Book club digest: Networked

At SMC, we regularly meet to discuss interesting books in our field.  These discussions tend to spark conversations about a variety of related topics. In an effort to be more inclusive, we thought we’d share the questions that our conversation sparked in the hopes that the SMC community would share your thoughts about these issues in the comments!

Book: Networked: The New Social Operating System Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman, MIT Press 2012

This book is intended for an audience that includes sociologists, but also interested members of the broader public.  As such, there is an interesting combination of descriptions of different sociological heuristics, particularly the corrective concept of “networked individual,” and more popular concepts such as the “Facebook generation.” Networked brings much data to bear against dystopian ideas that the internet isolates people, or that the online world and offline world are separate spheres of social activity.  Most evidence rallied in the book draws on survey data from the Pew research group run by Rainie, and Wellman’s NetLab research group at University of Toronto.  Wellman’s research from pre-web/pre-Facebook times, and the longitudinal data from Pew researchers describe shifts in early internet social practices to the present.

Here are some discussion questions that generated a great conversation:

  • How can researchers best represent a body of work with multiple authors?
  • What social work do people do to make and keep ties today, and what work did people do in “in the village”? Do networked individuals require networked digital technologies? Emma Rothschild’s book, The Inner Life of Empires, describes the work of maintaining complex social ties in the eighteenth century and raised the following questions for us: When did networked individualism start?
  • In a book intended for a popular audience, how can researchers entice readers to attend to the details of the data and how that data was collected?  How do researchers demonstrate expertise while also describing some of the messiness of data collection?
  • How can class, race and, more generally, identity be brought into discussions of networked individuals?  A point on which we all agreed is that we need to consider and better understand how social identities might constrain people’s ability to expand networks, to move across networks, and to reap the benefits of networked individualism that Rainie and Wellman celebrate. What constraints are there on the kinds of mobility and access to resources expanded and mobile social networks can offer?

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