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Editors’ Choice: Why Is Digital Sociology?

Any attempt at knowledge production has to answer the basic question of what it is. But, before long, it must also address the question of why it is.

As early as the 1990s sociologists were asking how to study the way internet technologies were clearly changing societies. The term digital sociology does not make an appearance until 2009. By then, communication studies and internet research had dominated in the study of the internet with some forays into the consequences for society.

So why bother with digital sociology?

First, we should consider what digital sociology purports to be.

Mark Carrigan has argued:

Digital Sociology in the broadest sense addresses the question of what such reinvention could or should mean in new circumstances where the content of this ‘newness’ is defined largely by the digital.

Carrigan is dealing with temporality and transformation. Each assumes there is something unique about the current social system that relates to digital technologies and that whatever that is, it is transformative.

Deborah Lupton takes up the mantle of describing digital sociology by appealing to the postulates formation the classicists among us should appreciate:

  • Professional digital practice: using digital tools as part of professional practice – build networks, construct e-portfolios, build online profiles, publicize and share research
  • Analysis of digital technology use: research the ways in which people’s use of digital technologies configures their sense of self and their embodiment of social relations, the role of digital media in the creation or reproduction of social institutions and structures
  • Digital Data Analysis: using naturally occurring digital data for social research
  • Critical Digital Sociology: reflexive analysis of digital technologies informed by social and cultural theory

This is the concept we use in the digital sociology master’s degree program at VCU. We also drew heavily on this formulation in the book “Digital Sociologies”, which I co-edited with Jessie Daniels and Karen Gregory.


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