Researching social analytics

Cultural sociology in the face of algorithmic power

Authored by: Nick Couldry

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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A new topic of research is opening up for cultural sociology: social actors’ everyday use and reflections on ‘analytics’, that is, any digital tools that measure them and their presence in a world of online presences. I call this study ‘social analytics’. This topic emerges at a moment when the longer histories of science and technology studies (STS) and phenomenology are intersecting in interesting ways in the digital age. Paradoxically some leading sociologists of culture fear that reflexive agency is no longer there to be studied, crushed out of existence by the all-encompassing force of ‘algorithmic power’ (Lash 2007). This premature fear of something like ‘the end of cultural sociology’ ignores the phenomenological richness of everyday struggles with and through the countless tools for measuring our digital presences, whose operations are now deeply embedded in routine action. It also turns its back on the contemporary potential for a ‘sociology of social critique’ focussed on the arbitrary operations of the institutional processes that shape and order our constructions of social reality (Boltanski 2010). This chapter, and the project it outlines, aim to reclaim that potential in a distinctive way.

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