Archive for the ‘My Learning Journey’ Category

Bourdieu explains online memes

July 14th, 2014 by Cristina Costa

Julien, C. (2014). Bourdieu, Social Capital and Online Interaction. Sociology, 1–18.

Abstract
While there has been much discussion in recent decades on the nature of social capital and its importance in online interactions, it is my contention that these discussions have been dominated by the American Communitarian tradition. In this article, I begin with an overview of American Communitarianism to identify the key elements therein that are found in contemporary theories of social capital. Following this, I expose some of the weaknesses of this tradition and apply Bourdieu’s distinctive theoretical framework to online interactions to demonstrate the fecundity of Bourdieu’s sociological perspective when applied to contemporary online interactions. To do this, I examine interactions online that involve ‘internet memes’, as digital inhabitants themselves colloquially define them. It is my contention that an agonistic model, rather than a communitarian one, best describes the online interactions of digital inhabitants.

It is interesting, and in a way inevitable, that Bourdieu’s sociology is increasingly being adopted to theorise online interaction. The paper mentioned above attempts to do just that by researching online memes. But in my opinion, it succeeds more in arguing why Bourdieu’s tool kit is useful in this context, than it does it proving an explanation of memes as a new online phenomenon. And so I found this paper useful because it tries to demystify online networks as an idealised space of democracy and interrelations ‘devoid of colonial intent or capability” (Coleman, 1999 as cited in Julien, 2014) as defended by the American Communitarians, as the author calls them.

For many years now, the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) world, in particular, has been guilty of such assumptions and that has created a lot of glowing reviews of the web, thus lacking more critical perspectives, as Professor Neil Selwyn pointed out at the Networked Learning Conference, but for which he did not seem to provide alternatives. Well, Bourdieu does provide a relevant research kit to understand social phenomena – even online -  that can be also further enhanced.

Julien also makes a very valid point about the fact that

Participation and exclusion in online interactions do not particularly refer merely to access or inaccess of IT, but rather to the ability or inability to act in particular ways online; in other words, to be able to differentiate and achieve distinction within online culture.

This is an important differentiation and an element of (voluntary/involuntary) digital exclusion that is worthy of note, because as he goes on to state ‘individuals online inculcate a unique habitus” (p.7).

Although I very much agree with this discussion of the literature, I was a bit lost about how it related to the use of online memes, first because the context of the empirical research on which the paper focuses is missing, and second because the paper ends up summarising the Internet (not the web!) as a field that can produce a ‘digitally oriented habitus” (p.13) instead of examining and acknowledging what role social capital plays in producing such changes, or distinctions in the first place. Yet, it supports a growing practice of looking at online phenomena from a critical lens.

The post Bourdieu explains online memes appeared first on Social Theory Applied.

The world cup and academia: what do they have in common and what sets them apart?

July 4th, 2014 by Cristina Costa

WorlWorld Cup 2014 Ball, aka Brazuca. (CC)

I have written before about what in my opinion football and academic research seem to have in common: the constant struggle to achieve symbolic capital.  Football as a field of struggles is also a perfect metaphor to illustrate the Bourdieuian tool kit of investigation; one that Bourdieu himself used to exemplify his thinking.

In the last couple of weeks I have been following the worldcup and this has led me to consider some of the most pronounced aspects of this championship, sociologically speaking, that is.  Amongst them are the perceptions of identity, distinction, and power.

Football moves crowds. The passion for it, depicted mutually through accentuated enthusiasm and a certain sense of fury leaves very few indifferent to it. Even those less interested in the game, come out of their ‘shell’ to celebrate their country, or the country they choose to support for whichever justified reason when their (my!) ‘nation’ is out of the competition. And then there are also the teams one would *never* support, because…  (insert here your personal reason).

This interplay between a strong sense of identity and distinction is fascinating, to say the least. And so is the power dynamics displayed through these games. In terms of the worldcup these do not necessarily translate in the common forms of power that currently govern the world. Here power is (naively) more skill and luck at the game than it is economic capital. We could also throw the concept of ‘tradition’ in the mix. Look at the American team as an example. In comparison to south and central America, some may think they leave a lot to be desired …in football terms. This is however different in the context of the premier league or related championships, because there the economic power speaks louder (buys the best players), whereas the national teams “have” to make due with their ‘home grown players’. [Obviously this is a very simplistic, and possibly naive perspective, but this is often the first layer of interpretation by enthusiastic supporters].

Now, how does this relate to academia? In a way it does, and in another it does not. In the UK, in the period immediately before REF, the ‘transfer window’ was wide open and we saw many of the best players (academics) moving from one team to another (from one university to another) because of their playing skills and assets (research klout that is then translated into the prestige they will provide back to the institution). Although we emulate well this practice, we are less successful in drawing the crowds to support, and make use of our work. And so the question is, how do we adjust our academic playing strategies to make the game more exciting for our potential audiences?

The post The world cup and academia: what do they have in common and what sets them apart? appeared first on Social Theory Applied.

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