Tag Archives: technology

    In Brief

    The Selfie Exchange

    by Corey Fields

    by Corey Fields

    If you are a teen with a social media account, chances are you have posted a selfie. The practice is so ubiquitous that last year the Oxford Dictionaries defined it as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website” and made it their “word of the year.” A Pew Research poll found that 91 percent of teens who participate in some form of online social media have uploaded an image of themselves—up from 76 percent in 2006.

    Accounting for the meteoric popularity of selfies, some see them as a means of free self-expression among teens. For example, “Selfie,” a short marketing film made by Dove, the soap manufacturer, depicts teens taking selfies to express their “true selves” and “true beauty.” But sociologists tell us that selfies, rather than liberating youth to be whomever they wish, may in fact act as a kind of social capital.

    Teens participating in an online social network in Israel told sociologist Ori Schwarz that they understood the selfie as a form of currency. The “right” type of selfie, typically a “sexualized ad-like” pose, provided users with social capital in the form of “likes” or positive comments that were highly valued within that community, according to his 2010 Convergence article, “On Friendship, Boobs and the Logic of the Catalogue.” This social bartering process is one of the few forms of capital teens control.

    In other words, in addition to being a form of self-expression, selfies may act as a kind of social real estate for teenagers.

    About the Authors

    Jessie Daniels is a professor at the City University of New York. She is the author of Cyber Racism and co-founder of Racism Review.

    Heidi Knoblauch Heidi Knoblauch is a medical historian and JustPublics@365 Program Coordinator. You can find her on Twitter: @heidiknoblauch.


    Pioneering Digital Sociology

    Jessie Daniels researches racial inequality and is a leader in reimagining scholarly communication in the digital era. Since the mid-1990s she has studied how social inequality is reproduced and resisted through digital technologies. She is currently a Professor of Urban Public Health, Sociology, and Critical Psychology at the City University of New York, where she teaches courses on visual media, technology and health and leads JustPublics@365, an initiative funded by the Ford Foundation to connect academics, journalists and activists and foster social justice.

    Daniels is the author of two books about race and various forms of media, White Lies (1997) and Cyber Racism (2009). She also co-produces a scholarly blog, Racism Review, which is viewed by 200,000 individuals each month, and has received more than two million visitors. Forbes Magazine named her one of “20 Inspiring Women to Follow on Twitter.” She recently sat down with JustPublics@365 Program Coordinator Heidi Knoblauch in East Harlem to talk about sociology, the Internet, and the future of digital technologies

    Heidi Knoblauch: What first led you to engage with the Internet in your scholarship?

    Jessie Daniels: As with so many things in life, it happened because of a friendship. Chris Toulouse was a colleague of mine when I taught at Hofstra University. We both lived in Brooklyn and did the reverse commute on the Long Island Rail Road out to Hofstra every day. In our many conversations, back in the mid-1990s, we frequently talked about the Internet and how it was changing society—along with the systematic study of society which, of course is what sociology is about. This was around 1997, when I published a book called White Lies, which is about white supremacist publications in print. I began to wonder how the groups I studied in that book were (or weren’t) making the transition to the Internet. That was the moment when I first started thinking about the Internet with regard to my research and also when I began to bring my students into computer labs and watch them surf the Internet. On one of the memorable first days in a computer lab, I watched one student sit down, type in Martin Luther King to a search engine, and stumble upon what I later came to call a “cloaked” web site. That is, it looks like a tribute site to Dr. King but is in fact hosted by white supremacists. I began to contemplate how scholars could get at the way people use the Internet and investigate how people come to find knowledge about race and ethnicity on the Internet.

    HK: Why should sociologists take up digital technologies?

    JD: I think there are a lot of reasons sociologists should be interested in and engaged in digital technologies and the study of the Internet. I believe the Internet is changing the way that we interact as human beings. In sociology we’re engaged in the study of patterned human behavior, and I think the Internet is changing those patterns of human behavior. So, at a really basic level of intellectual curiosity, sociologists have an obligation to see what’s up with the Internet and how it’s changing things. Methodologically, there are some really compelling ways the Internet and digital technologies can enliven standard sociological research. A project that I’m working on right now is collecting data from feminists’ blogs using digital tools. This is light years ahead of traditional methods for doing content analyses of printed publications, where you simply count the appearance of words. With these new tools, we can collect much much more data—what some are calling “big data”—and analyze that data in ways that tell us different kinds of things.

    Blogs represent networks of conversations among various bloggers, which is a richer level of detail than counting the number of times a word appears. New digital research tools also allow for wider collaboration; part of what I’m working on now is crowd-sourcing a history of feminist online activism that bloggers contribute to and create themselves. In addition, we also have new methods of visualizing data. Digital technologies can help us see what that data looks like visually, which can tell us new things about those patterns of human social behavior. Finally, sociologists should be taking up digital technologies because our students have an expectation and a fluency in these technologies, but often lack the critical thinking skills to understand how to appreciate these technologies in a social context. We have real things to offer, in terms of critical analysis, to young people who may be more digitally fluent than we are.

    HK: You started a blog called Racism Review in 2007 with Joe Feagin. How does this blog connect to your academic work?

    JD: Racism Review permeates my academic scholarship in a lot of ways. First of all, my main academic appointment right now is in a school of public health, where I am one of very few sociologists in a very interdisciplinary department. I don’t often teach courses on race and ethnicity, which I did for many years previously, so the blog is a way for me to continue to be involved in the field in ways that my academic appointment has taken me away from on a daily basis. The other way the blog interacts with my academic scholarship is that often blog posts I write end up being a draft of an academic peer-reviewed journal article. I’ve done this several times now, and for me it’s a great way to do first drafts of publications and get feedback from other people about the ideas I’m thinking about and develop them further. Related to that, I think the blog has made me a better writer overall. It’s really an excellent practice to help keep myself writing. Finally, I think that the way that the blog intersects with my academic scholarship is that it really opens up my academic scholarship to a much, much wider audience than would ever see my work in either books printed at academic presses or in peer-reviewed articles. The blog has really become a cornerstone of my academic scholarship.

    HK: A writer at Forbes.com named you one of the top 20 inspiring women to follow on Twitter. What do you think the value of Twitter is for academics?

    JD: I think that Twitter has a lot of advantages for academics. Chiefly, I think the advantage is that it allows you to “curate” the ideal academic department. It’s not that I don’t have wonderful colleagues. I do. But, I’m in an interdisciplinary department and a lot of times the people that are closest to me geographically or institutionally don’t share my research interests. Through Twitter I can have conversations with other people who share similar research interests across space and time. For example, a lot of times at academic conferences we have short conversations with people in the hallway after an academic paper presentation and we look for ways to extend those conversations, sometimes through e-mail, sometimes through phone calls, sometimes through collaborations that emerge out of those hallway, conference conversations. For me, Twitter has become the extension of those academic hallway conversations. I can find most people who are doing similar work to mine on Twitter, and I can engage with them in real-time or asynchronously. It allows me to have a connection with other academics that before Twitter just simply wasn’t possible. I don’t know that I’m inspiring anybody on Twitter, but it’s been an inspiration for me as an academic.

    HK: You’re also the lead on a new digital initiative at the City University of New York Graduate Center called JustPublics@365. Can you describe that project and its goals?

    JustPublics@365 offers media skill-building workshops, such as this one at last year’s ASA meetings in New York.

    JustPublics@365 offers media skill-building workshops, such as this one at last year’s ASA meetings in New York.

    JD: JustPublics@365 is a project funded by the Ford Foundation as an experiment in reimagining scholarly communication in the digital era. We have many goals. Chief among them is to help academics doing work related to social justice and equality connect their research to wider audiences who are interested in that and doing grassroots activism around those kinds of issues. One of the ways we’re accomplishing these goals is through a series of high-profile summits, such as “Re-Imagining Scholarly Communication for the 21st Century” and “Resisting Criminalization through Academic-Media-Activist Partnerships.” We’re also doing a series of workshops in collaboration with the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which we refer to as MediaCamp. These MediaCamp workshops help train academics and activists in a wide range of media skills, including both big media like writing an op-ed for The New York Times or appearing on camera on CNN or some other outlet, as well as digital media skills like blogging, Twitter and analyzing the metrics that come from those. Last year, we also ran a Participatory Open Online Course (POOC), which focused on inequality in East Harlem. The course was widely attended both in person and online.

    What we’re doing by reimagining scholarly communication in the digital era is to begin a conversation about augmenting knowledge products and moving toward knowledge streams. In the twentieth century model of the university, the notion of the university as a knowledge factory was dominant. Faculty were in there producing widgets of knowledge, and measured our success by how many widgets of knowledge we produced—books and articles—and how many citations these widgets get. With JustPublics@365 we really want to start a new conversation about knowledge streams which is more of a twenty-first century model of thinking about knowledge flowing from the university as well as back into the university. People can step in and step out of those streams fairly easily; they’re open and accessible, rather than closed and locked up.

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    In Brief

    Mouse Click Plagiarism

    Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery—unless you’re a college student writing a course paper. Many colleges are trying to crack down on plagiarism through honor codes and new technologies (like “Turnitin”) that systematically check papers. But in today’s culture of memes and mass collaboration, is the definition of plagiarism shifting?

    Yes, says legal scholar Deborah Gerhardt. One reason so many students submit plagiarized work, she claims, is that academia often valorizes rote memorization and copying—in exam-taking, for example. In her 2006 article, “Plagiarism in Cyberspace,” Gerhardt notes that copying and recycling is pervasive in popular culture today.

    But Nicole Auer and Ellen Krupar (Library Trends, 2001) disagree, arguing that “mouse click plagiarism” (the tendency for people to simply copy and paste material from the Internet and pass it off as their own) is certainly stealing. While imitation may have once been flattering, it is now widely considered criminal—or at the very least, disrespectful.

    Broadcaster Rachel Maddow exposed Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s “borrowing” practices: in one of his speeches, he repeated verbatim a synopsis of Gattaca found in Wikipedia. Since then journalists have scrambled to find additional evidence of such appropriations. However, few agree on the severity of the infraction. For example, there is little consensus on whether it is it worse to quote someone else’s work in a speech, without attribution—or in a book.

    What we do know is that growing popularity of referencing recycled or mass-collaborated material raises the question of “who copied whom” and where are we getting our information from—questions that will become increasingly difficult to answer.

    About the Author

    Margaret K. Nelson is in the sociology and anthropology department at Middlebury College. She is the author of Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times.


    Hollywood Sperm Donors

    Sociologist Margaret K. Nelson explores how Hollywood has portrayed the use of assisted reproductive technologies. She argues that these new technologies have the potential to transform the nuclear family as we know it; however, popular films glorify romantic love and traditional family structures.

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    About the Author

    Piotr Konieczny is a sociologist who studies new media. This article was supported by Hanyang University. His course on understanding Wikipedia can be found here.


    Rethinking Wikipedia For The Classroom

    Sociologist Piotr Konieczny focuses on the issue of Wikipedia’s reception in the world of academia: in the background of slowly growing acceptance of it as an educational tool, why is a significant portion of the researchers and instructors still uneasy with it?

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    To learn more about Wikipedia and education, check out these online resources:

    In Brief

    The Lone Wolf Terrorist

    Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnev, the brothers who are suspected of detonating two bombs during the Boston Marathon last year, killing three individuals and injuring countless others, represent a new form of terrorist: the lone wolf. In his 2012 work, Understanding Lone Wolf Terrorism, criminologist Ramon de Spaaij shows that such terrorists act alone in conceiving and carrying out the attack, and do not belong to any organized terrorist group. According to de Spaaij, changes in the organizational structure of terrorist groups produces lone wolves. Increasing pressure from counter-terrorism agencies across the globe have made terrorist groups less hierarchical, smaller in size and savvier.

    New technologies have also altered the structure of terrorist groups, enabling them to operate in more covert ways, according to scholar George Michael in his 2012 book, Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance. The website for Al-Qaeda’s Inspire magazine provided Tamerlan Tsarnev, for example, with information on how to carry out independent attacks. Tsarnev also created a YouTube channel that featured jihadi fighters and extreme Islamic clerics, furthering the messages of extremist groups with which he had no formal affiliation.

    Lone wolf terrorism permits individuals who feel insignificant to prove their capacity to alter the normal workings of society, according to sociologist Mark Juergensmeyer (Terror in the Mind of God, 2003). They certainly pose a challenge for national security agencies, which must use new strategies to identify and capture them before they strike.

    About the Author

    Theresa Morris is in the department of sociology at Trinity College. She is the author of Cut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America.


    C-Section Epidemic

    How can we explain the exponential increase of the cesarean section in the U.S. in recent decades? Drawing from 130 in-depth interviews with women, obstetricians, midwives, and labor and delivery nurses, sociologist Theresa Morris explains the epidemic that affects the lives, health, and families of every woman in America.

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    Further Reading

    Check out the The New York Times review of Theresa Morris's Cut It Out and then get the book.

    In Brief


    #829When low-wage workers from over 50 cities across the United States took to the streets last August to demand better wages, improved working conditions, and the right to unionize, they relied on social media to make their case. The actions are now known as the #829 strikes, after their Twitter hashtag.

    Organizers helped spread the news of the strikes through such Twitter handles as @lowpayisnotok. And Working America, the non-profit community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, used Tumblr to compile photographs from strike locations across the United States.

    Anthropologist Jeffrey Juris, in an analysis of the Occupy Movement in Boston in American Ethnologist (May, 2012), shows how social media can make activism easier, and encourage a greater diversity of participants. But social media may not be as effective as other online tools, such as listservs, in helping forge organizational networks that sustain movements over time, according to Juris.

    Hoping to avoid some of the challenges Occupy faces, the organizers of #829 are focusing more narrowly on wages, working conditions, and unionization. Social media can’t substitute for savvy organizing.

    In Brief

    Second Life’s Second Life

    ©2013 Linden Lab

    ©2013 Linden Lab

    Experts have voiced concerns about digital addiction and social isolation among online gaming enthusiasts. But virtual platforms, such as Second Life, which offers its users custom designed, computer-simulated 3-D environments, have proven to have useful everyday applications.

    By distributing information and providing services to at-risk veterans through audio, video, and text communication, the Department of Defense uses Second Life to help those battling Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Veterans who exhibit PTSD symptoms, who are fearful of social stigma, no longer need to suffer in silence: they can interact anonymously with service providers and with one another through avatars, or customizable digital self-representations—virtual alter egos.

    Weight loss program participants also use Second Life. Health researcher Debra Sullivan and her colleagues monitored a group of individuals who were trying to lose weight. Their 2013 article in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior shows that face-to-face participants lost more weight initially, but Second Life participants were more successful in keeping the weight off. During the weight maintenance phase, researchers found that the Second Life-only group experienced an additional 4 percent loss in weight.

    Finally, educators have used Second Life to enable what researchers Palitha Edirisingha, Ming Nie, Mark Pluciennik, and Ruth Young call “border crossing from virtual world to physical world.” In a 2009 issue of the British Journal of Educational Technology, they reported that “In-world socialization had led to real-world network building” among college archaeology students.

    As digital technology continues to extend its global reach, these successful applications show that virtual behavior can have beneficial real-life results.

    In Brief

    Apps for Autism

    TOBY Playpad by Autism West

    TOBY Playpad by Autism West

    Apple’s application marketplace boasts over half a million apps, ranging from games to productivity tools. Now, the store also offers apps for autism.

    In fact, there are currently over 200 apps for autism, according to speech pathologist Lois Brady. Some apps, like TOBY Playpad, help caregivers teach children early learning concepts. Others, like Proloquo2go and TapToTalk, help users overcome difficulties with speaking and communication. AutismXpress helps users identify emotions. And one app, called Look in My Eyes, helps individuals practice eye contact. Some suggest the technology has revolutionized autism treatment.

    Technology has transformed how we diagnose disorders, understand illness, interact with medical authorities, and even relate to our own bodies. In a 2010 article in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, sociologists Monica Casper and Daniel Morrison argue that these transformative technologies include vaccines, ultrasound machines, artificial joints, genetic mapping, and even electronic medical records.

    Some suggest that these technologies help drive medicalization, the process through which personal problems are defined as medical concerns. But sociologist Andrew Webster, writing in Current Sociology in 2002, argues that technology is not necessarily expanding medicine’s domain. By “open[ing] the medical black bag,” he writes, technology may in fact loosen doctors’ control over treatment.

    While some therapists incorporate apps into their treatment, one doesn’t need to consult a doctor or obtain a prescription to benefit from them. Clearly, they allow consumers to take medical treatment into their own hands. But apps aren’t for everyone. Nor can everyone afford these technologies. And some people, in the end, prefer to interact with a good old-fashioned human being.

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