Brock University

Digital Media and Society I

Papers are sought that illuminate the role of digital media in contemporary societies. The theoretical framework of the paper should fit recognizably within the field of sociology. It may be analytical or structural in nature (eg. network analysis) or more oriented to the phenomenology of the experience of social interactions involving digital media (eg. the analysis of interactions; the presentation of the self). Ideally all the papers, while specializing in certain areas, will demonstrate an awareness of the importance of both of these dimensions in how digital media shapes and is shaped by social life. The idea is to highlight current research, to encourage intellectual community among sociological researchers in this area, and to provide an opportunity to identify and deepen shared themes of research.

Session Organizer: David Toews, York University,


A Queer Exploration Into the ‘Authenticity’ of (Virtual) Sex

Dann Hoxsey, York University,

Arguably, for many people, the most basic understanding of sex is encapsulated in the question, “Did you two do it?” meaning, did a penis penetrate a vagina.  However, queer disability theory has raised questions about spatiality and assumptions of able-bodiedness and corporeality that challenge current notions of sex.  This led me to question, if we could rethink sex as sex in the absence of body parts, could we then queerly rethink sex in the absence of bodies? To confound the conception of dis/embodied sex even further, internet chatrooms and online universes (or virtual realities) point to places of inquiry were the boundaries between fantasy and reality and, in this case, between virtual and physical sex are less stable.

With this question in mind the following paper will employ queer theory to push the boundaries beyond how we currently conceptualize sex (where sexual acts are physically experienced, or sexually ‘embodied’).  More precisely, I will use the idea of virtual sex, to demonstrate how the development of recent sexual technologies have destabilized normative (i.e. corporeally-based) assumptions of what sex is. Not only does virtual sex blur the lines between what sex is but, more importantly, virtual sex now makes it harder to define what sex isn’t.  Specifically, I will argue that, by queerly (re)thinking sex we are able to see how sex is more than a corporeal connection necessitated by spatial proximity.


I Brought My Friends to Class Today: The Impact of the Informal Use of Ubiquitous Communication Technologies on Student Engagement in Ontario

Shelagh Ois, Graduate Program in Sociology York University, Toronto, Ontario,

This paper is situated within debates amongst parents, students, educators and policy makers regarding the use, in Ontario public school classrooms, of ubiquitous technologies—mobile phones, smart phones, laptop computers, and tablets, which seamlessly integrate social media, video chat, email, texting, etc. It addresses how student engagement is negotiated when ubiquitous technologies are informally used in the classroom. Illustrated, is the way in which ubiquitous technologies act as gateways to cognitive and communicative engagement with significant others from contexts outside the classroom. This paper argues that what is required of students are behavioural strategies in order to maintain the illusion of attentiveness to learning activities expected of them in the classroom context. Through a dramaturgical analysis, it elucidates how the informal use of these technologies reinforces a state of absent presence negatively impacting cognitive attention and engagement with learning activities. The possibilities for further empirical research is considered.


Contemporary Social Life as a Weaving of Online and Offline Threads of Meaning

David Toews, York University,

My goal has been to understand the ways in which unsociability in social media matters to users of social media sites ostensibly characterized as places for sociable participation.  This required combining content analysis with life-world interviews.  The hermeneutics of reading posts (eg. on  Facebook) then had to be combined with the task of interpreting confidential interview transcriptions, revealing various schemes of social interaction.  It became necessary to envision the research as a weaving of these online and offline threads of meaning.  As increasingly social interactions incorporate social media, rendering antiquated the old etiquettes rooted in differentiating distinct times and places for socializing and for solitude, a relativity of sociability and unsociability is built into social life and must also be built into qualitative methods.


Translating Quantum Computers

Derek Noon, Carleton University, School of Journalism and Communication, Communication Studies,

The last decade has seen several attempts to turn thirty years of theories about quantum computation into working machines. The most ambitious and controversial of these is the only commercialized quantum system, Vesuvius, manufactured by D-Wave Systems. The ongoing debate about the nature and capabilities of this machine opens up to view the social relations needed to construct new technology. How are relations made between the diverse units of individuals, organizations, and materials that make this machine perform work? In what ways does the material machine obscure the network it emerges from? This paper traces the development of a patented cognitive radio application for use on Vesuvius. It traces how institutional knowledge, practices, and people move from academic spheres into industry to assemble a new technology, and how they are changed in the process. To consider this question, I test the applicability of the notion of translation[i] to examine how these diverse actors are made to align, or assemble, and how they resist alignment. I also consider how this emerging technology is targeted at a narrow group of well-funded/computation-heavy sectors. This research draws upon interviews, document analysis, and ethnographic practices from my time placed in a quantum software development company.

[i] Latour, B. (1987). Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Cambridge, Harvard          University Press.

Latour, Bruno. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford University Press.

Law, J. and John Hassard (eds). (1999). Actor Network Theory and After. Wiley-Blackwell

Shiga, John (2006). “Translations: Artifacts from an Actor-Network Perspective.” Artifact, 1(1) 40-55


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