On Thursday I attended Jose van Dijck‘s (University of Amsterdam) lecture, The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media, which was organised by the Centre for the Study of Global Media and Democracy at Goldsmiths. In this invited public lecture, Jose Van Dijck, who is one of the world’s leading authorities on digital memory practices and social media, talked about her new book, and Noortje Marres (CSISP, Goldsmiths), and Richard MacDonald (Storycircle Project, Goldsmiths), were respondents.The lecture was chaired by Professor Nick Couldry (Media and Communications, Goldsmiths).
I had read the book prior to the lecture and with my colleagues at Storycircle had discussed some of the intriguing themes that the book deals with – especially since in our work and in our upcoming publications we investigate how digital infrastructures may enable narrative processes between social actors. van Dijck’s new work also links to my personal research interests about the normalisation of ‘sharing’ data.
In the lecture, van Dijck drew a picture of how social media platforms have become an ecosystem – a socially ubiquitous system of connective media. Her project is a historiography of these platforms between 2001-2012 and she uses a combination of Actor Network Theory (ANT) and political economy in her approach. She explained what this methodological approach entails, and the six axes of analysis which result from this combination: content, usage, technological object, ownership, business models and governance.
In her response, Marres raised the issue of how the object of study can be defined when we study the sociotechnical and noted that a platform take on sociality could be complemented with other perspectives, towards an account of digital sociality.
MacDonald’s commentary dealt with the usefulness of ethnography as a way of understanding what users, as social actors, do with these platforms, as a complementary approach to political economy. He also asked how this history could be situated in a broader historical frame.
There was some time for discussion after this and I raised a question was about resistance and civil disobedience in relation to the digital – in particular I am interested in the differentiation between ‘implicit’ and ‘explicit’ user that van Dijck’s book returns to every once in a while, and especially when discussing practices of resistance. My interest is in the implications of this framing for imagining the possibilities for sustained (rather than one-off) resistances, beyond the ‘walled gardens’ of social media platforms – and some of this thinking I am developing in my writing at the moment.
Our engagement as Storycircle with many of the topics that van Dijck’s book analyses, will be published soon in a novel conceptualisation of ‘Social Analytics’, which we have collectively developed with Nick Couldry and Luke Dickens. This work will be introduced fully in forthcoming articles and presentations (see ICA London).
See also blog about The Culture of Connectivity published by Oxford University Press in March 2013. Jose Van Dijck’s previous books include Mediated Memories in a Digital Age (Stanford University Press 2007) and The Transparent Body (University of Washington Press 2005).