Last week I was at the annual meeting of the Australian Sociological Association (TASA), preceded by two pre-conference seminars - one for the sociology of youth, and one for cultural sociology. All up it was five very intense, well-organised days of hearing about and talking about sociological research. I think I must have listened to forty odd papers. I presented two of my own papers, too:
I put together a rough storify from the conference, but I left it a bit late as the hashtag seems to cut off after a week. So, I did some cherry picking of tweets from before the conference dinner. I think it gives a general sense of some of the things that were covered at the main conference…
Snapchat is an app that allows you to send photos or short movies to others, which are supposedly ‘erased’ after several seconds. When you send a snap, you choose who it goes to on your list of contacts. It can go to just one contact or to many, and the recipients won’t know who else the snap was sent to. The idea here is to (re)introduce the ‘fleeting moment’ into the networked, mediated disclosures we make through the internet. In this way, Snapchat disturbs the logic of of other networked social media in that a) Snapchat disclosures are ephemeral rather than persistent, and b) the intended ‘audience’ of disclosures is opaque. When we receive a snapchat, we don’t know if it was intended just for us or for many.
Here’s the ‘about’ blurb taken from Snapchat’s website:
'Snapchat is a new way to share moments with friends. Snap an ugly selfie or a video, add a caption, and send it to a friend (or maybe a few). They'll receive it, laugh, and then the snap disappears. The image might be a little grainy, and you may not look your best, but that's the point. It's about the moment, a connection between friends, and not just a pretty picture. The allure of fleeting messages reminds us about the beauty of friendship - we don't need a reason to stay in touch. Give it a try, share a moment, and enjoy the lightness of being!' (Snapchat ‘About’ page, 2013, emphasis added)
I’ve been using Snapchat for around six months now, and have observed a whole range of practices associated with the app. As the official blurb above alludes to, there are an interesting set of identity performances taking place through the app - anyone for an ugly selfie? Again, these practices seem to defy the prevailing logic of other networked social media associated with impression management and the presentation of an idealised self. Or is there something more complex going on here?
Dig a little deeper into the ‘philosophy’ behind Snapchat, and you’ll find a focus on authenticity, which is also a recurrent theme in Zuckerberg’s often critiqued ‘philosophy’ on how Facebook can make the world a more connected and transparent place. Is an ugly selfie taken yesterday more authentic, capturing a more ‘real’ moment, than that professional photo taken of you when you were in that wedding party that one time a couple of years ago?
There are a curious set of emerging practices here around replying and engaging in sustained conversation. Within the app, to reply to snaps, you also have to take a photo or video. This is often played out through exchanging selfies with associated text, but the conversation can also shift to other platforms. A tweet to comment on how horrifying that last snap was, or a text message to answer a question posed in a snap, or a longer synchronous conversation over Facebook IM to hash out plans for the weekend.
Concerns have been raised around how easy it might be to capture or record images shared through the app, either at the institutional or personal level. The app tells you when someone takes a screencap, but it can’t tell you if someone has a camera hovered over their phone when that snap is opened. Snapchat also fuels the moral panic over ‘sexting’, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Whether or not Snapchat persists beyond the fad phase, it certainly raises a series of interesting questions about ephemerality and what constitutes ‘authenticity’ in a networked society. Have you enjoyed the ‘lightness of being’ recently?
Last week I was on a writing retreat in Hobart with 15 colleagues from across UTas. What a great privilege. I helped an economics researcher tighten up an abstract on macroeconomic simulation models and then had the introduction to a piece I’m working on constructively critiqued by academics from health care and police studies. I sat in a room and wrote beside a research fellow working on cardiovascular physiology, a lecturer in zoology writing about the reproductive habits of blue-tongue lizards, a phytoplankton taxonomist (!) working on salmon aquaculture, and a gallery director who has been turning his dissertation on house and home into a book. How’s that for variety!
I want to reflect on five key things I’ll take away from this week…
A big thanks to Sally Knowles from ECU for being our external facilitator. It has been a productive week, and I hope I get the chance to do something similar again soon.
Congratulations and thanks to Rachel Brooks and Kitty te Riele, guest editors of the special issue of Young published today, ‘Exploring Ethical Issues in Youth Research’. Here is the table of contents, including my own work on the ethical challenges I faced in my doctoral research friending participants on MySpace and Facebook. Links will take you to abstracts.
This is going to be a somewhat long, introspective post, but it’s on a topic that people who are doing or just starting PhDs often ask me about, so I figure it’s worth writing something about. One of my favourite academic-type tweeps, Inger Mewburn aka The Thesis Whisperer, wrote a post last week about finding your ‘edge’ in the post-PhD employment market. Essentially she argues that doing something that not many other people in your field can do gives you an edge that will help differentiate you in a sea of people going for that job you are after. I think that’s good advice. Check it out in full.
I managed to find a job pretty quickly after my PhD was finished. In fact, I got offered a continuing (‘tenurable’) Level B Lecturer job at a mid-range Australian university - the University of Tasmania - the same week my PhD was conferred. And I love it. I couldn’t have asked for more welcoming and supportive colleagues, and despite some initial uncertainty, I’m really enjoying life in Launceston. I’m teaching a unit that is totally in my area of expertise (sociology of youth) and the support for marking and other activities is solid. How did I get here? Did I have one of these ‘edges’ that helped me out?
In Mewburn’s post, she also sketches out some of Gavin Kendall’s work, from a paper titled 'The crisis in Doctoral education: a sociological analysis', where Kendall looks at where people with PhDs find jobs (and the short answer is: all over the place). It is clear that people do PhDs for a whole range of reasons, and that they end up in all sorts of places, but I’m going to talk here about my own motivations and the pathway that led to where I am now. I’m certainly not saying this is a formula, or the best way to do things, or even that getting an academic job after finishing a PhD is a good goal. This is just how I went about it.