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Wednesday, July 13 • 10:45 - 12:15
Panel 4D: Social Media and Social Futures

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Location: PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 326, 
Goldsmiths, University of London, Building 2
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  • Rebecca Coleman, Goldsmiths, @rcecoleman
  • Karen Gregory, Edinburgh University, @claudiakincaid
  • William Housley, Cardiff University, @ProfWilHousley
  • Helena Webb, University of Oxford, @EthicsWildfire

: Social media is conventionally located within a commercial narrative that theorises an array of emerging ‘disruptive technologies’ that includes big data, additive manufacture and robotics. These and related technologies are underpinned by computational developments that are networked, distributed, digital and data driven. It has been argued that these technologies not only disrupt markets; but also wider social and economic relations and organization. These include social institutions such as the family, work, health care delivery, education, relationships and the ‘self’. Social media is one of the first waves of digital disruptive technologies whose mass global take-up via multiple platforms is still being assessed and understood, as a social force in it’s own right. Standardly, ‘social media as data’ has provided a plethora of studies and projects that have examined the big and broad social data opportunities provided by the social media for understanding populations on the move ‘in real time’. In some cases this has led certain commentators to enthusiastically claim that the analysis of social media as data offers opportunities for prediction and the forecasting of behavior at the population level although this rhetoric is not without it’s skeptics and critics. Furthermore, these methodological opportunities and oracular imaginaries are being accompanied by an ‘ontological velocity’ generated by the social and economic implications of social media as data, practice and a globalizing networked communicative force that is shaping being and becoming in the digital age. A key issue here is the relationship between social media, society, time and the ‘future making’ capacities and affordances of these and allied technologies.

Yet little work has been carried out on the temporal ramifications of social media (and other disruptive technologies) in relation to emerging digital timescapes. To this extent the study of the relationship between social media and society remains under conceptualized especially in relation to our understanding of late modernity at the beginning of the 21st century. The relationship between social media and the social generation of risk, it’s contributions to new digital timescapes and the trajectory of the self and identity alongside empirical concerns is sociological work in waiting. In addition to this social media as a mass networked ‘digital agora’ can also be understood as a reflexive space in and through which different agents and actors are imagining the future in a variety of ways.

Significance: This panel would address a number of the themes concerning social media impact on society e.g. private self/public self, the sharing/attention economy, virtality & memes, political mobilization and engagement. It would do so in a synthetic way, building upon discussion of a number of substantive topics in order to frame an important broader discussion about the relationship between social media and social futures. 
Why a Panel? The panel format allows our broad topic to be approached through a number of individual contributions, leading to a broader conversation through engagement between the speakers and engagement with the audience. Each speaker will give a short provocative talk and there will be an opportunity for questions from the audience. At the end of these talks, the speakers will be invited to briefly respond to each other before we open up for a general discussion with the audience. 

Logistics: Mark Carrigan (@mark_carrigan, University of Warwick) will chair the session, introducing each speaker and facilitating discussion. Each speaker will give a brief talk. 

Interactivity: As well as the aforementioned opportunity for discussion within the session, allowing time for the Q&A with each individual speaker but also to participate in synthesising the session contents as a whole, we intend that the contents of the session will be the basis for an extended conversation leading beyond the conference itself. These panel will provide the basis for a special issue of the online magazine Discover Society, building on a similar initiative (the politics of data) organised by Mark Carrigan in the same publication. Each speaker will submit an article to Discover Society and audience members will be invited to submit to the special issue, as well as to the contents of a  general call for articles that will be circulated within a month of the event. 

Conclusions: Participants in the session will have a clearer understanding of the relationship between social media and social futures. They will have been invited to contributing to fleshing out this relation, both through participation in the session itself and in the ensuing special issue of Discover Society. In doing so, we intend that the session starts a broad conversation in which we might ‘join the dots’ of discrete areas of transformation in order to better understand how social media is both shaped by and is shaping social futures. 

Brief Biography of Each Presenter
  • Rebecca Coleman is senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths. Her research interests include images and visual/sensory culture; bodies and materiality; surfaces; temporality and the future; affect; inventive methodologies; feminist, cultural and social theory  
  • Karen Gregory is a lecturer in digital sociology at the University of Edinburgh, and co-editor of the forthcoming Digital Sociologies. Her research focuses on the experience of working online and the embodied nature of digital labor. She is currently at work on a project that explores the possibilities for solidarity in a digital economy.
  • William Housley, is a sociologist, based at the Cardiff University School of Social Sciences, who works across a number of research areas that include language and interaction, social media, the social aspects of disruptive technologies and the emerging contours of digital society, economy and culture. Professor Housley was a co-founder of COSMOS and is currently working on a number of ESRC funded projects that relate to digital society and research; he co-convenes the Digital Sociology Research Group at Cardiff University, is co-editor of Qualitative Research (SAGE) and serves on the editorial board of Big Data and Society (SAGE).
  • Helena Webb is a sociologist based in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Oxford. She is a member of the ongoing Digital Wildfire research project, which investigates the spread of provocative content on social media and opportunities for the responsible governance of digital social spaces.

Wednesday July 13, 2016 10:45 - 12:15 UTC
PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 326 Goldsmiths University, Building 2