Live tweeting: Why and how: A reflection on #Britsoc14

digital sociology, Education, higher education, public sociology

This years British Sociology Association conference must be my tenth foray into live tweeting from a conference or event and over time I have developed how and what I tweet. I think some of this has come from reflecting on of why I am live tweeting in the first place and this blog will explore some of the benefits of live tweeting as a central part of attending a conference as I see them through my emerging practice.

Distilling ideas

In the same way that twitter has helped me hone my ideas through concise writing, so has tweeting key ideas from a session helped hone my thinking on these ideas. In order to process a 20 minute paper which is often densely packed with material into key ideas, concerns or questions of interest, you develop a skill in trying to not only identify what is important about the paper but which ideas might resonate with a wider audience or prove useful to engage with further.

Engaging in the debate

As a beginning researcher, I think twitter provides an excellent ay to engage with, debate and question ideas in a relatively safe environment. Many people forget how nerve wracking it can be to ask a question or challenge a concept in a paper during a question session. Doing so via twitter can often provide a space to do this more confidently. It also provides a space to develop ideas from a paper in discussion with others both within the session and far beyond it.

 Sharing ideas beyond the audience

Over the past few years, especially working within education, I have become mindful of how difficult it is for those practitioners and doctoral researchers who hold juggle other employment and academia to attend conferences, especially in their field of education when they often clash with scheduled teaching. From my own experience, having live tweets from events has been invaluable in order to get a feel for what is going on during a session I myself would have liked to attend.

Allowing other conference attendees to get key messages from other streams

This inability to attend every paper that is of interest also extends to other conference attendees. Certainly this was my experience of this years BSA conference and there were times where I chose to go to a different session knowing that there would be enough live tweeting going on in another that I would not be completely missing out. This is not unproblematic as it sometimes leads to regret for not choosing a different stream but it does to some extent compensate for some of the difficult choices that need to be made between parallel sessions.

Forming networks of practice

The reciprocity and sharing of ideas from one session to another and from one conference to another leads to building of networks of practice. By reading what others are sharing on a conference hashtag it is possible to find and connect with other academics that are interested in similar topics as you and thus allow the development of networks. It is by doing this I managed to gain so much more from this, my third BSA conference than I ever was able to from my first conference three years ago.


I am sure there are more elements to it and there is probably some merit in exploring these in more depth which I hope to do in future but I felt it was important to document where my thinking is at now on the purpose of live tweeting and the digital back channels behind conferences in building networks and sharing knowledge and ideas.

The professional doctorate model and similarities to a public sociology


Think of this more as a provocation, than a definitive thesis. I am currently reading the March 2014 Current Sociology which focuses on issues of public engagement in Sociology. Within this Rodriguez-Garavito (2014) talks about four strengths of public sociology:

1. ‘Rapid Change of roles and identities allows one to see the same social reality from different angles’


2. ‘The design, the questions and the results of the research project are directly informed by interactions with actors from the reality under study’


3. ‘the public sociologist tends to have immediate and continued access to the places and actors of her studies’


4. ‘public scientists tend to continue the dialogue with the people and collectivities for whom these practices are not a laboratory but their lives’ (p.159)

It struck me just how similar these strengths are to conducting a professional doctorate within a context where the researcher is part of the professional context under research. Many of the concerns of the distance between academic research and practice are negated through the nature of the professional doctorate model. 

In this case, the publics who are affected by the research are the professional communities within which the doctoral candidate works and thus, by its nature, the research should directly inform and influence those publics in the same way a public sociology would. Even if we consider Ethnography as being part of a community under research, there is always the need for withdrawal from the field eventually and distancing from the community under study. With a doctorate which centres around professional practice, it seems there is never that point of complete withdrawal and thus it mirrors much more closely a model of a public sociology and those strengths outlined above.

These were just initial ideas that struck me so i’d be interested to continue this dialog.


RODRÍGUEZ-GARAVITO, C. 2014. Amphibious sociology: Dilemmas and possibilities of public sociology in a multimedia world. Current Sociology, 62, 156-167.