PhD Sociology Summer Conference, Lancaster University, plus Lake District Trip

From the 1st until the 4th of July I was at Lancaster University for the PhD Sociology Summer Conference and intellectual party, organised by Prof Elizabeth Shove and students from the Sociology Department. The conference entailed not only a wide range of presentations and talks but also a spectacular finale staging departmental members as well as students ‘cooking’ a variety of sociological terms and theory into a tasty as well as amusing meal (‘Ready-Steady-Theory’). You can find more details on the programme and the book of abstracts here.

Lancaster Library

On day three we took a ride to the Lake District in Cumbria where we made a fabulous walk from Grassmere via Rydal Hall to Ambleside along beautiful green mountains, accompanied by lovely sheep and some refreshing periods of rain. This is the Lake View at Ambleside:

Lake View


In-visibility as a concept for research on social software

I’d like to highlight a recent articleWant to be on top? Algorithmic power and the threat of invisibility on Facebook by Taina Bucher which uses the notion of invisibility for an analysis and description of Facebook’s ‘News Feed’. The author convincingly shows how the algorithmic logic of the ‘Edge Rank’, operating the News Feed, imposes certain forms of interaction. In particular, the algorithm enables as well as constrains people’s presentation on the News Feed and in doing so induces a ‘regime of invisibility’ on its users. The notion of invisibility is taken from Foucault and the description of Bentham’s panopticon as a metaphor for disciplinary mechanisms in modern societies. But whereas Foucault’s panopticon imposes a threat of visibility on its inhabitants, Bucher shows that the News Feed operates rather on the contrary mechanism; user experience the danger of becoming obsolete and invisible once they refrain from interacting on the platform.

News Feed

For my Master thesis (entitled In-between online and offline moments, and the order of visibility) I have in a similar fashion turned to Foucault’s notion of disciplinary visibility for an analysis of the social network platform ‘StudiVZ’, a German version of Facebook. As my study illustrates, the interaction on the platform is dominated by an ‘order of visibility’, a desire to be visible and present, which is in fact built in the algorithmic logic of the platform. It thereby shapes the interactions taking place, i.e. people’s constant, deliberate self-presentation on the platform. However, in contrast to Bentham’s panopticon, within Facebook there is not one overall observer but users watch over one another in this sense.

The work also questions the up to that point prevailing analytic separation within media studies and internet research between offline and online contexts, treating them as disconnected spheres. You may read intro and conclusion of my thesis here.

MA title

The notion of invisibility describing the algorithmic logic of social software has not yet been sufficiently taken up within media studies. I still think this concept is a promising entry to study and analyse the structure and setup of social networking sites. More research can be done in order to show how and to what extent these sites interfere with and shape (sociomaterial) practices.

The work has been part of a recent initiative by scholars in media studies and adjacent disciplines (cultural theory, sociology, computing) entitled ‘software studies’ which involves not only scientists but designers, engineers and artists. Check the website for more information.

Sociology Summer Conference and intellectual party, Lancaster University

Lancaster University

I am going to attend this year’s PhD Sociology Summer Conference at the University of Lancaster, 2-4 July 2012. The conference gathers PhD students to present and discuss their work as well as to participate in a variety of workshops. It is organised by the Department of Sociology which assembles leading scholars working in the area of science and technology studies (STS), drawing in particular on actor-network theory (ANT) and practice-theoretic approaches.

I present my work in one of the so-called ‘Salons’ on Digital intra/interactions. The sociality of virtual mobilities. Politics. Work. Cherishable media. Agile publics, hosted by Monika Büscher. Please check out our blog on tumblr. You may also read my abstract here; more information on the programme soon.

4th Week for Junior Research at the Department of Sociology, University of Vienna

Entrance Hall – Department of Sociology, University of Vienna

I will be part of this year’s week for junior research at the Department of Sociology, University of Vienna. From Wednesday the 2nd until Friday 4th of May 2012, graduates from the Department of Sociology and selected research institutions present and discuss their master thesis or PhD work. Check out my Steckbrief for the catalogue and the poster below (click here to get a better view):

I am going to present my poster during the daily ‘Walkaround’ in the foyer of the Institute of Sociology (Rooseveltplatz 2) on Wednesday, the 2nd of May at 6pm. Afterwards, at 7pm, Prof. Ravinder Barn from the Royal Holloway College, University of London, is going to talk on ‘Interculturalism in Europe: Fact, Fad or Fiction – The deconstruction of a theoretical idea’. The day ends with a ‘Powerpoint-Karaoke’ which promises to be a playful finish (please click here for more information on this indeed funny and amusing idea).

The week involves student’s presentations, talks and a final ‘sociological dinner’ on Friday, 4th of May. For more information please check the programme’s website. You can also find a detailed programme flyer here. Looking forward seeing you there!

On the dynamics of social practice

In February, Elizabeth Shove from the Sociology Department at Lancaster University visited us as a Guest Professor. Apart from discussing her forthcoming book ‘The Dynamics of Social Practice’, we made a one-day ‘crash course’ on how to think and work through a dissertation: from developing conceptual thoughts and carrying out empirical field work to the final writing up. The current practice of bag-carrying served as a starting point for this endeavour imagining the future of the plastic bag. Altogether, we developed four distinct futures in which different elements – infrastructure, competences, meaning, materiality – altered. Below you see future no. 4 where only one bag survives and may be found in the (IHS-) museum:

Last bag preserved

The seminar has been part of our post-graduate programme ‘Sociology of Social Practices’ at the IHS. Previous Guest Professors have been Dvora Yanow from the University of Amsterdam, Adele Clarke from the University of California SF, Marianne de Laet from Claremont, Andreas Reckwitz from Viadrina University and Ted Schatzki from the University of Kentucky.