Knowing Capitalism and Lively Data

Knowing Capitalism and Lively Data

Nigel Thrift (2005) developed the concept of ‘knowing capitalism’ to denote a new form of global economy which depends not only on technologies which generate large amounts of digital data, but also on the commodification of that data: a big data economy in which power operates through modes of communication, and

Digital data have become especially valuable as forms of knowledge, especially when they are aggregated into big data sets, and are seen as having huge potential to offer new insights into a range of human behaviours, and to disrupt various industries: from health care to education.

One key change in the age of ‘knowing capitalism’ is that there has been a shift from commodifying workers’ physical labour to profiting from information collected on people’s preferences – which online users willingly give when they create and upload digital content online, download and use geolocation apps, shop online, and like various content.

In this digital age, prosumption is the new norm – people simultaneously consuming and generating online content and In commercial circles, the user of online technologies is ‘the product’, because the information they give off when online is so valuable.

This is why so many applications, such as Facebook, are free to use – because they are really just platforms to harvest valuable data (why charge?)… and the Four big tech companies excercise huge power by virtue of the sheer amount of big data they have already, and continue to collect on their users.

Central to portrayals of the digital data economy is the idea that digital data are lively, mutable, and hybrid. Metaphors of liquidity are very commonly used:

  • Flows
  • Streams
  • Rivers
  • Floods
  • Tsunamis

In the digital data economy flows of information are generated and engage in non-linear movement, and according to THrift (2014) new hybrid beings emerge with the mixture of data, objects and bodies….and bodies and identities are fragmented and reassembled through a process of reconfiguration.

Furthermore, digital data and the algorithmic analytics used to interpret them are beginning to have determining effects on people’s lives, influencing their life chances and opportunities.

There is a mobile dimension to how we interact with data too.

Data can become stuck, for example when a company hoards it, or when people do not know how to use it!

Data materialisations constitute an important dimension of knowing capitalism – data is lively, in flux, but it needs to be frozen to be used – in 2D (infographics) or 3D… through printers.

Where 2D data visualisations are concerned, a lot of emphasis is placed on their aesthetic quality, and how the meaning of the data is structured.. And behind this process lies decisions about what to include and what to exclude, and limitations on what can be shown due to software used…. This there are many contingencies framing the way we understand big data in knowing capitalism!

Sources

Summarised from:

Lupton, Deborah (2017) The Quantified Self, Polity

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Russell Brand’s Wedding Present for Harry and Meghan

A Windsor counsellor recently suggested that the homeless of Windsor should be cleared off the streets in time for Harry and Meghan’s wedding.

One person (probably among many others) that’s not happy about this is Russell Brand, who pointed out that yet again it’s the marginalised and powerless who are being made to suffer so that the elite can have a ‘jolly nice time’.

He outlines his views in this brief, 5 minute video clip:

One of this suggestions is that Slough Council should hand over one its buildings to SHOC ‘Slough Homeless Our Concern’, so at least there is some real, tangible, extra support being made available for the homeless in the area.

You can sign an online petition in support of the idea here>

Relevance to A level sociology

I thought this was a cheeky little example to highlight how the marginalised get treated in this country, also illustrates elements of the social construction of crime – in that ‘homelessness’ becomes more of a problem when the context (the impending wedding) approaches.

Also – here we have celebrity Russell Brand, a ‘moral entrepreneur’ spearheading a very specific, niche, social policy campaign (/suggested intervention) via his YouTube channel – there’s something very postmodern about all of this…

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Evaluate the Strengths of Using Social Surveys in Social Research (20)

‘Evaluate the Strengths of Using Social Surveys in Social Research’ (20)

This is an essay plan for a possible essay for the AQA’s A Level Sociology paper 3: Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods. This essay plan uses the TPEN structure which covers the theoretical, practical, ethical and ‘nature of topic’ factors relevant to this research method.

You might like to review this post which introduces social surveys and this post on ‘the advantages and disadvantages of social surveys‘ first. 

20180117_082357

  • Theoretical Factors: Positivists/ Interpretivists – Positivists generally like social surveys because the data from Structured Social Surveys is easy to put into graphs and charts – it is easy to make comparisons, find trends and uncover the ‘laws’ of human action
  • Theoretical: Representativeness/ Sampling – It is generally easy to obtain large samples
  • Theoretical: Reliability – Surveys generally have good reliability because….
  • Theoretical: Validity – Validity should be good for simple topics and it is less likely that the researcher’s opinions will affect the research process as with more qualitative methods
  • Practical Factors: Social surveys are one of the cheapest methods for collecting data from a wide, geographically dispersed sample of the target population; they are generally one of the quickest ways of collecting data
  • Ethical Factors: There are few ethical issues with this method compared to more qualitative methods.
  • Nature of Topic: Social surveys are best used for simple, straightforward topics.
  • Conclusion: Social Surveys are good for gaining an ‘overview’ of social trends
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Sociological Perspectives on Veganuary

Launched in the United Kingdom in January 2014, Veganuary is a global campaign that encourages people to try eating a vegan diet for the month of January.

Veganuary is dedicated to changing public attitudes, while providing all the information and practical support required to make the transition to veganism as easy and enjoyable as possible.

It is a growing movement, with over 50 000 people committed for January 2018 (1) compared to just over 20 000 in 2016 (2). The report of the impact of 2016 Veganuary (see 1 below) argues that the month long campaign has a positive impact on helping people maintain their veganism and helping some transition from vegetarianism. meat-eating to full-blown veganism.

Comments/ sociological relevance

My optimistic, and vegan-sympathetic self wants to ask ‘Are we seeing an ‘anticipation of the morality of the future’? (following Durkheim’s stance on deviance and social change) – might veganism be the new norm in 50 years?

Or, following postmodernism,  is this just a case which illustrates a new forms of ‘incredibly weak solidarity’ orchestrated through social media. Is this is just yet another faddish lifestyle culture?

From a research methods perspective, you might also want to have a look at that report on the ‘impacts’ of Veganuary… the survey asked people about their diets in the first week of February, in order to measure the impact of going vegan in the previous months… hmmm, can anyone see any problems there???? As always, answers welcome in the comments below!

 

Sources

(1) Veganuary 2016: Participant Research and Impact

(2) The Week, 6 January 2018

 

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On teaching to a question – but what question to ask?

For teachers, ‘teaching to a question’ is often the most efficient way of organizing a lesson, and it’s something I found especially useful when I first began my teaching career, 146 years ago.

In this post all I’m doing is re-visiting this basic strategy in preparation for teaching the next block of theories of crime and deviance, and simply asking myself what are the best ‘starting point’ questions to get students thinking along the line of Marxists, Interactionists and Realists….

Any of these questions can be used as useful starters… as kind of ‘what do you already know’ starter if you like. You could always add in a brief data response task to each block of questions to bring them to life a bit more.

Marxist theories of crime – four basic questions

  • Does Capitalism cause crime?
  • Do the police disproportionately target the working classes?
  • Are elites more likely to escape prosecution by the courts than the working classes?
  • Do Corporations cause more harm to people, society and the planet than ‘actual’ criminals?

Interactionist theories of crime – four basic questions 

  • Do teachers/ the police label students/ people based on their class, gender and ethnicity?
  • Does this create a self-fulfilling prophecy?
  • Are teachers/ the police to blame for the deviance of their students/ the crimes of criminals?

Right Realist theories of crime – to tap into rational choice theory…..

  • Really simple..brainstorm anything the government might do to reduce crime in society (prize for the most solutions)
  • Any series of questions relating to ‘Rational Choice Theory’ (future post on this) – e.g. here’s a scenario, such as it being late at night, no guards, no ticket barrier, would you bunk the train…
  • All things being equal, do you think harsher punishments generally reduce crime?
  • All things being equal do you think more police on the streets is an effective way to reduce crime?

NB – the questions above aren’t supposed to be exhaustive, just the simpler ones to kick start the topics.

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The legalisation of Pot in California

California has become (in January 2018) the 6th state in America to legalize the sale of marijuana for recreational use, following a 2016 referendum of Californian residents.

legalisation pot

This has clearly been a popular change in the law for some: In Berkeley, queues of people snaked around the block from 6 a.m. (odd time to be buying weed?) to late into the evening as one the first dispensaries to open struggled to cope with demand, suggesting that there are eventually going to be many licensed venues selling legal weed.

However, there are those that are opposed to the legalization of marijuana movement, the most powerful being the entire Trump administration, who are looking for ways to derail those 6 states which have legalized the drug.

Comments/m relevance to A level Sociology

This whole issue is a great example of how ‘crime is socially constructed‘ – you can quite literally hope over from California into the state of Arizona while smoking a joint and tada: you’re a criminal!

From a Functionalist point of view, it might be worth thinking about whether this is happening as a sort of ‘safety valve’ mechanism – there’s so much strain in America, and so many people already using drugs to cope with it, we may as well legalize it because it’s easier for the system to cope with it, and focus more on the ‘real criminals’.

 

 

 

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Sociomaterial Perspectives on the self in digital networks

Sociomaterial perspectives hold that datafication via digital devices (both personal and public) are fundamentally  intertwined with the way we construct our identities and ‘practice selfhood’, so much so that it is more accurate to say that today we ‘live in media’ rather than ‘we live with media’.

The most obvious manifestation of the intertwining of digital technologies, datafication and selfhood is our extensive use of mobile phones, tablets and laptops: not only do we rely on these devices for information, we also use them (sometimes consciously, sometimes not) to continually upload information about ourselves to the net.

And even if we choose to reduce our use of such technologies, or live without them altogether, our sense of self will still be partially governed by digital technology because so much of public life and public space is informed by its use.

Sociomaterial perspectives on human action are strongly influenced by actor-network theory and take our extensive use of digital technologies into account by focussing on the way that humans interact with non-human material objects such as computers in heterogeneous and diverse networks.

This approach sees objects as agents within a network, able to exert influence on humans, and it is interested in how things and meanings interrelated. It also takes account of how factors such as class, gender and ethnicity influence the context of a relational network.

Sociomaterial perspectives also recognize that there is a complex ‘web’ of interaction which lies beyond (or behind) technologically mediated networks: programmers, marketers etc, and (importantly I think) that the technologies and software which governs action within a network are themselves the product of human interactions (and thus values).

This perspective offers a useful response to post-structuralism which focuses purely on discourses and meanings, which are largely seen as floating free from the material context of action.

More specifically the sociomaterial perspective on understanding selfhood in a digital age focuses on:

  • How people experience technologies
  • How technologies are incorporated into people’s senses of self, and how they extend their sense of self
  • How social relations are configured through such networks incorporating networks.

Assemblages

The concept of assemblage is often used in the sociomaterialism literature. An assemblage is configured when humans, nonhumans, practices, ideas and discourses come together in a complex system. With digital systems, an assemblage will consist of the following:

  • Computer software and hardware
  • Developers
  • Manufacturers and retailers
  • Software coders
  • algorithms
  • Computer servers and archives
  • The computing cloud
  • Platforms and social media

According to sociomaterial perspective, individuals are ‘entangled’ in such assemblages – and understanding these entanglements is a complex business, precisely because these assemblages are complex – there are lot of human, and non-human actors involved.

Within these assemblages, humans can iimbue objects (such as their phones) with biological meaning, and understanding these meanings is key to understanding human action, but humans are also changed by all of the above ‘objects’ (along with the other actual humans) which make up the assemblage in which an individual acts.

Turkle (2007) for example calls mobile devices ‘evocative objects’ because they are basically repositories of ourselves – we have so much information stored on them!

Kitchen and Dodge (2011) use the term code/space to denote the ways in which software and devices such as mobile phones and sensors are configuring concepts of space and identity – our devices may even govern our access to certain spaces (think etickets), and because our behaviour can be tracked through them, we can also be nudged, or disciplined into certain ways of acting via our technologies.

Sources and Notes

This is my summary of part one of chapter two of my current January 2018 read: 

Lupton, Deborah (2017) The Quantified Self, Polity

This kind of theory should hit A-level sociology about 2035, about 2 years before the cyborgs take over once and for all. 

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On that Lewis Hamilton ‘Gender Shaming Video’

You may remember Lewis Hamilton posting a 12 second video of himself teasing his nephew about ‘wearing a princess dress’ at Christmas, basically telling him that ‘boys don’t wear princess dresses’.

And he got a lot of stick about ‘gender shaming his nephew from the liberal and trans community, so much in fact that he and later posted a video apologizing for his actions (probably on advice for his agent).

Lewis’ actions do seem somewhat out of touch with the times….. in our postmodern age of ‘gender diversity and fluidity’ the Scottish government has just published guidelines recommending that primary-school children should be allowed to identify as either gender without parental consent, while the Church of England has issued new guidance saying that children should be free to wear tiaras or fireman’s helmets,  whatever they want, with out prejudice.

There is a rational argument for allowing children the freedom of gender expression… Ruth Hunt, CEO of Stonewall, argues that society has nothing to fear from becoming more open-minded towards people who question their gender identity.  She argues that you can’t ‘turn’ children trans just by allowing boys to dress up as girls and girls to dress up a boys, because ‘trans’ is innate.

She further argues that the reason we’re seeing more trans people today, the reason they are more visible is because society is at last allowing them the freedom to express who they really believe themselves to be. From this perspective, I guess what Lewis Hamilton was doing was restricting the right of his child to ‘be who he really was’.

So it’s only a 12 second video clip, but the reaction to it tells us so much about the society in which we live – changing norms and values surrounding gender and the (terrifying?) way in which public discourse can penetrate into our private lives, if we choose to post videos of ourselves on Twitter that is!

 

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Japan’s Declining and Ageing Population

Last year Japan’s population declined by 300, 000, to 126 million, and and its population is predicted to decline to 87 million by 2040.

Japan also has an ‘ageing population’ – it is already one of the world’s oldest nations, which a median age of 46, and its predicted that by 2040 there will be three senior citizens for every child under 15, the opposite of the situation in 1975.

ageing population sociology

ageing population Japan

This is an interesting case study relevant to the ‘ageing population‘ topic within A-level sociology’s families and household’s option (AQA 7192/2).

Why is this happening?

Excluding Monaco, Japan has the highest life expectancy of any country in the world – 83.7, and a very low fertility rate of 1.45. However, these figures are not too dissimilar from some European countries, so what really explains Japan’s declining population is it low immigration rate – only 1.8% of Japanese are foreign, compared to 8.6% in the UK for example!

What will the consequences be:

Nicholas Eberstadt argues that we already seeing some of the consequences:

  • Labour shortages, especially in care work, hospitality, construction and agriculture.
  • 400 school closures a year.
  • The emergence of ‘ghost towns’ as the population decreases
  • Increased burden on elderly welfare – by 2060 36% of its population will be 65 or older.

Eberstadt suggests that Japan’s future has only been imagined in Science Fiction (perhaps Kim Stanley Robinson can offer some help?).

Why is the Fertility Rate so Low?

It’s basically a combination of two factors:

  • Economic problems – 50% of the population are in precarious jobs, and economic insecurity is a key reason for not having children. Also, if couples were in a position to have children childcare is too expensive for both partners to remain in work, so this may scupper the desires of even those in permanent jobs!
  • Traditional gender values remain intact – Japan is the 114th most gender unequal country in the world – traditional and patriarchal values remain in-tact – women don’t want children out of wedlock or with men with no economic prospects – which is about half of all men in Japan!

Why is Migration so Low?

Japan is geographically remote and culturally homogeneous. Japan has long discouraged immigration – they see it as a threat to Japans’s culture and low crime rate – in fact they point to migration across Europe as an example of its negative impacts.

How is the government going to tackle the crisis?

There are a range of measures…

  • Government sponsored ‘speed dating’ services.
  • By providing longer maternity leave and childcare
  • To offset the shrinking labour force through a ‘robot revolution’.

Is there an Upside?

Well, there’s more land per head, and because Japan is the first to transition into what will likely become a global trend, it’s an opportunity for it to become a world leader in technologies that can assist an ageing population.

Sources:

Adapted from The Week 2nd December 2017.

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A Sociological Analysis of Cruise Ships

Venice is a city of 55.000 inhabitants, which is swamped on some days by more than 40, 000 cruise ship passengers, and many of the residents aren’t impressed at their transient visitors, as many of these ships dwarf the architectural marvels of the ancient city, and spew toxic fumes in their wake.

And Venice is far from the only place affected in this way – the Orkney Islands play host to over a quarter of a million visitors a year, with a population of just over 25 000.

The Cruise ship industry has grown rapidly since the 1960s as prices have come down – Americans and the Chinese are the most avid cruisers, but 2 million Brits are also predicted to go cruising in 2018.

The largest ship is Harmony of the Seas – it is a quarter of a mile long, weighs 227,000 tonnes and carries up to 6780 guests with a crew of 21, 000, and there are scores of ships sailing the oceans which have a capacity of over 3000 passengers.

What can we make of cruise ships sociologically?

As with many current trends Zygmunt Bauman seems to be the best sociologist to go to in order to make sense of their growing popularity:

Bauman argues that what distinguishes social class today is relative mobility – the global super rich have jets and suites in many parts of the world and can afford to be instantly globally mobile. At the other end of the scale are the global poor – who are ‘doomed to be local’ in Bauman’s words, and are effectively stuck in the barrios with no way out.

So where do cruise ships fit in? Basically I see them as somewhere in the middle of this – they allow the relatively well-off in the West as well as in developing countries like China to get a taste of this mobility, so maybe, just maybe, it’s not so much that cruises are a ‘good holiday’* but they allow us to tap into that unconscious desire to join the ultra-rich super-mobile global elite?

*Given that the objective truth about cruises is that, technically speaking, they’re just a bit shit, why people ‘choose’ to go on them needs some deeper level of explanation. 

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