Digital sociology in the field of devices

Authored by: Adrian Mackenzie , Richard Mills , Stuart Sharples , Matthew Fuller , Andrew Goffey

Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Art and Culture

Print publication date:  September  2015
Online publication date:  September  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415855112
eBook ISBN: 9780203740248
Adobe ISBN: 9781135008895


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Digital sociology focuses on culture as it plays out in the vast, expanding, power-laden and complex media environments of the last few decades. In these media environments, feedback loops running between devices and social practices constantly re-define culture. Culture – that which is lived in places such as cities, cafes, airports, streets, shops, museums, parks, clinics, offices or living rooms – is rapidly rewoven by transient device-specific play of signals passing through news, entertainment, advertising and social networking platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, LiveJournal, YouTube, LinkedIn or Weibo. Digital sociology addresses the problem of how to make sense of the signals generated, captured, organised, shared, and constantly sorted in form of hyperlinks, messages, transactions, text, and images flowing across media platforms by people living with and through digital devices (Lupton 2012). Digital social researchers seek to learn about the coherence, modes of thought and value, practices, materials and forms of contemporary experience and social action as they are drawn into what recent observers have called ‘a massive, culturally saturated feedback loop’ (Schutt and O’Neil 2013: 5) interlacing what people do and what they experience. None of the devices, practices and subjects of this form of the social are coherent, well-understood or stable. Indeed, these feedback loops predicate constant processing, adjustment, realignment, transformation, variation and mutation in social worlds. Amidst this targeting of transformation, much hinges on interactions in what we might call, following Ruppert et al. (2013), the field of devices. The field of devices is a complex weave of technical elements, more or less connected to each other through relations of contact and contest, convergence and divergence, similarity, imitation and variation. It is inhabited by people who react to, who experience and are affected by durable and transient calls to order their actions with and through devices.

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