Monthly Archives: May 2013

Digital Sociology and Startups – why? how?

Yesterday I was lucky enough to go to Silicon Milkroundabout 5.0 in Shoreditch. It was one of those days when you realise it’s special to live in London because there are opportunities right on your doorstep.

Firstly, it was good to gain insights into startup culture. In my background, I’ve not really had much to do with startups. It’s been more a lack of opportunity than a lack of willingness. I met a lot of people who are just getting on and running with their ideas. I enjoyed their willingness to have a chat about what they’re doing. In short startups have a lot of passionate people working really hard, but having lots of fun and enjoying it (from what I could see).

However, it’s hard to gain positive attention from startups if your skills don’t necessarily fit the bill. I felt as though I was evangelising Digital Sociology as well as looking for career opportunities.

My favourite reaction? “Digital Sociology? That’s a thing?”

My least favourite reaction? *eyes glazed*

Situations like that aren’t necessarily the best to explain exactly how digital sociologists can be useful to startups.  Digital Sociology has only been running for two years at Goldsmiths, so yes, it’s a thing but a very new thing.

To help explain what we’re about here are a few bullet points to outline some of the skills digital sociologists can bring to the startup (ping pong) table:

  • We bring an analytical view at how your products could impact customers/users/clients. We’ve completed a module about Sociology into Design which looks at communicating sociological research into design environments. I’m currently in my last week of an internship at a design research firm.
  • We are observant. And we’re good at noticing interesting issues or insights in user groups that could be relevant to your product.
  • We know big data (both the creation and uses of it) and we know empathy. We’re trained in both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies sand we have spent time getting our hands dirty, testing them out, making data visualisations, personas, experience models and lots of other cool things to communicate our research.
  • We’ve spent days, nights, weekends, holidays learning to code and putting it in practice. We’ve had experience using HTML, CSS, JS, MySQL, PHP, Python and Unix. For most of us, our weapon of choice is Python so we can scrape Twitter and other online media for insights.
  • We’ve learnt about innovation and startup culture in an Innovation Case Studies module.

Where would I see the fit? Somewhere in your design or R&D team or perhaps in business/project analyst roles. Although we have the knowledge of coding to hold conversations with developers and coders, we would tend to use those languages for research and communication purposes (but by no means should you dismiss a digital sociologist with real coding chops).

I hope that clarifies how digital sociologists and startups could play nicely together. Do get in touch if you’d like to know more, or carry you can also carry on the conversation in the comments section.

The reading list

I’m not sure if anything really prepares you for the sheer relentlessness that a taught Master’s programme brings. There is always something to be read or written or thought about or made. It’s never-ending.

It’s May which means it’s the long stretch of Summer Term: dissertation time. This time of year for our cohort is when we are also finishing up internships and we’re also having our second meeting with our supervisors.

This is when the seriousness of the dissertation hits home and the doubts creep in.

The doubts are temporary yet intense. And in hindsight, somewhat helpful. But nevertheless, there’s a week in the postgraduate calendar which I’m sure has an unspoken understanding of being ‘self-loathing week’. There are lots of questions, lots of doubts, supervisors sometimes (helpfully) play devil’s advocate to ensure you’re really thinking critically about your project.

It inevitably comes around to the point that you’ve just not read enough. The more you read, the more you understand the theory and the methodology surrounding your chosen topic. And even though it’s the last thing you want to do, it’s the best thing you could do (and it’s actually quite enjoyable).

So here’s what’s on my reading list:

Stack of books about ethnography

Reading list – May 2013.

A lot of the books and articles are ethnography based: they either are ethnographies or they’re instructional on how to do ethnography.

In terms of articles, I’ve been reading a lot of Eric Laurier from the University of Edinburgh. He has done many cafe ethnographies in Britain over the past 15 years. His literature reviews do a good job of explaining some of the sociological views of cafes from Latour, Habermas and Goffman.

In addition to reading Laurier’s articles, I’ve been making my through Kitchensan ethnography of restaurant kitchen staff by Gary Allen Fine. So far, I’ve gained some insights into how you could view each cafes or restaurant as an individual habitus (or community, for the non-sociologists).

The bulk of the books on the stack are the how-to books. They will be read in the coming weeks, but they will be immeasurably helpful in planning fieldwork and deciding the finer points of methodology.

It’s all (slowly) coming together.