Introducing May’s Theme: Digital Social Life

Above illustration: ‘Digital Social Life’ by Rocio Egio (2021)

Paul Jones and Priya Sharma

So many normalised practices take place in online spaces, and sociological thinking has an important role to play in sharpening theoretical and empirical inquiries into these associations and disassociations. Sociological exploration of the theoretical and empirical manifestations of online forms of social life have also maximised the benefits of digital data collection and analysis, which often are generated by the very same technologies and platforms that are sites of these social formations.

As with every month, throughout May we bring you a series of open access/free to view materials to our digital platforms. May’s theme is Digital Social Life, and we are extremely pleased to be able to have a range of excellent contributions for you this month, which showcase a wide range of sociological analyses.     

Francesca Sobande, author of The Digital Lives of Black Women in Britain, skilfully balances discussion of the digital potentials for ‘meaningful connections and conversations, the formation of transnational solidarity, as well as joyous forms of play and ephemeral feelings of peace’ with the sets of marginalisations and exclusions in evidence – and even sometimes intensified – by online spaces. Also moving being reductive either-or accounts, Christian Harrison explores disabled transgender engagements with digital social life. He critiques those evaluative positions that flatten out differences, illuminating the complexities of digital social life for many, where it is a ‘juxtapositional place where one can be concurrently isolated and connected, validated and undermined’.

Also advocating for analytic approaches that capture social specificities and assemblages, Zoetanya Sujon returns to classical sociological themes of association and interaction to make sense of our entanglements online.  Against the backdrop of similarly critically informed analyses, Catriona Gray argues for the importance of ‘[t]hinking of data on their own terms, we see they are in many ways unlike other objects of dispossession’, in the process guarding against over-easy, reductive generalisations. Tackling the issue of data dispossession, expropriation and capitalisation, Gray brings a critical-theoretical lens to bear on these important questions, increasingly characteristic of online interactions. 

In a thought-provoking piece, Antonio Montañes Jimenez explores some of the ways in which Pentecostal Christians draw on online spaces to imagine themselves as part of a global faith community. Also exploring the ways in which online practice can help add momentum to collectives and practices of belonging, Lito Tsitsou and Lucy Weir’s blog questions ‘[h]ow do we document and analyse the structural and practical aspects of a shaken dancing field?’. Analysing the entanglements between the bodily and the virtual, Tsitsou and Weir provide much food-for-thought with respect to online pedagogies, and the blurrings of digital and non-digital forms of social life.

In their discussions of historic, contemporary, and planned NASA spaceflight missions Phillip Brooker, Paola Castaño, and Effie Le Moignan interrogate a set of events that involve communication with Earth. Not only does this blog bring to bear sociological analysis with a fascinating series of experiments in space, it also shows the widened field of the imaginative analysis that online data can make possible. Rituparna Patgiri shows us the ways that digital social life can affect ostensibly detached elements of our lives together. Showing how social media and visualisations have an affinity with the way food is prepared and consumed, and drawing from a fascinating piece of empirical research on the topic, Patgiri explores a contemporary affect of online platforms that is entwined with practices elsewhere in the world.

Situating online space vis-à-vis the politics of a nation-state, in Digital Black Lives: Performing (Dis)Respect and Joy Online, Kui Kihoro illuminates issues emerging from the ‘online discursive space known as #KenyansOnTwitter’. Addressing how partialities and amplifications of narrative online become entangled with questions of truth, Kihoro sets into dialogue the material realities that are part and parcel of digital social life, both in terms of their being represented there and such having consequences for life offline.

In a distinctively sociological entry point, Lyndsey Kramer moves away from the universal and the abstract, asking how digital affordances are understood and enacted by one particular community. In analysis of migrant communities. Kramer reveals how unevenness of access to the resources associated with digital social life have significant implications for the lives of migrants and other mobile communities.

Our illustrator this month is Rocio Egio, who has developed some witty and thought-provoking graphics to accompany the theme. Over on Instagram, Keiken is our Image Maker in Residence this month, which means we can look forward to a range of visual reflections on digital social life over on our Instagram account (@TheSociologicalReview).

We’d like to extend our sincere thanks to all of these authors for sharing their wonderful ideas with us, and you. Follow all of this enriching, illuminating sociological context on Twitter via our little hashtag for this month: #DigitalSocTSR.

– Paul Jones and Priya Sharma (TSR Digital)

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