This last weekend, I was in Boston for the meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society to attend and present at their mini-conference on Digital Sociology. I was on a panel with Kari Waters (Syracuse University) and Nancy Ross (Dixie State University) talking about Digital Feminism and the pros and cons of using social media to advance social change. Their research focused mostly on the online group, Feminist Mormon Housewives (a subculture of a subculture) and the power of counter-narratives/publics such as these.

Throughout our panel, as well as others, we kept coming back to the paradox of how the internet can both destabilize established power structures (such as in the aftermath of disasters), but also how it creates new power structures (as with the patriarchal structures within the Feminist Mormon Housewives.) For example, one panelist (Andrew MacLean, Concordia University) spoke about the Reddit’s activist potential. But, the conversation around his presentation helped show how the ideals of Reddit (free speech, having a real world impact, protecting anonymity) are often not honoured by Reddit users. In my own presentation, I addressed the ways Reddit has been used to silence or attack other activist movements.

Of course, Reddit has its own subcultures or “subreddits” where different counter-publics and counter-narratives can emerge. But even the platform itself, like all platforms, has an overarching political atmosphere. This is something I would like to characterize and research more, but it is pretty clear just from using these platforms that Twitter (with its focus on productivity, branding, and hashtags) has a very different ideology than Reddit.

I have no background in sociology so the conference provided an interesting look at different research methods from my own, particularly the benefits and disadvantages of qualitative versus quantitative research. What kept coming up were the restrictions of using just one research method. For example, just qualitative or just quantitative data.

Most of my own research is qualitative and if it relies on quantitive data at all it usually comes from sources other than me. But, I also believe that quantitative data as used in sociology is incomplete without an additional qualitative approach. Although statistics and data are valuable, it is also important to have an ethical or critical approach when using that data.

The following tweet from the conference shows a useful example of how quantitative data can be used effectively to capture a movement and move us towards a discussion of its impact:

(Source of feature image. And a good example of patriarchal structures within supposed libertarian spaces.)

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About Eileen Holowka

Eileen Mary Holowka is an editor, writer, and master's student at Concordia University. Her research interests include feminism, queer theory, digital media studies, sad girl/sick women theory, narrative studies and trauma theory. She is currently working on a digital poetry collection about the act of narrating sexual trauma online. Her creative writing has been published in Contemporary Verse 2, Lemon Hound, Little Fiction, Headlight, and juice.