaves to Earth, photovoltaic power will be generated in outer space and the power used on Earth as a clean and efficient form of energy.
A voice-recognition portable automatic translation device will be developed to assist smooth communication between people from different parts of the world, greatly enhancing cross-cultural understanding.
2. Conditions, environments and systems for creating innovations
Deepening our understanding of science and technology, investigating “social
technology” and the nature of systems that allow science and technology to fully demonstrate their social character
Teachers’ ability to pass down the pleasure and fun of learning to their students should be fostered
As we pointed out in our previous post, there is an imbalance between the technological overdevelopment and the social underdevelopment in our society. As the number of young unemployed reaches a record level in the UK and as the education taxes increase, the situation is not becoming any clearer and confusion and uncertainty reigns. We are going to explore the main factors of these problems and some solutions to them in the following and next post.
Globalization, Uncertainty and Youth in Society by Hans-Peter Blossfeld, Erik Klijzing, Melinda Mills and Karin Kurz published in 2005 seemed to predict the economical problems facing the world 3 years later. The main factors are:
- internalization of markets
- liberalization within nations
- accelerated diffusion of knowledge and the spread of global networks that are connecting all kinds of markets on the globe via new information and communication technologies
- rising importance of markets and their dependece on random shocks occuring somewhere on the globe ( e.g. major scientific discoveries, technical inventions, new consumer fashions, major politcal or economical upsets)
The authors mention that the markets are becoming more dynamic and more less predictable. The national institutions meant for reducing this uncertainty are employment, education and family systems as it can be seen in the figure below.
In the next post we will look at the 2007 Future Society envisioned by the Science Community of Japan report to find solutions to these global problems and to diminish uncertainties.
Globalisation refers to the how the world is ‘shrinking’ culturally and economically. How the world is changing from different nations managing themselves to one big world trading ideas, people, products and money. There are many global companies such as MacDonalds that exists everywhere! There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to globalisation. Sometimes it can be seen as a good thing that benefits small businesses by giving them access to a larger market, such as through the Internet. However, sometimes it can also be seen as a bad thing, for example with the outsourcing of work to poorer countries and buying materials for production in poorer countries to save money which can affect the local and national economy.
The Long Tail – Chris Anderson
The tail refers to the long end of the curve on the graph that depicts the popularity of all products. As you can see from the image above, ‘the head’ is short and contains the most popular of products. These are things that everyone wants, think of it is the top 40 songs in the charts. ‘The tail’ is much longer and consists of every other product in existence (or every song that is not in the top 40!). These things are much less popular, but there is a lot more of them. Money can be made by just selling products from the long tails, you would sell maybe one of each product rather than millions of one product as is seen in ‘the head’.
Companies do still aim for a business model that targets ‘the head’ rather than the long tail. For example radio stations tend to play the popular music at that moment in time, but there is a suggestion from Chris Anderson that the radio is dead.
Why the radio is dead:
- Radio stations need money so they need advertising and therefore need listeners. To get the most listeners you need to appeal to the majority who like what is popular at that moment in time (‘the head’).
- The rise of technology in the form of MP3 players. You can listen to any music you want at home, on your PC, on my personal MP3 player and even take that into your car and connect it to a modern car stereo.
Chris Anderson also suggests that “The Long Tail is full of crap.” Which is it…It does contain everything! But the compelling thing about the long tail is that there is something for everybody that they would not be able to find and purchase otherwise.
The Internet and the Long Tail
The internet has given us unprecedented ability to access products never before available so quickly and easily. The Internet is the best example of how globalisation can reach everyone. Someone who makes Doggles (goggles for dogs), or other niche items, can become a millionaire.
A real shop on the high street may have trouble making money if it was taking advantage of the long tail. Not just for the reason that it cannot reach as many customers as an online shop, but for more practical reasons that it would be difficult to sort through all of the many niche products. Being able to search through the ‘crap’ and filter to get to the information you actually want is very much a benefit you can see online. Social media may also help with this, we often see suggestions for other items we might like on online shops like Amazon. Folksonomies consisting of lots of tags collaboratively created may also assist with finding things you want and things that are similar to it.
Does the Internet bring down the barriers for businesses?
Is Globalisation good for the small business?
Yes and no, it depends on what you are selling. There is the potential for more sales through having greater access to a wider market. This is especially true for niche items and products where in some situations they may sell nothing if they are not based near their market. The Internet definitely assists with globalisation based on geography. There is also the benefit that selling products online is very cheap to set up and use. Google Analytics is also a nice tool to assist with marketing and improving your own business website.
However, with the benefits of reaching more people, large businesses will also receive this benefit. Large businesses may be able to give better prices due to mass production, but this shouldn’t effect niche businesses where large businesses do not offer so many niche products.
Am trying to focus back in on my original assertion about what I was going to study. This was whether there are differences between subjects and their degree of separation from the www, and their primary ontologies. Although I was going to use economics and psychology or perhaps sociology and their attendant ontologies to create a spotlight with which to examine this question, this would still involve looking at the ontologies of a range of other subjects.
I was going to use economics as a focus, as I think it perhaps represents something that might be wrong with how we talk about knowledge in general and reasons for studying, working together, collaborating – ultimately: trust.
A lot of work that we do is tied into research programs that are underwritten by governments as being part of some economic promise. For example, the last Labour government’s education policy was predicated partly on the premise (stemming from research in the 1950s that re-emerged in the 1970s (need to find and cite)) that countries with a more highly educated population tend to do better economically. Thus following Tomlinson’s recommendations, the Diploma system was introduced, only partially, which in fact had the consequence of introducing a system that did the opposite of what he had intended.
This however, being loosely accepted: that the more highly educated a population is, the more wealthy their country, it would seem to follow that it makes sense to make use of emerging technologies to help to educate this population. There is a body of research on this – how technology can be ubiquitous; it can get to the places that teachers can’t, and can help to make learning something that is always ‘on’.
There are actually so many problems with these assertions that it would take a whole other blog post, or perhaps even, essay, or perhaps even, thesis to go into them – but I’m happy to accept that 1) learning is basically a Good Thing and that 2) technology can help to mediate it. I might perhaps then reluctantly accept that it’s possible that if you have a lot of learning, you might end up creating more wealth for your country, however some of the data for this is possibly correlative rather than strongly causal.
But to get back to my original question, it is whether there might be said to be an economics of ontologies? Could we find out whether there are some subjects that lend themselves, via their objects of knowledge to be shared and studied on the web? And that therefore are more accessible and therefore might end up generating more money?
It seems at first glance, that physics might be one of these subjects. Physics research can be large scale and tend to be carried out by large communities who share resources. Is there something about the nature of physics that makes people more likely to collaborate? Are they perhaps true seekers after knowledge who are less motivated by economics / reward than say, chemists? (Apologies to all you pioneering, truth-seeking chemists out there.) Would this then mean that by the very nature of a subject, if it attracts more people who care more about discovery, or truth, then they may well as a result, collaborate more, and could easily use technology in order to do this, but they care less about creating wealth, so that all web-based subjects that can easily or practically use the web to be studied are never going to be worth funding by governments who only care about short-term goals?
This seems on the face of it, rather facile, but it does intersect with another debate about why there still seem to be less girls studying physics, and in general, science subjects. (This debate appears worldwide, but I shall for now confine myself to the UK.) There was recently some speculation about whether the Big Bang Theory was attracting more people to the subject, but this generated some scathing responses from researchers who had determined that take up of physics was in fact governed by early influences.