You are currently viewing The Role of Digital Platforms in Public Sociology

The Role of Digital Platforms in Public Sociology

Sociologists have often engaged in talking about the role of Sociology through their writings. For instance, in 1959, C. W. Mills focused on the role that the sociological imagination can play in explaining the human condition. Similarly, in the 1970s, in The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology, Alvin W. Gouldner asked sociologists to be reflexive. Reflexivity requires that sociologists engage in critical self-reflection of their own biases, practices and ways of doing research. In the early 2000s, Michael Burawoy coined the term public Sociology to talk about the purpose of the discipline in engaging with the many publics that it talks about. 

The idea of public Sociology reimagines and redefines the nature of the discipline itself. It emphasizes that Sociology is for the public whom sociologists engage with. This public engagement can be done in different ways. In the era of technology, digital and social media play a crucial role in how Sociology is practised. In The Public and Their Platforms: Public Sociology in an Era of Social Media (2021), Mark Carrigan and Lambros Fatsis emphasize the role that platforms can play in making public Sociology effective.

Blogs as Public Sociology

I wish to take this conversation forward by highlighting the role of a particular form of digital platform—blogs—in public Sociology. In the last few years, several online blogs such as Applied WorldwideContexts, Doing Sociology and The Sociological Review Magazine have attained visibility. They are all dedicated to the cause of public Sociology with a commitment to making sociological knowledge accessible to the larger public. While sociologists have frequently written scholarly essays and books, they are also often critiqued for being inaccessible. Access is restricted not only because they are heavy-duty academic work, but also because they are often behind the paywall. It is also not an easy task to publish academic essays and journals for early career scholars. 

Thus, blogs provide a space for scholars to publish writings that can reach out to a wider public. They are open access and owing to the proliferation of internet usage across the globe, internationally readable. They also give young scholars a space to start the process of academic writing. The kind of pieces that these blogs publish are manifold – theoretical, conceptual and methodological pieces, ethnographic notes, book reviews, teaching notes, vocational stories, photo essays, etc.  There is a scope to go beyond the jargonized kind of academic writing that journals require. 

While some of the blogs are managed by associations and institutions, some are independently run. For instance, both Contexts and The Sociological Review Magazine are affiliated with the American Sociological Association (ASA) and The Sociological Review Foundation respectively. Both these associations run academic journals but also have more public-facing digital blogs. On the contrary, Applied Worldwide which seeks to ‘Make Sociology Count,’ is run by two applied sociologists from the United States of America (USA). It wishes to use sociological knowledge to bring positive change to communities around the world. Similarly, Doing Sociology from India is run by a women-led, independent and non-funded team that aims to make sociological knowledge accessible to the public. What is common amongst all of these platforms is that they focus on innovative writing for a broad readership. 

The Potential of Digital Dissemination

Realizing the digital potential for dissemination of knowledge, the International Sociological Association (ISA) has also launched several online modes of communication. For instance, Global Dialogue is an open-access online magazine of the International Sociological Association that strives to offer global and public sociology in multiple languages. Interestingly, all these platforms also use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to promote their published pieces and also call for new articles. The online mode enables them to bridge geographical boundaries between the global north and the global south. 

The digital mode has thus become a crucial way of connecting with the wider public and circulating information. I feel this is particularly significant at a time when disciplines like Sociology are facing attacks from both governments and universities. These attacks are simultaneous with the rise of private universities worldwide, a phenomenon that is widely encouraged by neo-liberalist policies. As such, it is even more important that sociological knowledge reaches the publics that are not historically privileged. Therefore, the role of online blogs has become crucial in practicing what has been envisaged as public Sociology.  

Rituparna Patgiri

Rituparna Patgiri teaches Sociology at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Guwahati. She is one of the co-founders of Doing Sociology – an academic e-resource dedicated to making sociological knowledge accessible to the public.