Ok, I’ll admit, the title to this post is plagiarised from part of a talk by Les Back on ‘What is Digital Sociology?’ at the recent BSA Digital Sociology event of the same name. I am, however, pulling it into a wider context because I think it is also the answer to what is Visual Sociology? And what is public sociology? My three main areas of exploration at the moment.
At the recent IVSA conference, Michael Guggenheim stated that he felt the goal of Visual Sociology should be to eradicate the discipline and personally, I think this should be the goal of all three of these areas as in each case I think that they are all central to the discipline. I will address the visual and the digital first and then turn to the issue of Public Sociology.
Both Visual Sociology and Digital Sociology are seen as relatively young disciplines within the field of Sociology, moving the boundaries of traditional interview, survey or ethnographic based approaches and introducing new way of representation and analysis to the field. As such, it is right that they are considered as disciplines to enable academics with interest in innovate developments within new ways of imagining and understanding the social. What these disciplines should not become, however, is silos which are viewed as the only legitimate place for the visual or the digital respectively. As Noortje Marres eluded to in her talk, in the modern world the digital is the social. In a world of social networks are social worlds are intrinsically linked with our digital lives. I would also argue that it is the same for the visual, in a world of camera phones, digital photography and visual culture that pervades every moment of our lives, the visual is also a central element to the social. From this perspective, to truly understand any social issue, attention needs to be paid to the visual and the digital.
How Public Sociology fits into this discussion may at first seem questionable but I would argue they are all linked in many ways. Firstly because I feel that all Sociology should be accessible to much wider publics than it currently is but more than that, I think using digital and visual methods is one way to capture the sociological imaginations of those publics. As academics, we are used to reading large volumes of text but this is something that would not be considered by the publics that we are trying to reach. The visual, through moving and still images and the digital are ways in which research can be presented in a form that seems less onerous to access and therefore may engage wider publics. If all research engaged those publics, then wouldn’t the answer to ‘What is Sociology?’ Also be ‘it’s Sociology, stupid?’
I owe much of the argument in this post to the provocation by Michael Guggenheim at the IVSA conference at Goldsmiths on 9th July 2013 and to Les Back for his paper on Real-time research at the BSA ‘What is Digital Sociology?’ Event on 16th July 2013.