The Visual Du Jour – Model and Reality

If you haven’t done so yet, you MUST read this article by Antonio Casilli and Paola Tubaro where they propose very interesting elements for a sociology of collective behavior in general, and riots in particular, with an eye on the use of social media.

What struck me was this:

This is a simulated model of collective behavior. The dots are agents. The red dots are the agents who have grievance and are about ready for some collective action. Whether or not they do so is based on the proximity of other aggrieved agents (other red dots) and the absence of agents of social control (blue triangle, cops). The greater the proximity of other aggrieved agents and the lower the proximity of agents of social control, the more likely collective behavior is to emerge.

That’s the model. The reality? Look at this map of London by James Cridland that correlates areas of social deprivation and riot points:

The red areas (see? everybody uses red to indicate social disorder, anomie and panic!) are the more socially deprived areas (as opposed to the green ones).

This seems to validate Casilli and Tubaro’s model. But thing could work in different ways: agents may be deterred from acting if there is strong social control proximity. But it may also be that agents of social control may decide to withdraw and contain collective behavior in the socially-deprived areas (that is, as long as the “nice” neighborhoods are unaffected, the other areas can burn, in the US, such a punitive strategy used to be called
depolicing”). If the riots had spilled out of the red areas, social control response might have been stronger.

And this points to the larger question of state legitimacy. What if the blue triangles are considered illegitimate agents of social control or one that can be ignored or ones that are not fulfilling their social control functions for whatever reason. On this very topic, Ian Welsh goes all Max Weber on us:

“One of the interesting things happening in Britain is the formation of ad-hoc groups for neighbourhood defense. People have noticed that the police can’t defend them, and have decided to defend themselves.

This it is not a good thing for the State, which is why the police are strongly against it. This is potentially the beginning of the breakdown of the monopoly of state violence, and the beginning of the creation of militias. Normally, of course, I’d be aghast at the creation of militias. They lead to nasty sectarian strife, etc… and if they take off, that’s exactly what will happen.

But what they also are is a crack in the social contract between state and citizens, an acknowledgement that the State can’t defend its own ordinary people. And as you walk down this path, citizens start questioning their support for the State, period — whether in taxes, or in obedience to the State’s law.

Normally, again, this is a bad thing. Heck it’s a bad thing here, but just as with the riots it is a natural reaction to the current situation. When the State doesn’t do its job properly, whether that’s running the economy for everyone’s benefit, not just a few; or whether that’s maintaining the basic monopoly of violence (which includes basic social welfare so that the designated losers of the system don’t resort to uncontrollable violence), people start opting out.

States which don’t perform their basic functions become failed states. There are a lot of ways to get there, but one of them is to allow the highest inequality in the developed world to exist in your capital (sound familiar?). Those people lash out, you can’t repress them effectively anymore, others step up to do what should be your job.”

As Ian notes, this should not be interpreted as the civil society stepping up to the plate as we know that there were elements of the extremist EDL involved. And one has to seriously consider the possibility of failing Western states (a deliberate trajectory for the US Tea party folks).

The Revolution Will Not Be Twittered but Mafia Messages Will Be Texted

I have blogged before about my skepticism regarding the potential for social organizing and social activism through web 2.0 media. More than that, it may actually hurt:

“A battle is raging for the soul of activism. It is a struggle between digital activists, who have adopted the logic of the marketplace, and those organisers who vehemently oppose the marketisation of social change. At stake is the possibility of an emancipatory revolution in our lifetimes.

The conflict can be traced back to 1997 when a quirky Berkeley, California-based software company known for its iconic flying toaster screensaver was purchased for $13.8m (£8.8m). The sale financially liberated the founders, a left-leaning husband-and-wife team. He was a computer programmer, she a vice-president of marketing. And a year later they founded an online political organisation known as MoveOn. Novel for its combination of the ideology of marketing with the skills of computer programming, MoveOn is a major centre-leftist pro-Democrat force in the US. It has since been heralded as the model for 21st-century activism.

The trouble is that this model of activism uncritically embraces the ideology of marketing. It accepts that the tactics of advertising and market research used to sell toilet paper can also build social movements. This manifests itself in an inordinate faith in the power of metrics to quantify success. Thus, everything digital activists do is meticulously monitored and analysed. The obsession with tracking clicks turns digital activism into clicktivism.

Clicktivists utilise sophisticated email marketing software that brags of its “extensive tracking” including “opens, clicks, actions, sign-ups, unsubscribes, bounces and referrals, in total and by source”. And clicktivists equate political power with raising these “open-rate” and “click-rate” percentages, which are so dismally low that they are kept secret. The exclusive emphasis on metrics results in a race to the bottom of political engagement.

Gone is faith in the power of ideas, or the poetry of deeds, to enact social change. Instead, subject lines are A/B tested and messages vetted for widest appeal. Most tragically of all, to inflate participation rates, these organisations increasingly ask less and less of their members. The end result is the degradation of activism into a series of petition drives that capitalise on current events. Political engagement becomes a matter of clicking a few links. In promoting the illusion that surfing the web can change the world, clicktivism is to activism as McDonalds is to a slow-cooked meal. It may look like food, but the life-giving nutrients are long gone.

Exchanging the substance of activism for reformist platitudes that do well in market tests, clicktivists damage every genuine political movement they touch. In expanding their tactics into formerly untrammelled political scenes and niche identities, they unfairly compete with legitimate local organisations who represent an authentic voice of their communities. They are the Wal-Mart of activism: leveraging economies of scale, they colonise emergent political identities and silence underfunded radical voices.

Digital activists hide behind gloried stories of viral campaigns and inflated figures of how many millions signed their petition in 24 hours. Masters of branding, their beautiful websites paint a dazzling self-portrait. But, it is largely a marketing deception. While these organisations are staffed by well-meaning individuals who sincerely believe they are doing good, a bit of self-criticism is sorely needed from their leaders.

The truth is that as the novelty of online activism wears off, millions of formerly socially engaged individuals who trusted digital organisations are coming away believing in the impotence of all forms of activism. Even leading Bay Area clicktivist organisations are finding it increasingly difficult to motivate their members to any action whatsoever. The insider truth is that the vast majority, between 80% to 90%, of so-called members rarely even open campaign emails. Clicktivists are to blame for alienating a generation of would-be activists with their ineffectual campaigns that resemble marketing.”

But you know who is tech-savvy? The Mafia:

Mafia clans have used a popular football show on Italian television to send secret messages to jailed godfathers held in isolation, a magistrate has revealed.

Imprisoned crime bosses were kept up to date on mob business through mobile phone texts sent to the show, Quelli Che il Calcio, which unwittingly scrolled them across the bottom of the screen, among innocent messages from supporters of Italian football teams.

Enzo Macri, a magistrate tipped off after a letter advising a jailed boss to watch the show was intercepted, cited one of the texts, “Everything is OK – Paolo,” as being sent by a clan affiliate.

Jailed mobsters have few, carefully supervised contacts with the outside world, thanks to Italy‘s tough prison regime designed to stop them keeping control of their criminal empires.

But as prison authorities clamp downon the passing of messages to the outside world, mafiosi dream up new ways to fool their guards. In 1998 investigators in Palermo discovered that affectionate greetings sent by bosses to family members were coded orders to carry out murders in an ongoing turf war.

Prisoners allowed to meet their families have also been caught stuffing their children’s pockets with messages while hugging them. The Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta mafia went as far as buying a radio station to broadcast songs which had a pre-arranged significance for affiliates.”

Personally, I think that’s what Real Housewives of New Jersey is all about!

Bringing Power and Dominance Back into The Network Society

According to this article in El País (in Spanish), this is is what Manuel Castells does in his latest book Communication Power but it does not mean that he has given up on the emancipatory potential of the Internet:

Read the whole thing.

Although I would argue that power was not as absent of The Information Age as the article makes it sound. Castells made it very clear that the Network Society produces winners and losers (the usual suspects, labor for instance). And the conflict dimension was more thoroughly addressed in the other volumes of the Information Age.

Needless to say, that book is in my to-read ever-growing pile. Castells is in line for my sociologist of the semester category.

Google Buzz and The Surveillance Society

After reviewing the various privacy issues relating to Google Buzz, Christian Fuchs argues that Buzz is only the latest tool used by Google to exercise economic surveillance and that we should worry about such developments for the following reasons:

When thinking about the surveillance society, it is common to assume that the deepest mechanisms of surveillance come from the government in the age of the war on terror. I would argue that there is as much to fear from economic surveillance from corporations. And Fuch’s list above only confirms such problems with corporate economic surveillance beyond obtainment of more and finer data.

Oh, and I could not help note the irony at the bottom of Fuch’s post:

So, Will The Revolution Be Twittered or Facebooked?

We’re back to this topic after the whole Rage Against the Machine defeating some X Factor dude after a Facebook campaign.

Phil BC, the Very Public Sociologist, provides the analysis:

And draws the same conclusion I have drawn several times already:

Or, as the No One is Innocent song goes “révolution.com, comme ça manque de sueur.”

A virtual flash mob does not a social movement makes.

The Pursuit of Attention: Social Networks, Individualization NOT Isolation

When it comes to new technologies of information and communication, one of the common zombie themes that keeps coming back from the dead is that new communication platforms isolate the individual. There is in this debunked argument the underlying assumption that the only authentic form of social interaction, and the deepest one, is the face-to-face encounter. And so, in a way reminiscent of Putnam’s Bowling Alone, another underlying assumption is that increasing online interaction necessarily comes at the expenses of “real” face-to-face interactions. Again, these assumptions have already been debunked by research but the very fact that important surveys keep asking these questions again and again reveals that these assumptions die hard

See this, for instance (via Chad Gesser):

Or this:

Or even this:

Or when it comes to social isolation:

On this point, I would argue that the United States is a very segregated society, by class and race, and a very polarized one politically. Therefore, it is not surprising that people would belong to networks that reinforce such homogeneity.

But also, look at the way the titles are formulated. These are loaded with negative assumptions regarding virtual networking and interaction and there are every time expressions of surprise when the results do not validate these isolation assumptions but rather complementarity assumptions.

What is undeniable though, is that the mixing of always available networks, social networking platforms such as Twitter or Facebook, transform our sense of self, identity and certainly, our presentation of self. Digital interaction can make us visible all the time and this certainly fosters certain type of behavior, something that has become called the Attention Economy, but I think the Attention Society is better phrase since this goes beyond strictly economic behavior and context, to be seen as an adjunct to the liquid, individualized society described by Zygmunt Bauman.

Consider this, regarding Twitter, for instance, in a very Goffmanian analysis:

The question of attention reminded me of Charles Derber‘s The Pursuit of Attention – Power and Ego in Everyday Life. In this book, Derber argues that attention is both a currency used to evaluate one’s social status and a form of power. With social media platforms, I would argue, and specific social media tools, one can actually measure how much attention one receives beyond googling one’s name. One can use tools to measure a blog traffic. It is easy to count how many followers one has on Twitter and how many friends of fans one has on Facebook.

Attention is a form of currency, reminiscent of Doctorow’s Whuffies. The more one gets, the higher one’s online status even if the attention turns to vilification later on, as illustrated by the Balloon Boy story, and more recently by this:

And so, any attention is better than no attention at all.

Attention is also a form of power: who gives it (a sign of low status as a secretary has to give attention to her boss), who is entitled to it or commands it (higher status / power), who receives it, etc. are all markers of dominant or subordinate social status. However, with new ICTs and social media platforms, attention gets redistributed on both end of the spectrum (production and distribution) and directing attention becomes a source of power more largely available especially when seemingly other-directed attention becomes a form of self-directed attention.

Watch this:

The quote above is excerpted from a post on the so-called citizen-journalists during the massacre at Fort Hood:

In the Fort Hood case, Moore was actually spreading as much untruth as the media at the time (and violating privacy regulations at the same time. And there is indeed an individualized “I was there” quality to these amateur videos of specific events shot without context, analysis and therefore depoliticized and therefore void of actual content beyond the bare images. Which is why these images have ultimately no agency power. They do not change the course of events (in Iran, for instance).

Individualized gazes do not create global social movements for peace or democracy. That still takes old-fashioned organizing. these videos do not translation into social actions but greater social attention on social media platforms for those fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. They might be interviewed on television and see their Twitter following scores swell along with the number of comments for their videos on YouTube.

It is then all about the person behind the camera or the cell phone, and no longer about the subject of the video whose value is only in terms of how much attention it gets for the person filming it.

And as much as mass mobilization is possible online, it does not translate into collective action as it is individualized mobilization:

And online activism may have lowered the political participation threshold but again in an individualized fashion. Similarly, all the citizen-journalist videos, because they are depoliticized (extracted from a critical understanding of their context), appear therefore no different than these oh-so popular cat videos: as objects of entertainment that will gain their filmmakers attention credit for a while… a short while as Twitter trending threads tend to be short-lived, before the next video comes out, cat, political event or natural disaster, makes no difference.

The Pursuit of Attention: Social Networks, Individualization but NOT Isolation

When it comes to new technologies of information and communication, one of the common zombie themes that keeps coming back from the dead is that new communication platforms isolate the individual. There is in this debunked argument the underlying assumption that the only authentic form of social interaction, and the deepest one, is the face-to-face encounter. And so, in a way reminiscent of Putnam’s Bowling Alone, another underlying assumption is that increasing online interaction necessarily comes at the expenses of “real” face-to-face interactions. Again, these assumptions have already been debunked by research but the very fact that important surveys keep asking these questions again and again reveals that these assumptions die hard

See this, for instance (via Chad Gesser):

Or this:

Or even this:

Or when it comes to social isolation:

On this point, I would argue that the United States is a very segregated society, by class and race, and a very polarized one politically. Therefore, it is not surprising that people would belong to networks that reinforce such homogeneity.

But also, look at the way the titles are formulated. These are loaded with negative assumptions regarding virtual networking and interaction and there are every time expressions of surprise when the results do not validate these isolation assumptions but rather complementarity assumptions.

What is undeniable though, is that the mixing of always available networks, social networking platforms such as Twitter or Facebook, transform our sense of self, identity and certainly, our presentation of self. Digital interaction can make us visible all the time and this certainly fosters certain type of behavior, something that has become called the Attention Economy, but I think the Attention Society is better phrase since this goes beyond strictly economic behavior and context, to be seen as an adjunct to the liquid, individualized society described by Zygmunt Bauman.

Consider this, regarding Twitter, for instance, in a very Goffmanian analysis:

The question of attention reminded me of Charles Derber‘s The Pursuit of Attention – Power and Ego in Everyday Life. In this book, Derber argues that attention is both a currency used to evaluate one’s social status and a form of power. With social media platforms, I would argue, and specific  social media tools, one can actually measure how much attention one receives beyond googling one’s name. One can use tools to measure a blog traffic. It is easy to count how many followers one has on Twitter and how many friends of fans one has on Facebook.

Attention is a form of currency, reminiscent of Doctorow’s Whuffies. The more one gets, the higher one’s online status even if the attention turns to vilification later on, as illustrated by the Balloon Boy story, and more recently by this:

And so, any attention is better than no attention at all.

Attention is also a form of power: who gives it (a sign of low status as a secretary has to give attention to her boss), who is entitled to it or commands it (higher status / power), who receives it, etc. are all markers of dominant or subordinate social status. However, with new ICTs and social media platforms, attention gets redistributed on both end of the spectrum (production and distribution) and directing attention becomes a source of power more largely available especially when seemingly other-directed attention becomes a form of self-directed attention.

Watch this:

The quote above is excerpted from a post on the so-called citizen-journalists during the massacre at Fort Hood:

In the Fort Hood case, Moore was actually spreading as much untruth as the media at the time (and violating privacy regulations at the same time. And there is indeed an individualized “I was there” quality to these amateur videos of specific events shot without context, analysis and therefore depoliticized and therefore void of actual content beyond the bare images. Which is why these images have ultimately no agency power. They do not change the course of events (in Iran, for instance).

Individualized gazes do not create global social movements for peace or democracy. That still takes old-fashioned organizing. these videos do not translation into social actions but greater social attention on social media platforms for those fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. They might be interviewed on television and see their Twitter following scores swell along with the number of comments for their videos on YouTube.

It is then all about the person behind the camera or the cell phone, and no longer about the subject of the video whose value is only in terms of how much attention it gets for the person filming it.

And as much as mass mobilization is possible online, it does not translate into collective action as it is individualized mobilization:

And online activism may have lowered the political participation threshold but again in an individualized fashion. Similarly, all the citizen-journalist videos, because they are depoliticized (extracted from a critical understanding of their context), appear therefore no different than these oh-so popular cat videos: as objects of entertainment that will gain their filmmakers attention credit for a while… a short while as Twitter trending threads tend to be short-lived, before the next video comes out, cat, political event or natural disaster, makes no difference.

Precarization and Social Insecurity Keep Religion Alive

Via Epiphenom: How very Durkheimian.

The starting point:

So, how do these factors work when it comes to religiosity:

One look at the overwhelming religiosity in the United States certainly indicates that increased education does not necessarily correlate with overall religiosity. There have been changes in American religiosity (loss of membership for mainstream Protestant denominations and increased membership for evangelical denominations) but the overall religiosity is still very high for a high-income country.

When it comes to being active, I would argue that higher-income individuals have more “resources” to offer to their churches and organizations, such as social and economic capital. At the same time, then, these churches become centers of social networking that has more potential for middle and upper-class people. For poorer people, congregating at a common church promotes close ties and offers social solidarity to the members and support in the absence of strong welfare state.

The study also shows a cumulative effect: being born in a religious family / community makes one more religious and there is greater pressure to at least display signals of religiosity. No surprise here either.

What about the other variables? This is where it gets really Durkheimian:

This is not really surprising. Church attendance thrives on insecurity as a source of support and solidarity. Remove the sources of social insecurity and there is less need for religion. Also, social welfare removes some need for submission to traditional sources of authorities that used to be able to dole out a few favors and charitable donations. And since we also know that social mobility in the United States is more an ideological construct than a reality, it is possible that religion fills the gap that keeps the illusion alive.

Living in the risk society keeps a lot of snake oil salesmen of all types in business.

Triathlon and Social Capital

Over at Economic Sociology, Brooke Harrington has a great guest post by Galyn Burke–Brown on triathlon as the high power sport that promotes high-power connections in the business world. Read the whole thing, it is really great.

Do Women Really Rule The Social Web? Not So Fast

So, this graph is current making the rounds of the sociosphere (via):

So, women rule, right? Well, no.Let’s not get carried away.

First, the fact that women do more of something does not mean they “rule”. It just means they do more of it. So, the labels “matriarchy” and “patriarchy” are, I think, not applicable here.

Second, we already know that in the family structures, even before the emergence of social networking platforms, women did most of the work of maintaining social relationships with other family members and relatives. Who writes Christmas cards? Who calls relatives to check on them? Etc.

Third, the graph might give the idea that women then, through their “dominance” over social networking platforms, collect more social capital in Bourdieu’s sense:

“Social capital is the sum of resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of  more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition.” (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992: 119)

When it comes to social networking platforms, beyond the quantitative aspects (how many people are on Facebook or Twitter), one needs to ask what exactly people do with these platforms. And this is where Putnam’s distinction between different types of social capital comes in: bridging (or inclusive) and bonding (or exclusive)

“Bonding social capital tends to reinforce exclusive identities and maintain homogeneity; bridging social capital tends to bring together people across social divisions. Each form is helpful in meeting different needs. Bonding social capital is good for ‘undergirding specific reciprocity and mobilisin [sic] solidarity’, while serving as ‘a kind of sociological superglue’ in maintaining strong in-group loyalty and reinforcing specific identities. Bridging connections ‘are better for linkage to external assets and for information diffusion’, and provide a ‘sociological WD-40’ that can ‘generate broader identities and reciprocity’ (Putnam 2000: 22-3).” (Field 2003: 32-3)

So I submit the following: bonding = weakness of strong ties, and bridging = strength of weak ties.

At one of the sessions I attended at the ASA this year (I don’t have my notes handy, sorry), the case was made that women use social networking platforms to maintain bonding capital. They network with people they already know, their in-group. On the other hand, men use social networking platforms to, well, network outside of their immediate in-group, that is, men use these technologies to increase their bridging capital and gain access to other networks.

So bridging capital involves greater social power as it is capital that really increases one’s network whereas bonding capital keeps one within one’s network. One could argue that there is greater benefit to bridging capital than to bonding capital. Also, men are able to “bridge” because many women take care of the “bonding”. Gender division of labor and all.

So, do women rule the social web? I don’t think so.

The Revolution Will Not Be Twittered Nor Facebooked

Because of the Digital Divide thingie:

Well, yes, who has time to post incessantly about the minutiae of one’s life. Who can afford the nice hardware, broadband and software to do that? Who enjoys the professional jobs with a nice degree of autonomy to be checking their Twitter or Facebook accounts while at work?

And the Digital Divide is not just internal to the US society, it is a global phenomenon (click on the image for a larger view):

This, again, goes back to Raewyn Connell’s assertion that the privileged have a tendency to universalize their experience without consideration of the fact that the not-so privileged live under very different conditions. And because the Northern privileged rule the world, they see their new toys as revolutionary toys (how did that work out for the Iranian Revolution). Demonstrating and marching is for suckers and low-class teabaggers who don’t understand how cities work. The Netroots are cool and revolutionary (check out the titles of Markos Moulitsas’s books and feel the revolutionary wind even though he is part of the establishment). I think we know now who has managed to frame and control discourse on the latest issues.

Facebook Racism

Look, no one should be surprised to find the same vile stuff on the various social media platforms as we do in real life and on the Internet.

And the big utopian discourse over social media should already be sources of mockery, in a manner comparable to pronouncements like “the end of history” or some such grandiose pomposity omnipresent in the new media pop culture.

Social media reproduce classism, racism, sexism and homophobia. If anything, they facilitate the transmission of such prejudice as fast as they can wire money from New York City to the Cayman Islands.

The irony is that social networking technology also furthers the surveillance society so, the Secret Services should have no trouble finding out who created that survey.

Web 4.0 – The Revolution Will Be Twittered?… Not So Fast

So, Chad Gesser posts this and I watch it,

And as usual, I have a few problems with this.

First, I must have missed 3.0 because the last time I checked, I thought we were at 2.0, but that’s just me.

Then, I have the usual issues with techno-enthusiasm:

1. the emphasis on numbers and quantity. This might give the illusion of mass spread and diffusion but there is still a major digital divide both within and between societies. These little videos are neat but they completely ignore those kinds of issues.

2. Quantity is not quality… actually, the video does mention that one regarding the volume of spam. Incidentally, I found this on the day that Facebook announced it had reached 300 million users and was now generating profits. But in Facebook, Twitter or MySpace, how many “dead” or inactive accounts?

3. Which leads to the question of what do people REALLY do on social networking sites? A lot of people ARE active, no doubt about that (including yours truly) but how do people exactly use social networking technologies? We can quantify as much as we want, but that leaves out answers to that important question.

4. The revolution might be twittered but its crushing will not. As the video mentioned, everybody got all excited about Twitter and the Iranian protests… and then Michael Jackson died and that was it. Hey, whatever happened to that Iran stuff? How did all this work out for the protesters? How many people who twittered know what is going on now? Sorry folks, political repression is as effective as ever, Twitter notwithstanding.

5. In other words, as enthusiastic as we might be about these technologies (and they certainly can be useful), they do not significantly change the distribution of power and wealth in society. They do not rock the boat all that much. They increase the social capital of those who already are relatively privileged (digital divide again).

Bottom line: let’s not get carried away. The folks who have won the battle of shaping the health care discourse are those who showed up at town halls, not those who twittered and blogged about how nasty these people were.