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11 JUNE 2016

Digital Sociology: Beyond the Digital to the Sociological

"Where sociologists differ from many other social researchers in researching digital media is their awareness that digital data, like any other type of data, are socially created and have a social life, a vitality, of their own. They are not the neutral products of automatic calculation, but represent deliberate decisions by those who formulate the computer algorithms that collect and manipulate these data (boyd and Crawford 2012; Cheney-Lippold 2011; Ruppert et al. 2013). The data that these devices and software produce structure our concepts of identity, embodiment, relationships, our choices and preferences and even our access to services or spaces. Without the knowledge of digital technology users, algorithms measure and sort them, deciding what choices they may be offered (Beer 2009, 2013a). Algorithms and other elements of software, therefore, are generative, a productive form of power (Lash 2007)."

(Deborah Lupton, 2013, p.4)

Deborah Lupton 'Digital Sociology: Beyond the Digital to the Sociological', Paper presented at The Australian Sociological Association 2013 Conference, Monash University, 27 November 2013.



2013 • algorithms • cultural concept of technologycultural practicescultural technologycultural understanding of technologyculture and societyDanah Boyd • David Beer • Deborah Lupton • digital data • digital media • digital sociology • digital technologyembodiment • Evelyn Ruppert • identity • John Cheney-Lippold • Kate Crawford • material culturemediated interactionMonash Universitynew mediaScott Lashsocial mediasocial policysocial researchsocial theorysociology • sociomateriality • software affordancestechnology practicesUniversity of Sydney


Simon Perkins
30 MAY 2010

Software is increasingly making a difference to the constitution and production of everyday life

"The reason that a focus on Web 2.0 is significant and needed is because the popular web applications it represents are driven by users providing endless and virtually unlimited information about their everyday lives. To put it in Lash's terms, they are clearly on the inside of the everyday, they are up close, they afford direct and routine connections between people and software. We have not yet begun to think through how this personal information might be harvested and used. A starting point would be to find out how this information about everyday mundane lives is being mined, how this feeds into 'relational databases', and with what consequences: the very types of question that are being asked by the writers discussed here. Alongside this it is also important that we consider how the information provided by users, and other 'similar' users, might affect the things they come across. If we return to, which 'learns' users' tastes and preferences and provides them with their own taste–specific online radio station, it is possible to appreciate how the music that people come across and listen to has become a consequence of algorithms. This is undoubtedly an expression of power, not of someone having power over someone else, but of the software making choices and connections in complex and unpredictable ways in order to shape the everyday experiences of the user. How we find the books that shape our writing could be a question we might ask ourselves if we wish to consider the power that algorithms exercise over us and over the formation of knowledge within our various disciplines. (I know of at least two occasions when Amazon has located a book of interest for me that has then gone on to form an important part of a published work.) This is not just about Amazon, it would also include searches on Google Scholar, the use of the bookmarking site, the RSS feeds we might use, or the likely coming applications that will predict, locate and recommend research articles we might be interested in. Readers based in the UK will also by now be considering the power of algorithms to decide the allocation of research funding as the role of metrics in the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework (REF) are finalized."

(David Beer, 996–997)

Beer, D. (2009). "Power through the algorithm? Participatory web cultures and the technological unconscious." New Media & Society 11(6).


TAGS • blogjects • Bruce Sterling • coded objects • cognisphere • communicationcontent creation • context-aware • convergencecrisis of empiricism • cultural formations • cultural formsdatadata miningDel.icio.usdigital culturedynamic interfaceseveryday lifeflows • geodemographic classification • Google Scholarhuman agencyidentityinformationinformation society • intelligent devices • internet of thingsKatherine • logjects • marketing discrimination • mediationmetadatamodes of being • modes of classification • modes of knowing • new media • new new media ontology • Nigel Thrift • old mediaperformative infrastructurespersonal data • post-hegemony • powerResearch Excellence FrameworkRFIDRoger BurrowsRSSScott Lashsocial bookmarkingsocial networkingsocial participation • software sorting • SPIMES • Steve Graham • technological unconscious • technology • transducting space • transformationubiquitous information flowsUKurban studiesvirtual spacesWeb 2.0William Mitchell


Simon Perkins
09 MAY 2006

Reflexive Modernisation: knowledgeable subjects able to reflect on their social conditions

"The electronic integration of all communication modes from the typographic to the multimedia particularly consists of (fashion) images and signs. People are increasingly able to monitor and evaluate these images as well as place themselves within the world, both historically and geographically. The more that societies modernise, the greater the ability of knowledgeable subjects to reflect upon their social conditions of existence. Lash (1994) characterises this as 'reflexive modernisation'. In a world of ever–faster change and growing abstraction the process of reflexivity opens up possibilities for the recasting of meaning in work and in leisure and for the heterogenisation and complexity of space and everyday life. Confronted with the increasing cultural content of flows reflexivity becomes aesthetic – a notion for which Lash and Urry argue in their book Economies of Signs and Space (1994)"
(Jan Verwijnen, UIAH. Helsinki)

Scott Lash & John Urry (1994). 'Economies of Signs and Space' : Sage Publications Ltd. 0803984723


1994abstractioncomplexity • evaluate • heterogenisation • integrationJohn Urry • modernise • monitormultimediareflectreflexive modernisationreflexivityScott Lashsocial conditions
07 MARCH 2006

New Modernity, Reflexive Modernity and Second Modernity

"Given the fact that people are likely to continue to seek the whole – that this is something inherent to the meaning–making, symbolizing process that makes us human beings – are there strategies for creating a way of living in the complex, plural realities we live in that can take into account the shifting factors in our existence, that can deal with the instabilities that are created without giving in to ways of seeking the whole that may be deeply flawed, either morally or socially?

What I would like to sketch out here are some attempts that are being made in that direction, that going beyond simply revelling in plurality (what Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby designated a number of years ago as 'mosaic madness'[37]) or a kind of Balkanized multiculturalism that collapses at the first sign of stress. It goes by a number of names, and is being constructed especially by thinkers in Great Britain and in Germany. It was initially called 'reflexive modernity.' Somewhat later, Scott Lash called it a 'second modernity.' Most recently, Ulrich Beck has been calling it a 'new cosmopolitanism.'[38] Let us look at each of these names to explore how they are reading what needs to change in our perception of modernity.

'Reflexive modernity' refers to an attitude in our reading of modernity. It is intended to convey that our experience of modernity is no longer simply a phenomenological one, accepting the principles and promises of modernity at face value. Rather, we take a reflective, even critical posture toward it. For example, that progress and innovation are taken for granted as defining features of modernity is no longer assumed. We have been experiencing the limits of progress and innovation as values that can be accepted uncritically. This is most evident in debates about the environment. Is drilling for oil in wildlife reserves to be accepted because of the West's insatiable hunger for petroleum, even if it is a potential danger to the environment? The threat of global terrorism likewise compels us not take our security for granted any longer. Our sense of risk in general has been heightened, be it for reasons of ecology, the volatility of financial markets, the spread of communicable diseases such as SARS or avian flue [sic]. Reflexive modernity, then, means that we experience reality increasingly at one remove. We now question what we once took for granted.

'Second modernity' is an attempt to seek the whole, using the framework of reflexive modernity. It reflects the fact that we have moved beyond the first modernity, but are not mired in a fragmented postmodernity. One of the features of a second modernity is a sense that many of the boundaries that defined the first modernity have been shifted. These shifts are sometimes experienced as a deterritorialization, that is, boundaries which once defined and even protected us are no longer fulfilling these functions. This is most evident in the experience of the pluralization of our societies through migration. Not only are dominant culture people confronted with a multiplicity of ethnic identities, the situation has become such in some places that there is no ethnic majority any more. That, for instance, is the case in Los Angeles, and becoming increasingly so in other urban centres of immigration. Ecological threats in the atmosphere – be they the hole in the ozone layer or the cloud of smog hanging over South Asia from the cooking fires – know no national boundaries. Thus boundaries that define identities are found to be shifting as are those we thought once protected us. The United States thought it was largely safe from global terrorism because of the expanse of two oceans on its eastern and western frontiers. September 11 changed all of that.

Deterritorialization is experienced also in the fact that boundaries that once defined purity are being replaced by concepts of mixing and hybridity. As people migrate, mix, and marry racial identities become blurred. Jacques Audinet has called this 'the human face of globalization.'[39] To be of mixed race was through much of the nineteenth and twentieth century a sign of being impure, even of weaker stock. But things are changing rapidly in this regard. The golfer Tiger Woods has become an icon of this new hybridity: not only drawing his identity from African and Asian resources, but also by being the very opposite of a scion of a debilitated stock. He is the number one golfer in the world. Mestizaje, métissage, creolization – whatever it is called – represents now a new and positive way of being in the world.

The second modernity not only forces us to rethink boundaries; it calls forth new decisions. The debate about genetically modified crops, and the divide between North America and Europe on this matter, represents one set of such decisions to be made. The capacities of biotechnology to prolong life have created another. The line between medicinal supplements and doping in professional sports raises yet another. This second modernity raises, therefore, a whole set of questions that must be addressed now in a way that was not the case even in the immediate past.[40]

Finally, the most recent term introduced for this new modernity is cosmopolitanism. This is of course an older term, usually intended to convey the sense of being (as its etymology implies) a world citizen. It was typically used of elite populations, who had the means to travel frequently, and who as a result of this felt at home in many places in the world. In this newer usage that older meaning is not denied, but has been supplemented in two key ways. First of all, the new cosmopolitans are not so much an elite as they are the mass of migrants moving around the world today. Some are professionals and middle class, but the great majority of them are working class people. They are cosmopolitan in their capacity to negotiate multiple cultures, both in their current place of residence, their workplace, and their country of origin, and in their use of communications media to hold all of this together. Cultural critic Paul Gilroy sees them creating a new sense of convivência, or capacity to live together and interact with the great deal of difference that surrounds them. They do not experience cosmopolitan life as tourists or sometime visitors, but as those who must encounter and interact with difference every day of their lives. They do not have the luxury of experiencing the different as exotic or romantic; it is part of their ongoing struggle for survival.[41] The other dimension of this new cosmopolitanism is that its thinking and decisionmaking is increasingly characterized by a 'both–and' rather than an 'either–or' approach. Modernity was marked by its capacity to differentiate and make distinctions. That is, after all, a key aspect of critical thinking. Confronted as it is with increasing plurality and complexity, the new cosmopolitanism is more keenly aware of the need to capture that sense of complexity in its decision–making. A simple differentiation is less useful to explain phenomena in the world today. For example, the early stages of globalization were often characterized as a homogenization of the world: global flows from the media would gradually erase differences and we would all come to be more and more alike. Experience has shown, however, that such is not entirely the case. While some things have become more the same, the reaction against this homogenization has been new emphases on the local. English may be becoming the universal language of commerce and education in Europe, but this has also led to a revival of many local languages – such as Breton, Frisian, and Ladino – that once were considered doomed to extinction. Globalization has become, in the words of Roland Robertson, 'glocalization,' a mixture of the global and the local.[42] It is this 'both–and' attitude that is most characteristic of the new cosmopolitanism. Ways need to be found to incorporate the plurality we experience into our decisionmaking, our policies, and our ways of life, and taking an inclusive, rather than an exclusive, attitude is a major way of doing this."

(Robert J. Schreiter, pp.21–24)

37). Reginald Bibby, Mosaic Madness (Toronto: Stoddard, 1990).
38). Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens, and Scott Lash, Reflexive Modernization (Stanford: Standord University Press, 1994); Scott Lash, Another Modernity (London: Sage, 1999); Ulrich Beck, Der kosmopolitische Blick (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2004).
39). Jacques Audinet, The Human Face of Globalization: From Multicultural to Mestizaje (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005).
40). These questions of deterritorialization and new decisions in second modernity are explored in a variety of fields in Ulrich Beck and Christoph Lau (eds.), Entgrenzung und Entscheidung (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2005). This book and Beck's Der kosmopolitische Blick both appear in a series with Suhrkamp edited by Beck, entitled Edition Zweite Moderne.
41). Paul Gilroy, Postcolonial Melancholia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005). Convivência is a Portuguese term referring to the capacity of people from different backgrounds to live together. Theo Sundermeier is credited with introducing the term into theology. See the entry 'Konvivenz,' RGG IV, 1654.
42). I explore Robertson's idea in The New Catholicity: Theology between the Global and the Local (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1997).

Schreiter, R. J. (2005). A New Modernity: Living and Believing in an Unstable World. The Anthony Jordan Lectures, Newman Theological College, Edmonton Alberta, March 18–19, 2005 pp.21–24. http://www.mission– (Accessed 10 August 2005)


avian flu • Balkansbiotechnologyboundaries • Breton • communicable diseases • communications mediacomplexity • convivencia • cosmopolitan • cosmopolitan life • cosmopolitanismcountry of origincreole • creolization • critical posturecritical thinkingcultural identitydecision makingdefining features of modernitydeterritorializationdifferencedifferentiationdistinctions • doping • ecological threatsecology • elite • elite populations • environment • environment reserves • ethnic majority • Europeexistenceexoticextinctionfinancial markets • first modernity • fragmented postmodernity • Frisian • genetically modified crops • global • global flows • global terrorism • globalisationglobalizationglocalglocalization • golf • homogenizationhybridisationhybridity • immediate past • immigrationimpurityinnovation • instabilities • Jacques Audinet • Ladino • limits of innovation • limits of progress • live together • local • local languages • Los Angelesluxury • medicinal supplements • mestizaje • metissage • middle class • migration • mixed race • mixturemodernity • mosaic madness • multiculturalism • multiple cultures • multiplicity of ethnic identities • national boundaries • new cosmopolitanism • new cosmopolitans • new hybriditynew modernitynineteenth centuryNorth America • oil reserves • ozone layer • Paul Gilroyperception of modernity • petroleum • phenomenologicalphenomenology • place of residence • plural realities • pluralismpluralistic societyplurality • policies • postmodernity • principles of modernity • professional sports • professionals • progress • prolong life • promises of modernity • purity • racial identities • reading of modernity • reflexive modernisationreflexive modernity • Reginald Bibby • rethink boundariesRobert Schreiter • Roland Robertson • romantic • SARS • scion • Scott Lashsecond modernity • sense of risk • September 11 2001shifting factorsSouth Asiasurvival • Tiger Woods • tourists • travel frequently • twentieth centuryUlrich BeckUnited States • universal language of commerce • urban centres • ways of life • weaker stock • wildlife reservesworking classworkplace • world citizen
20 APRIL 2005

Reflexive Modernisation: Beyond Modernism & Postmodernism

"The Postmodern project, in short, failed to provide the West with an adequate understanding of politics, society, and self in conditions that veered further and further away from the Enlightenment–based picture of modernity. The insights of Postmodern theorists lacked the power to put modernity in clear perspective and to re–energise its sources for the future. [...]Against this rough sketch of what critics have been thinking about modernity and its limits, the concept of 'reflexive modernisation' has made a promising appearance. The critical theory of reflexivity may productively address the work left undone by postmodernist theory. Postmodernism found the flaw in the idea of progress but failed to identify a usable alternative metaphor. In the alternative idea of reflexivity, we might discover some power to regenerate Western understanding. Through that we might renew political and social action. [...Scott Lash] begins with the premise of the Frankfurt School (notably Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment) that early modernity, through its reliance on reason, achieved its emancipatory project against tradition only to turn upon itself. (112) He sees a three–stage line of development from (a) tradition to (b) simple modernity to (c) reflexive modernity. (113) The driving force was individualisation in the transition from tradition to simple or early modernity; but industrial and governmental structures arrested the development. These structures included class, nation, nuclear family, and 'unconditional belief in the validity of science.' (115) 'Full modernisation [i.e., reflexive modernity] takes place only when further individualisation also sets agency free from even these (simply) modern social structures.' (114)"
(Richard P. Richter, President Emeritus, Ursinus College, Philadelphia, USA)

[Three key proponents of Reflexive Modernisation are Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens and Scott Lash. While Beck is most concerned with the enquiry to politics, Giddens is concerned with social process and Lash is concerned with the development of a critical theory.]



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