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Digital Sociology

Digital sociology as a field is gaining traction in Australia, Canada and the UK, and is lagging somewhat behind in the U.S.

Digital Sociology logo

Still there are some strides toward establishing this field here in the U.S. In February of this year, I and Karen Gregory and Tressie McMillan Cottom, organized a Digital Sociology Mini-Conference under the auspices of the Eastern Sociological Society. The convening brought together an international group of scholars around the topic of digital sociology for two days of panels and round table presentations. All together, the conference generated over sixty (60) submissions from eleven (11) countries.

As readers here know well, digital technologies now underpin academic work at all levels — from theorization and conceptual work, to research methods and data collection, to the professionalization of disciplines. Yet, as Deborah Lupton notes in her recent book, Digital Sociology (Routledge, 2014), the discipline of sociology more broadly has only just begun to take account of the broader implications that the digital has raised about the “practice of sociology and social research itself.”

Clough and colleagues (2014) suggest that the “datalogical turn” underway in the social sciences poses not only serious challenges to sociological methodologies, but also requires more robust theorizing of what we mean by the social itself. Social media platforms such as Twitter and blogging are not simply megaphones for broadcasting research done offline, but are becoming the very mechanisms we use to create sociological knowledge, formulate ideas, write first drafts, and engage in peer review.  But the burgeoning field of digital sociology is still “before the beginning” in theorizing and articulating the digital turn for the social sciences, as Jonathan Wynn has pointed out.

Why digital sociology? Why now?

To call for digital sociology is to engage in an act of (or an attempt at) disciplinary transformation. My colleague at CUNY, Cathy Davidson, contends that disciplines are “so last century”. She foresees a future of higher education where disciplinary boundaries matter less and less. In the 21st century university we are all interdisciplinary. She’s probably right, so what is the point of trying to transform sociology at this particular moment?

The fact is that many of the social implications of the Internet were articulated decades ago by leading sociologists without calling themselves “digital sociologists”.  Scholars such as Castells, 1996; Back, 2002; DiMaggio, et al., 2001; Hampton 2002; Ignacio, 2000; Sassen, 2002; Wacjman, 1991; Wellman, 2001, have all made important contributions to our understanding of how the digital and the material are imbricated, to paraphrase Sassen. Yet, overall sociology as a discipline has been relatively unconcerned with explicitly defining a disciplinary relationship to the digital. Instead, sociology has often ceded this terrain to other disciplines.

While this expansive view of sociology as a kind of universal donor discipline has worked to the advantage of job candidates with dissertations focused on digital technologies, it has disadvantaged the discipline and our understanding of the social world today. If sociology is to be relevant in the 21st century, we must offer a compelling theoretical understanding of digital media technologies. If we expect to attract graduate students and the next generation of scholars, we have to offer some guidance on what sociological research methods might be in a digital era.

Other disciplines are doing the work that digital sociologists could, and perhaps should, be doing; more than this, they are reaping rewards that we are not. Disciplines such as communications, cultural and media studies, library and information science, and journalism have eagerly stepped in to the void left by sociology to claim many of our top job candidates. When sociology loses top job candidates to other fields, it is likely that they will publish less often in sociology journals, attend fewer of our conferences and contribute less to knowledge that circulates within sociology.

The digital humanities claims most of the research money and sets much of the agenda for how we think about digital media technologies in relation to teaching and digital tools for scholarship. The traditional humanities disciplines – literature, philosophy, religion, languages, and musicology – are now often joined with history, linguistics, and semiotics as part of the digital humanities. Social sciences such as anthropology and sociology are sometimes included under the umbrella of DH, as I heard one preeminent scholar exclaim at a recent talk, “I have a colonizer’s view of what is included in the digital humanities – if you’re doing digital work, it’s digital humanities!” In many ways, the early and ardent embrace – even expansionism — of the digital by the humanities was a response to threats (perceived or actual) to cuts in humanities programs and funding. To looks at the funding infrastructure of the Office of Digital Humanities division of the National Endowment for the Humanities, this was a shrewd, strategic move on the part of forward thinking humanities scholars of twenty years ago.

The result, however, is that digital humanities as a field ends up with preserving and archiving a predominantly white, male canon of literature,  as Tara McPherson observes. Of course, not all digital humanities projects focus on white men. The NEH Office of Digital Humanities has funded a project called “W.E.B. DuBois in Cyberspace” to digitize and make available all of DuBois’ papers. This important work of preservation and access is at the heart of digital humanities, and it is part of what makes digital sociology possible. Such tools create an opportunity for “rethinking sociological craft”, but it would be repeating the mistakes of DH to focus too heavily on tools in digital sociology. Instead, the promise of digital sociology is to first consider the “disciplinary value of sociology and the theoretical frameworks of digital second, we arrive at a much more satisfying future for the intersection of digital and social,” as Cottom has pointed out.

So, to return to the questions I posed earlier: why digital sociology and why now? Perhaps I’m resisting the interdisciplinary future of the university, but I tend to agree with Jacobs (2014) that there is a place for disciplines. That said, the discipline of sociology is woefully under-prepared to face the digital present of the contemporary social world. I think that we – those of us doing digital work within sociology – are already doing digital sociology that should be transforming the discipline as a whole, but most of us don’t call our work digital sociology.

I want to suggest that there is a power in naming what we do ‘digital sociology’ that we might well consider.

As for why now, the moment we’re in is one in which there are sociologists around the globe who are doing related, relevant work and by simply tagging our work with digital sociology – we can find each other, as some of us did in February in New York this year.

 

 

~ A version of this post appeared in the CITASA (Communication Internet Technology section of the American Sociological Association) Newsletter, Spring 2015.

 

Higher Ed Is Changing, but Digital Media Training is Still Missing for Most

Higher education is changing because of digital media technologies. How we do our work as scholars, how we create knowledge, is changing because of digital media. And, increasingly, academics want to know their work has an impact in the world beyond the Ivory Tower. Yet, digital media training for academics is still missing at most institutions.

Kevin Anselmo, writing in a recent post at the LSE Impact Blog, observes that academia is increasingly moving in a digital direction, yet the reality is that most PhDs are not trained to speak to mainstream audiences.  The result is that traditionally-trained PhDs largely miss out on the opportunities created by the move to digital. Anselmo encourages academics to take advantage of whatever training their institution offers.

This kind of training is precisely what we’ve offered through our MediaCamp Workshops, which are skill-building sessions for intellectuals who want to combine research and digital media technologies for the public good.

Smart Phone in Hand

(Image credit: Almudena Toral, CUNY J-School)

Our workshops are run as a collaboration between two parts of the larger CUNY system – the academic, PhD-granting Graduate Center, the Mina Rees Library and the Graduate School of Journalism. The main goal of the workshops is to help traditionally trained academics develop the skills necessary to connect their scholarly work to a wider public and to social justice issues. The specific training includes both legacy media (e.g., writing op-eds and appearing on camera) and digital media (e.g., blogging, Twitter, using smartphones), as well as hybrid academic-journalism skills (e.g., data visualization). Due to a grant from the Ford Foundation (and later support from the Mina Rees Library of The Graduate Center), we were able to offer the workshops free of charge to anyone who wanted to enroll.

Lots people besides academics find the workshops useful. This kind of digital media training appeals to people working in non-profits and NGOs as well. We have also seen a fair number of higher education administrators in the workshops, too. It is often these workers – staff and administrators – who are given the responsibility for developing digital media for academic programs and departments, yet rarely if ever are they provided any training to go with these job assignments.

MediaCamp Workshops have been extremely successful on any number of measures. In one year alone, we offered over 40 workshops that reached more than 500 academics, activists, and non-profit leaders. And, there is an even higher demand for these, as we had over 1,000 on waiting lists for these workshops. Based on this success, we were invited to extend this work by offering these workshops at the 109th American Sociological Association meetings in San Francisco (August, 2014).

JP365_ASA_Heidi_Shawn

(Heidi Knoblauch, l., and Shawnta Smith-Cruz, r. at the ASA

Scholars, activists, and people from the non-profit sphere who participated in the workshops clearly indicated that the MediaCamp filled a distinct need: they helped people who are creating knowledge learn to share that knowledge with a wider audience. After every workshop, people shared enthusiastic, supportive reviews. Typical of the written feedback we received was this participant’s response:

“Fantastic workshop!!! I’ve been struggling with ways to engage with a broader public in my work and I feel much better prepared now. Thank you!”

We collected data on all the workshops and you can read the full report here MCampReportPDF.  Our experience with MediaCamp Workshops,  and the data from our report, support Anselmo’s assertion that there is a huge unmeet need for this kind of training within higher education.

What Anselmo’s exhortation to “take advantage of training” at your institution misses is that most institutions don’t offer such training. In part, this is because finding the support for digital media training is challenging. While the politics of austerity within higher education may be coming to an end, it is still a very real struggle to secure funding for this kind of training.

In the current social and political climate, it will take real vision – on the part of an academic leader, or a grant-maker, or both – to seize the opportunity that digital media technologies offer for academics and the institutions in which we work.

The ground beneath us is shifting. How we do our work as academics is already different because of digital media technologies. Card catalogs, anyone?  No, of course, not. We expect our libraries, our search strategies, and our results to be available digitally.

Because of these transformations, 21st-century scholars are much more enmeshed in the world around them than previous generations who may have envisioned an academic life sequestered from the turmoil of the everyday world.  Scholars today see themselves as part of the world around them and want their work to have some kind of impact on that world. For now at least, digital media training in how to use these tools and navigate this landscape are still missing at most institutions.

Free Social Media Events in NYC, Feb 26

Next week, we’re co-sponsoring two great events, both on Thursday, February 26. Lunch (free! really!) is served for the first event, stay for the second event, both conveniently on the 9th The Graduate Center, CUNY, 365 Fifth Avenue (at 34th Street), NYC, 10016. These events are free and open to the public, but a photo ID is required to enter the building. Further details below.

Deborah Lupton talk - flyer

 

Who: Deborah Lupton, Centenary Research Professor, Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra, Australia.

What:  Lupton will be discussing the phenomenon of “digital health” and the need for critical digital health studies. In contrast to popular and professional representations of digital health technologies in utopian terms, Lupton makes the case for a critical approach to digital health technologies, including analyses of self-tracking technologies, apps as sociocultural artefacts and 3D printing in medicine and health. In part, her remarks will draw on her books Digital Sociology (Routledge) and Risk, 2nd Edition (Routledge).

When: Thursday, 2/26, 12pm-2pm
Where: Skylight Room, 9th Floor, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Lunch: Provided (but RSVP required)
RSVP: http://bit.ly/16klWwI

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Liz Losh Event Flyer

Who: Elizabeth Losh, (Professor, University of California-San Diego).

What:  The New York Times declared 2012 to be “the year of the MOOC” but stories of failure abounded about Massive Open Online Courses in the years that followed. This talk argues that MOOCs themselves might have been remarkably uniform as vehicles for content delivery, but they spurred a valuable diversity of pedagogical reactions among faculty to their particular format for free large-scale distance learning.  Public debate and discussion about MOOCs has spurred a variety of innovative pedagogical experiments in higher education: SPOCs (Small Personalized Online Courses), DOCCs (Distributed Open Collaborative Courses), POOCs (Public Open Online Courses), and many other new forms of online teaching.  Her remarks will draw on her new book, The War on Learning (MIT Press).

When: Thursday, 2/26, 3:30pm-5pm
Where: Room 9206, 9th Floor, The Graduate Center, CUNY
RSVP: http://bit.ly/1zTUA7K

Open Access: What Is It and Why All the Fuss?

(Déjà vu? This is a very slight reworking of a post from the Graduate Center Library blog.)

Image is CC BY-NC-ND from JISC.

Image is CC BY-NC-ND from JISC.

You might have noticed that CUNY librarians talk a lot about open access — sometimes in conversations about dissertation embargoes, sometimes on the topic of authors’ rights, sometimes in the context of Academic Works, CUNY’s soon-to-arrive institutional repository (already up and running at the Graduate Center). But maybe you’ve never really gotten a full explanation of what open access is. Or maybe you know what it is but aren’t convinced it’s a pressing issue. Or maybe you understand how it affects you as a reader but aren’t sure how you should factor it into your actions as an author.

I recently wrote a piece about open access for the “Jargon” column of the sociology magazine Contexts, and it might address some of your questions.

What is open access?

“Even if the term ‘open access’ is not in your working vocabulary, you almost certainly understand the phenomenon of open access, or free online availability, as well as its opposite, placement behind a paywall. Of course, an enormous number of news articles, blog posts, and cat videos are freely available online, but ‘open access’ is not usually used to describe those kinds of online offerings. Rather, the conversation about open access centers on research and academic works—journal articles, scholarly books, textbooks, and dissertations—which are usually available only for a fee.”

But what should I care, and what’s wrong with journal subscriptions, anyway?

“Most social action for open access has focused on scholarly journals, largely because many journal subscriptions are wildly expensive, out of proportion with the costs of publishing. In 2012 the Economist reported, ‘Publishing obscure academic journals is that rare thing in the media industry: a [license] to print money.’ Indeed, seemingly arbitrarily high subscription prices that increase year after year have left readers, libraries, and universities feeling gouged. Furthermore, many authors wish to dissociate themselves from commercial publishers that make huge profits from nonprofit institutions, preferring to participate in a publishing system that better connects readers with research and is more consistent with their values. For these reasons and more, journals are a natural starting point for an upheaval in the academic publishing industry.”

So what’s in it for me?

“[J]ournal publishers do not pay their authors, so authors do not lose any income by making their works freely available. In fact, they stand to benefit from open access: When articles are easy to find and free to read, they attract more readers, generate more discussion, and get cited more in later articles.

Of course, authors aren’t the only beneficiaries of open access. When journal articles are freely available, students can better master their fields; scholars can better perform their research; and teachers, doctors, policy-makers, and journalists can better perform their jobs. As a result, everyone benefits, even those who do not themselves read the articles.”

How do I achieve open access?

“There are two ways for an author to make a scholarly article open access. The first, widely known as ‘gold’ open access, is to publish it in a journal that is itself open access—that is, the publisher immediately and permanently makes the journal’s articles freely available online. There are many open access journals—the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) lists almost 10,000—published by many kinds of entities, including universities, commercial publishers, scholarly societies, and professional organizations.

. . .

Another path to open access is called ‘green’ open access, achieved when an author uploads a work to an open access repository hosted by the author’s institution or a disciplinary repository such as the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). Although many authors do not realize it, most journals allow authors to self-archive some version of their article, either the original submission, the edited text, or the journal’s final formatted version. Furthermore, many agencies and institutions have policies that require the researchers they fund or employ to make their articles open access within some fixed amount of time; these policies help make many thousands of articles open access every year. Some publishers reject such policies and lobby against legislation to ensure that taxpayers have access to the research they fund, but their arguments are transparently self-serving and unlikely to prevail in the end.

Right now, green open access is spotty—common and even de rigueur in some fields, but far from universal and not yet leading to reductions in subscription burdens. However, as more researchers and institutions actively support open access, self-archiving will spread. One hope is that green open access will become so prevalent that subscription-based journals will be pressured to lower their subscription prices or change their business model.”

Want to know more?

Read the full column in Contexts or glance at this overview of the very basics of open access. Or contact me or your librarian to learn more!

Open Access Basics Explained

Sometimes when I speak to my academic colleagues about “open access” publishing, they often think I’m suggesting we eliminate peer-review. That’s a common misconception, but it’s not true. And, it speaks to the many myths and misconceptions about open access.

If you’re still confused about open access, this short (8:21) animated video is a good explanation of the basics of open access for faculty-types.

Open Access and Ethnography

Wendy Hsu

Wendy Hsu, Scholar of Sound

I started a blog when I began my dissertation research in 2007. YellowBuzz was meant to share my field notes from observing and participating in the indie rock music scenes first with my research associates and by extension the broader public online. These public field notes were written in the style of performance and album reviews accessible for a general audience outside of academic ethnomusicology. I took the voice of a field correspondent and committed to a fast no-more-than-a-couple-of-week turnaround. Through highlighting these unusual performances and connecting them to theories of identity formation and community building, my blog lived in a liminal space in which it served both as a part of the process and a product of my research. My participation as a blogger in these music scenes gave Internet-visibility to the Asian American musicians that I came to know in my fieldwork. At a high point, my blog became a hub for readers interested in all things related to Asian and Asian American indie music scenes, and was subsequently cited in two Wikipedia articles. My blog and related presence on Twitter (@wendyfhsu) generated a social and discursive space that takes seriously these minority musicians’ below-the-radar cultural production within the public domain. The observations I made as a blogger led me to explore a series of inquiries related to musicians’ digital sociality and theorize the formation of digital media diasporas in the context of post-9/11 racial and geopolitics.

Blogging and academic writing are two modes of knowledge production. They are framed differently – short vs. long, informal vs. formal, impermanent vs. permanent – and for these reasons, they yield different rhetorical consequences. Their audiences might overlap, but for the most part don’t. In my own work, I find and leverage the productive tension between these two modes of communication, where one ends drives the beginning of the other. The continuum between blogging and research writing generates a set of reflexive dynamics that can deconstruct the notion of the “field” (Kisliuk 1997). Sharing bits of field findings live as the research is undergoing can question the subject-object binary in ethnographic research. Tricia Wang suggests that live fieldnoting makes visible meaning-making, a process that’s critical to ethnographic work, but is often not made transparent until the publication of a monograph or a peer-reviewed journal article (2012). The multi-year arc of a print-based scholarly publication project for academic ethnographies present a dissonance with the principle of participatory engagement. Conducive to fast and creative reuse of content, digital and online media can contribute to changing modes of scholarly communication. Elements such as media synchronicity; networked, iterative structure; and efficiency make digital media a great vehicle to open access to scholarly materials. These digital affordances can drive the transformation toward an ethos of openness. For those of us engaged in ethnographic work, this means a wider and more open ethnographic feedback circle – from fieldwork to publication and impact in and around the field.

In the space below, I offer two stories about how I conceptualize openness in my own scholarly communication practices, with a bit of commentary on the politics and economics around scholarly transparency from the perspective of a young non-tenure-track scholar. I also hope that these stories serve to illustrate the possibility of a generative relationship between blogging and journal article publication.

Seven years later after I started Yellowbuzz, I’m still blogging about my research. I have experienced a few arcs from the time of field research to peer-reviewed journal article publications through my research project lifecycles. A blog post I wrote in 2007 marks the beginning of my field engagement with the band Hsu-nami. I presented a paper about the religious imagery in the band’s music at SEM in 2008 and developed this paper into a full chapter in my dissertation which was completed in 2011. An article-length version of this chapter became published in a peer-reviewed journal in 2013, seven years after my initial research interaction with the band. My second peer-reviewed journal article publication followed a similar arc.

Both of these publication arcs concluded with a less than ideal closeness. My research associates, among them professional journalists, tried and failed to access the article about their music. What does this say about the informational and epistemological politics? Both journals that I published in are non-open-access with fairly strict copyright terms. As a young scholar, I don’t have the luxury of time to negotiate to retain my rights as an author. In the case of Asian Journal of Communication, a journal under the Taylor and Francis Group, I was given the “option” of paying $2950 to make my article open access. This option appeared to be a non-option for me, a postdoc fellow in a double-contingency trap: her contingent job situation as a non-renewable researcher in a higher education institution; the contingency of her job prospect on her publishing successes. To me, an “open access” option that requires an exorbitant amount of money in order to administer what is proclaimed to be an open, unrestrictive process itself is a contradiction. Like other neoliberal models, this framework equates the labor and production of academic knowledge with its consumption, and outsources the financial responsibility to deliver products to the content producer. Taylor and Francis’s ostensibly open access option capitalizes on openness, a value that is increasingly important to the scholarly community. In more than one way, it defies the tenants of the actual open access movement. So I tweeted my stance resoundingly:

WendyHsu_TweetScreengrab

A more open and efficient research publication arc I experienced was with my project on digital ethnography. Throughout this project lifecycle, I experimented on various digital platforms to play with the content and form of my research expressions. In these experimentations, I iterated my research in an open form as a post on a blog associated with my graduate fellowship program at University of Virginia; then as I developed my work within a postdoctoral context, I began publishing it on my personal site. Two years ago, an editor-at-large of DH Nowand by extension Journal of Digital Humanities spotted my work on blog and contacted me to explore an interest in developing the blog post (on my personal site) into a full-length journal article. Around the same time, the editor of theEthnography Matters blog invited me to serialize my research on digital ethnography. I thought I would take this set of opportunities to develop my blog post series, staging it as an open forum to invite feedback on my work. This helped me polish the writing for the eventual manuscript submission for theJournal of Digital Humanities. More than just an open access journal, DH transforms the peer-review process by leveraging the open web protocols to source and distribute scholarly content. The editorial and review process begins with an identification of a likely submission based on blog feedback, comments and social media metrics. Then the journal provides “three additional layers of evaluation, review, and editing to the pieces.”

Writing within a network of peers and colleagues makes the process of ideation deeper, more productive than writing in isolation. The evaluation and review process with JDH, for the reasons above, felt so human to me. Each touchpoint was encouraging and yielded constructive insights to further the development and refinement of the paper. When the paper was published in this past spring, I felt confident about the timeliness and relevance of my work. Through its lifecycle, this research project published content in various lengths, types, and formats. This multiplicity of form and content reached a wide network of readers, ranging from academic to applied ethnographers, digital humanities scholars, and geographers.

The technological affordances of these publication platforms allowed me to engage with complex layers of content and voices across disciplinary and social perspectives. Kim Fortun and Mike Fortun compares the scholarly community to a village, a “community of practice [that] cannot prosper if all it encounters is judged with established concepts of what is proper and valuable; the village should not be taken out of history. Instead, we must deliberate and figure out how to respond to changes in the landscape, new problems, new technologies, and new connectivities” (2012).

Publishing, to me, in its simplistic sense, is to make something public. If our public precludes those who have been our research associates, or individuals without institutional affiliations or access to scholarly journals, then we should rethink how we communicate our scholarship. Lastly, I return to the question of research impact, an inquiry central to the ethnographic perspective and a critical step of the ethnographic feedback loop. The issue of transparency can set the course of impact of our research. Having an open and transparent channel of communication is the beginning of a meaningful dialogue we ethnomusicologists can foster with the public. Informational openness, however, is a complex discourse that requires further contextualization and its discussion would not complete without a full consideration of access, ethics, and responsibility (Christen 2012). We’re living in a moment where the value of scarcity associated with industrial mode of production (Suoranta and Vadén 2008:131) is being challenged by the dispersed openness afforded by digital media. The scholarly publishing industry itself is a cultural field with policies and infrastructures driven by commercial values (Miller 2012) that mostly defy public interests. We should maintain our critical viewpoints as we engage with our own scholarly communication practices.

* * *

Works Cited

Christen, Kim. 2012. “Does Information Really Want to be Free? Indigenous Knowledge Systems and the Question of Openness.” International Journal of Commuincation 6:2870-2893.

Fortun, Kim and Mike Fortun. 2012. “Separate But Entangled: Peer Reviewed But Not Conservative,” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2 (1): 385-411.

Kisliuk, Michelle. 1997. “Un(doing) Fieldwork: Sharing Songs, Sharing Lives.”Shadows in the Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology, edited by Gregory F. Barz and Timothy J. Colley. New York: Oxford University Press.

Miller, Daniel. 2012. “Open Access, Scholarship, and Digital Anthropology.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2(1):385-411.

Suoranta, Juha and Tere Vadén. 2008. Wikiworld: Political Economy of Digital Literacy, and the Promise of Participatory Media. Paulo Freire Research Center, Finland (http://paulofreirefinland.org) and Open Source Research Group, (http://www.uta.fi/hyper/projektit/opensource/), Hypermedialab, University of Tampere, Finland.

Wang, Tricia. 2012. “Writing Live Fieldnotes: Towards a More Open Ethnography,” Ethnography Matters, [retrieved from http://ethnographymatters.net/blog/2012/08/02/writing-live-fieldnotes-towards-a-more-open-ethnography/] (accessed on September 27, 2014).

~ This post was written by guest blogger Wendy Hsu and was originally published at The Ethnomusicology Review (October 21, 2014).

Wendy Hsu is an ethnographer, musician, and community arts organizer who engages with multimodal research and performance practices informed by music from continental to diasporic Asia. She has published on Taqwacore, Asian American indie rock, Yoko Ono, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Bollywood, and digital ethnography. Her postdoctoral work engages with Nakashi (那卡西) street music-culture in postcolonial Taiwan and practices of music and mobility of Taipei’s urban underclass. Hsu received her PhD in the Critical and Comparative Studies in Music program at the University of Virginia. As an ACLS Public Fellow, Hsu currently works with the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. She recently completed Mellon Digital Scholarship Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Center of Digital Learning + Research at Occidental College where she researched and taught ethnographic methodology, digital pedagogy, digital sound studies, and community-based participatory research. An active performer, Hsu is a founding member of ethnographic ghost pop band Bitter Party, vintage Asian rock band Dzian!, improvised music trio Pinko Communoids, and Yoko-Ono-inspired noise duo Grapefruit Experiment. She also co-founded engaged innovations collective Movable Parts and experimental music group HzCollective.

The Internet’s Own Boy: Why Academics Need to See This

As part of open access week, many organizations and institutions are sponsoring screenings of Brian Knappenberger’s documentary film “The Internet’s Own Boy.”   But, if you ask most academics not studying the Internet (in other words, the majority) what they know about Aaron Swartz, and they probably don’t know much. They probably know that he was under indictment by the federal government, that he took his own life, and they probably think he was a “hacker,” but are vague on details beyond that.

What most academics don’t know is why what Swartz’s life – and death – are incredibly relevant for the everyday work of scholars.

Swartz was by many accounts a prodigy, possibly even a genius, and he had something of a prophetic vision for the importance of open access for the public good and how academic publishing stands in the way of this.

From my perspective, Knappenberger’s documentary offers one of the clearest explanations, through Aaron Swartz’s story, about why academics should care about open access.

If you do one thing for open access week, catch a screening (or watch it online). Here are couple of NYC-area screenings:

And, appropriately enough, the documentary is available on the open web (you can buy it through iTunes if you want to support the filmmaker).

Introducing: Open Access Series

This week is Open Access Week International and with that we launch a new social justice series on the topic. As we’ve done in the past, we’ll curate and create content around a theme by a variety of contributors, post it here, then compile it into an open access eBook that anyone can use for teaching, writing or acting up.

So, why Open Access week? Many people are beginning to realize that current academic publishing is broken.  Here’s why:

OA Infographic

(Content: Jill Cirasella. Graphics: Les Larue. License: Creative Commons: Attribution, Non-Commercial).

Typically, academic researchers are paid by a university and/or a grant to do their work – conducting original research, coding, analysis, write up. Then, we give away our work to for-profit publishers (e.g., Elsevier, Springer, Wiley). We add further value to that work by doing volunteer labor to conduct peer-review on other scholars’ work. Then, the academic publishers format that work and put it behind a paywall where the only people who have access to it are people affiliated with an institution that pays increasingly huge sums of money to those for-profit publishers. If you don’t have a university affiliation, or live in the global south and are affiliated with an institution that can’t afford to pay the steep prices for subscriptions to these publishers, then you’re out of luck.

Many academics will respond favorably to a request by a colleague at another institution, such as: “does your library have access to this article I need?” I’ve responded to such requests before. Checked my library, found the article in question and sent it via email to someone else. This sort of thing is what I believe those in philosophy refer to as “Minimally Decent Samaritanism,” acts that it would be indecent not to perform.

But this sort of individual, backchannel Samaritanism is not enough for creating real, lasting change in the current system of academic publishing.

In order to do that, we need a much wider effort, a global one in fact, something like Open Access Week International.

 

 

Fall ’14 MediaCamp Workshops

MediaCamp Workshops are skills-building sessions for intellectuals who want to combine research and digital media for the public good. These three-hour comprehensive workshops are FREE for faculty, staff, graduate students, and intellectuals who seek to enrich their digital media skills. MediaCamp is made possible by a partnership between JustPublics@365, theCUNY Graduate School of Journalism (J-School) andThe Graduate Center Library.

Our workshops are typically three-hours of instruction and hands-on, skill building work with world-class instructors. You can bring your own laptop or use a computer in one of the classrooms at the J-School. The topics include both legacy media, such as Op-Eds, digital media, such as Twitter, blogging and podcasting. And, this time we’ve added a new workshop on strategy. Here’s a full roster of the workshops this fall:

To help you get a better sense of the workshops, we created this short video (2:51):

For more information and to register, go here. Then, click on the workshop that interests you. Workshops fill up quickly and there are often waiting lists, so sign up soon!

 

MediaCamp Workshops at ASA

We had a successful run with taking MediaCamp workshops on the road to the American Sociological Association meetings in San Francisco in August. This post is a long overdue but very heartfelt thanks to the many people who worked to make this a success.

Thanks to Annette Lareau (outgoing President of the ASA) for having the vision and inviting us, and to the Executive Office of ASA for all their help with logistics, especially Kareem Jenkins.  Special thanks to our instructors: Pepper Schwartz, CJ Pascoe, Nathan Palmer, Tressie Cottom McMillan, and Heidi Knoblauch. Thanks to Shawn(ta) Smith who helped coordinate logistics and served as on-camera talent for some workshops. And, special thanks to Tina Fetner and Arlene Stein who came and hung out even when they didn’t need to. You are all rockstars!

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Heidi Knoblauch and Shawn(ta) Smith at the JustPublics@ASA MediaCamp, next to the world’s largest poster.

Finally, we’re especially grateful to people who participated in the workshops and hope that you’re still learning. As a reminder, there’s a place where you can ask questions, meet other people interested in developing skills, and share your successes at the MediaCamp Learning Community.

Concluding Our Topic Series on Media Skills for Scholars

As we bring our topic series on media skills to a close, we hope you’ve found these introductions to Twitter, blogging, writing Op-Eds, creating audio and podcasts, measuring your online impact, and conducting online research useful.

We’ve collected them into a eBook here and we encourage you to share it with your colleagues!

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We know that many of you are already active tweeters, bloggers, etc. and we’d love to hear some of your ideas, experiences, tips, etc. Please feel free to tweet @JustPublics365 or leave comments on our blog. If you plan to be at the American Sociological Associate meeting in August, please follow our Twitter handle and join us in live tweeting the conference!

              Happy tweeting/blogging/op-ed writing/podcasting/measuring/researching!

Using Hybrid Methods to Study Digital Media

In this topic series on media skills for scholars, we have focused on using digital media to communicate your research and measure your online impact. But what about researching digital media itself?

Digital scholarship has quickly become a major area of study in the social sciences. Studying such an interactive, dynamic and ever-changing field can be challenging, but fortunately for researchers, there is often a record. As with most social science research, digital research usually falls into either the quantitative or qualitative camp. Endless debates have pitted the two approaches against each other but, as with the great peanut butter – chocolate debate, they can go great together!

Ethnographic content analysis is a hybrid methodology that draws from both of these approaches and is very adaptable to the digital field. Ethnographic content analysis, or ECA for short, was developed by media scholar David Altheide in the late 1980s to study television news coverage of the Iran hostage crisis from 1979-1981. He argued that while conventional quantitative-focused content analysis is useful for revealing patterns and big-picture information, it leaves out room for more the nuanced interpretations that qualitative methods elicit.

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 12.12.51 AMTypically, content analysis is a linear, step-wise projection from data collection to analysis to interpretation, while an ethnographic approach is reflexive and circular. Aiming to meet in the middle, ECA is “systematic and analytic, but not rigid” (Altheide 1987). As with conventional content analysis, information is organized by categories and sub-categories, but with an ethnographic approach, other categories are “allowed and expected to emerge throughout the study.” As any qualitative researcher will tell you, the most interesting findings are often the unexpected ones.

For example, in reviewing TV news coverage, Altheide noticed that while the hostages’ families were a part of the story from the beginning, they became more prominent over time. This had to do, in part, with media access. Families were often willing to be extensively interviewed on camera, and a group of families formed a quasi-organization with articulate spokespeople. Had he not been analyzing data qualitatively as well as quantitatively, he likely would have missed these contextual factors that shaped and influenced TV coverage, or there may not have been a place for this interpretation to “fit” in a conventional content analysis.

The digital field offers so much data, both quantitative and qualitative, and ECA is a highly effective approach for handling both of these. For example, I studied personal blogs written by women with Multiple Sclerosis. Gathering quantitative data, such as the number, frequency and length of posts; images and multimedia; and examining blog architecture demonstrated patterns of activity, topical themes, and design choices, and gave me an overall sense of my sample. I then selected a subset of posts to analyze in more depth, paying closer attention to not just what bloggers wrote about but how they wrote about: Was their blog more information-focused or personal? What was the “tone” of their writing (humorous? serious? what did they complain about?)? Did they write about everyday life or significant events?

Looking at the focus of their blogs revealed that the bloggers saw themselves as having different “roles.” For example, some considered themselves as translators of complex medical information for a general audience. They felt a responsibility to make sure the information was reliable and were diligent about citing sources and providing links.

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Looking at the tone of their writing (the how), and not just the content (the what) demonstrated that there were different narratives, some that conformed to social expectations about how a personal with serious illness should act (i.e. putting on a sunny face) and some that challenged these expectations and took an activist stance.

I also reexamined and interpreted images and graphics. Some bloggers posted pictures of themselves, their families, and their pets, and provided ways to contact them, while others were not as forthcoming in these ways, indicating varying levels of comfort with a public identity.

The ECA I conducted was the first phase of a three-part mixed method study, which also included a survey and online discussion forum. The information I gathered helped me craft the subsequent survey and discussion questions and guide the rest of the study. The results served as a foundation to which I returned again and again during data analysis. As I found, ECA is a well-rounded and adaptable research method for the digital field, which can be used both on its own and in tandem with other methods.

Peanut Butter – Chocolate; Chocolate – Peanut Butter. Either way, they work well together.

collette-portraitThis post was written by Collette Sosnowy (@SOsnowyNYC). She has a Ph.D. in psychology from the CUNY Graduate Center and is the Project Manger for JustPublics@365. She likes both chocolate AND peanut butter.

From Scholarly Research to Crafting an Op-Ed: A How To for Academics

When your area of scholarly expertise becomes part of a news cycle, you have a chance to jump in and add your perspective to the conversation. You may be burning to refute an argument or clarify a popular opinion or, more ambitiously, change the direction of a longer conversation. However, it can be hard to know how to do just that. Here are a few simple tips to help you get started.

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An excellent way to bring your work and perspective to a broader audience and inform public opinion is to write Op-Eds for mainstream publications. In this post, I’ll give some basic guidelines for writing Op-Eds that effectively present your academic work and link it to the topic of the moment (or longer!).

The challenge for many academics is striking a balance between the complexities of a subject and making it accessible to an intelligent public. Academics are fluent in the language of expertise. We often define this in terms of our discipline, sub-discipline, and methodological practices. But even smart, informed readers cannot be expected to know disciplinary ins-and-outs, (and they may not care).

For example, labor experts who focus on intersectionality may have significance among our tribe, but that can mean very little to readers of the Washington Post. However, if that labor expert can link her specific niche to broader issues of public concern, it will have far more meaning to the average reader. For example, her scholarship can inform issues about gender wage gaps, criminal background checks on hiring practices, and the decline of the black middle class. Those are all issues generally understood and hotly debated in the media.

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Whichever media outlet you pitch a piece to or its subject matter, an Op-Ed should: 1) establish your credibility 2) argue for a compelling point-of-view and 3) consider counter-perspectives.

It should also follow a general structure. The one presented here is recommended by The Op-Ed Project, a great organization that seeks to increase the range of voices and quality of ideas we hear in the world, especially from women. An Op-Ed should have:

  1. Lede: Establishes why and for what this Op-Ed matters, and it needs to be pegged to a news hook;
  2. Thesis: Statement of your argument, either explicit or implied;
  3. Argument: Based on evidence, such as stats, news, reports from credible organizations, expert quotes, scholarship, history, first-hand experience;
  4. “To Be Sure” Paragraph: In which you pre-empt potential critics by acknowledging any obvious counter-arguments;
  5. Conclusion: Have a clear ending, and if you can, circle back to your lede.

Your lede should be brief, to-the-point, and make the connection to the news hook clear. If you are a labor sociologist, it is clear how your argument relates to that a news story on disparities in earnings. At other times, the connection can be less clear, but no less compelling. For example, a labor sociologist could just as easily use a popular movie like The Wolf of Wall Street to discuss gender, sexism and financialization during the 1980s.

In either case, your lede should establish who you are, why you are talking about this topic, and how it relates to a news item of interest. To present who you are and why you are talking to this subject, you should establish your credibility very early on. One way to do this is to lead with your baubles. Consider every title, position, and publication you hold and highlight the ones that best represent you and the relevance for the topic. Each of these signal to editors and a general audience that you are expert. This is analogous to using citations efficiently in an academic article.The primary difference is that general audiences generally do not want a literature review or bibliography. Instead, they need to trust that you know the literature. To establish that; speak to who you are rather than what you know.

The thesis, argument, counter-argument, and conclusion are more self-evident. Just remember to stick to one point, make the connections between each piece of evidence clear for your audience, and do not rely on jargon. A well-crafted Op-Ed, written by an expert who can translate relevant research for a broad public audience is both attractive to a media outlet and a valuable contribution to public intellectual life.

tressie-mcmillan-cottom-bio-headshot~ This blog post was written by Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd),a PhD Candidate in Sociology at Emory University and a PhD Intern at the Microsoft Social Media Collective in Cambridge, MA. She has written Op-Eds for the New York Times (here and here) and is a regular columnist for Slate Magazine. More of her writing can be found on her website here.   

 

Dipping into Analytics: Maximizing and Measuring the Reach of Your Online Scholarly Content

Being a scholar means keeping track of your productivity – all those articles, conference presentations and books we work so hard to create. With the proliferation of digital technologies, scholars can have an impact in lots of ways and there are new ways to track this impact, but it can be confusing and overwhelming at first.

In this post we’re going to offer you a brief introduction to the mechanics of maximizing the impact of the kinds of digital media tools we’ve already covered in this series, like Twitter, blogging and podcasting.

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An important part of taking your scholarly identity online is minding the details. When we create print documents, we routinely perform familiar tasks that make the work appear more polished and professional, like formatting the cover page or setting the margins. Yet the online equivalents of these activities are too often brushed aside for expediency. Who has time to add tags and tinker with all those settings?

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Take the time. Simple actions like using thoughtful titles and headers in your blog posts, assigning tags or keywords, and summarizing your posts into 2-3 sentence abstracts can enhance the visibility of your content in search engines and improve the look of your posts when they are shared on social media. If you use WordPress for your blog, many of these functions are provided by easy-to-use plugins, so you don’t have to become a web designer or metadata expert to benefit from these techniques. But there are some basic principles to remember as you create content on the web to help you connect with your audience—and ensure that they can find you.

What is SEO and what does it have to do with academic blogging?

SEO stands for search engine optimization, and the basic premise is that understanding how search engines index and retrieve materials on the web allows us to structure our work so that it has a better chance of showing up in search results.

If you’re blogging on a self-hosted WordPress site, I highly recommend using the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin, which installs a simple set of menus on your dashboard so you can easily customize the most important components of your post’s metadata (the data about the post that helps web crawlers identify the main topics of your post). Regardless of what platform you choose, the following tips will help you flag the most important keywords to search engines and improve your chances of getting your posts included in search results.

  • Choose your title carefully. We all love being creative, but if your post is about unsafe working conditions, include those words in the title. It helps in search engine retrieval and in social media sharing.
  • Use html headers (h2, h3, etc.) when breaking up blog posts and make them meaningful. Descriptive headers allow readers to scan through quickly, and search engines will place greater weight on the keywords used there when indexing your post.
  • Get to know your meta tags. Meta tags include descriptive information about your web page. You know that snippet that appears in Google’s search results? That’s controlled by your site’s meta tags, so it pays to pay attention to them.

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Optimize your posts for sharing on Twitter and Facebook

If you use Twitter to share links, as many academics do, you’ve likely noticed that some websites include a preview of the content directly within the tweet. Likewise, Facebook includes an image and summary content whenever a link is shared. As authors on the web, we have control over what is displayed in these areas, but it means taking a few minutes to check the details of our posts.

Librarian Eric Phetteplace has written an excellent introduction to using Twitter Cards and Facebook’s OpenGraph Metadata Protocol to enhance the way a site appears when it is shared on these platforms. Facebook’s OpenGraph Debugger tool provides a preview of what a link will look like when it’s shared on someone’s timeline, and will flag any errors in the metadata for that site.

Measuring your reach with analytics

To see how visitors to your blog are interacting with your posts, most platforms provide basic data and will distinguish between page views and unique visitors. Many will also tell you what search terms brought people to your post, and what site or social media service linked, or referred, them to your site.

To drill further down into detailed metrics, Google Analytics stands alone for in-depth analysis, but it can get rather complicated quickly. Google offers free resources (online courses and tutorials) for learning and implementing Google Analytics on your website, including a Setup Checklist that goes over the details for getting started with the service.

Altmetrics tools like Impact Story and Plum Analytics can capture the reach of work outside the traditional formats of academic articles and books, including blog posts, datasets, and slides, and will measure stats from social media sites as well.

Bottom line: don’t let the immediacy of digital publishing platforms lead you to neglect the mundane tasks that lead to polished publications. Your audience depends on it.

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This post was written by Roxanne Shirazi (@RoxanneShiraziMaster of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) student and an adjunct librarian at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is also a Founding Editor of the dh+lib blog.

The Importance of Audio and Podcasts

The first thing I learned about podcasting was that it is powerful medium. Podcasting is powerful not only because it has the ability to relate complex arguments into digestible bits of information, but also because it can transform those arguments into relatable stories. Rather than shoving statistics at an audience, podcasts can transform statistics about subjects (i.e. the number of people arrested in 2012 in the U.S. on nonviolent drug charges was 1.55 million) into stories about real people who felt the impact of those statistics. The unique ability of audio to highlight the experience of making knowledge can also connect listeners to scholarship in a way that books often fail to do. Podcasts can allow academics to infuse themselves into the arguments they make rather than downplay their connection to their scholarship.


Podcasts – meaning audio uploaded to iTunes – are just one way to use audio to connect with a wider audience. There are many other platforms including WordPress, SoundCloud, and MixCloud that allow you to share audio. Often, these non-iTunes venues allow for a stronger engagement with your audience because they allow users to post comments on audio files. And, depending on your resources, posting at all four of these venues can give you the most engagement.

Making a good podcast requires planning. A podcast posted on iTunes should have a consistent length, release time, and theme to be successful. In other words, if you want a create a weekly interview-based topically connected 15 minute podcast series, iTunes is probably the most powerful platform to gain a strong following. On the other hand, if you want to post interviews sporadically and have audio that varies in length and topic then something like SoundCloud or your own personal WordPress site would probably gain more traction.

Not all good audio projects have to be formatted like a podcast. Projects can vary in length and subject but use the same intro and outro to make the audio files cohesive. For example, the JustPublics@365 Podcast Series uses the same music intro and outro for every episode. We also use that slice of audio for our shorter audio projects that we post exclusively to SoundCloud.

Collecting audio does not have to be expensive, but it can be. Like most media projects, you can make podcasts as expensive or inexpensive as you want. SoundCloud has the hefty price tag of $121.50 per year to upload an unlimited number of tracks. Using services like BuzzSprout, which offer podcast hosting can cost between $12 and $24 a month. You can upload audio to a server and link that file in a post in your WordPress site. Audio files take up a large amount of room so, often, you will have to pay for some type of server space.

You can be scrappy with equipment. Smartphones have the ability to record surprisingly excellent audio. iPhone apps like Voice Recorder HD ($1.99) or the built in Voice Memos can give you high quality audio. If you want to have higher quality audio you can purchase a number of different microphones that plug directly into your computer (I like the Apogee Electronics MiC Studio Quality USB Microphone) or that plug right into your iPhone or Android (I like the Rode SmartLav or the iRig MIC Cast).

Editing can make all the difference. You can use a number of different programs to edit your audio. GarageBand is one of the easier ways to learn to edit your audio. You can record directly into GarageBand or import audio from prerecorded files. It is free to Mac users so it is a great option for beginners. Audacity is free, open source, cross-platform software for recording and editing sounds that is compatible with PCs and Macs. It is slightly more clunky than GarageBand, but is an equally effective way to edit audio.

Length is up for debate. There are ongoing debates about how long a podcast should be. Some say 3 minutes, some say 30 minutes. I say, the most important thing is to pick a length and stick to it. If your audience is engaging with 30-minutes of content, there is no reason to switch to a 3 minute format. On the other hand, if you are making 30-minute podcasts and no one is engaging with them, it may be time to rethink your strategy.

There are many different types of podcasts. One powerful way to weave stories for listeners is through audio interviews. The podcasts and audio that I have produced for JustPublics@365 have mostly consisted of these. I think interviews are most effective when combined with “on the ground” audio, but they can also be powerful in and of themselves.

When JustPublics@365 interviewed people affected by the East Harlem Building Collapse the interviews were edited to have the same intro and outro for every interview in addition to the same music from the JustPublics@365 Series.

For example:

This method of interviewing consisted of asking the interviewee a series of questions to get them primed for the interview and then recording their uninterrupted story from start to finish. When editing these interviews, I inserted myself only in the beginning and end in order to give context to the story.

When creating the JustPublics@365 Podcast Series, I took a different approach and included my questions in the produced audio. This interview style podcast involved in-depth research and thought out questions, which I shared with the interviewee before the interview. These podcasts are structured in a way that allows for replicability and their format is designed for a structured ongoing series.

For example:

The most important thing is consistency. However you decide to structure your podcast, you should be consistent and stick to your strategy!

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Heidi Knoblauch (@heidiknoblauch) is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History of Medicine at Yale University and JustPublics@365’s podcast producer.