Brock University

Digital Media and Society II

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,


The Democratic Potentials of Mediated Visibility: The Use of Sousveillance as a Tactic of Direct Action

Laura McKendy, Carleton University,

The ubiquity of mobile technology, combined with new communication spaces, has created a situation of heightened social visibility, wherein increasingly more actions and daily events are being captured and shared by ‘citizen journalists.’ In the realm of policing, the new context of visibility renders ‘improper’ forms of policing more likely to be exposed (Goldsmith 2010), as illustrated by the recent Sammy Yatim case. By constituting a form of ‘undersight,’ surveillance from below, or ‘sousveillance’ (Mann et al. 2003), can theoretically function to provide a balancing force against top-down forms of oversight (Mann and Ferenbok 2013) and therefore, enhance the transparency of policing. A fundamental issue of debate, however, is the extent to which new digital and communication technologies can serve to promote accountability and energize the democratic landscape, given, among other factors, continued asymmetries in definitional power within official media and legal contexts (Wilson 2012; Ali and Fahmy 201), as well as the undemocratic character of the virtual public sphere (Dennis 2008; Robison 2013). Conceptualizing sousveillance as a tactic of direct action, I draw on social movement theory and new media and communication research to contemplate the potential strengths and limitations of employing digital technologies to advance social justice projects.


Digital Piracy, Big Business, & The State: The Development of Canadian Anti-Piracy Legislation

Gabriel Menard, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto,

Studies of intellectual property rights (IPR) policy development are consistently approached from an Instrumental-Marxist perspective that emphasizes the disproportionate influence of corporate rights-holders in political decision-making processes. Work in this area converges on a common narrative that sees (1) IPR policies around the world as primarily driven by trans-national capitalist actors, who (2) exercise political pressure mainly through the United States government. This approach, however, struggles to account for cases in which IPR policy fails to develop in accordance with rights-holder preferences – as evidenced, for example, in recent amendments to Canada’s IPR regime regarding digital piracy and copyright controls in cyberspace.

This paper uses data from debates surrounding Canada’s Copyright Modernization Act (2012) as a case study to challenge the assertions of the dominant Instrumental-Marxist account of IPR policy development. Results indicate that – contrary to the Instrumental-Marxist narrative – interests of corporate rights-holders are poorly reflected in policy outcomes. Rather, findings suggest the state can strategically promote certain paths to capital accumulation over others, resulting in policy that reflects, in the Canadian case, a deliberate strategy to prioritize the development of an emergent digital economy over the interests of entrenched rights-holders.


“Tits or GTFO”: Digital vigilantism and how a pornstar turned 4chan into her temporary digital army

Duncan Philpot, University of New Brunswick Department of Sociology ,

Digital vigilantism is a type of online social movement which has garnered an increasing amount of attention in recent years (e.g. Cheong and Gong, 2010; Herold, 2008; Huey, Nhan, and Broll, 2012; McLure, 2000; Roy, 2012; Tuovvinen and Roning, 2007). While surveillance has been a part of societies for much of their existence, the significance of the shift from physical watching to the automation of surveillance is tied directly into the emerging extra-local nature of the reaction to deviance and crime. Lyon (1994; 2007) suggests that this requires scholars to explore surveillance more broadly as a phenomenon and activity that has enabling and positive effects (e.g. surveillance of patients in hospitals, self-expression, and emancipation in situations of dictatorship) as well as negative effects. Through a case study of a situation in which a pornstar enlisted the help of users of 4chan’s /b/ imageboard to dig up information regarding her ex-assistant who was deleting her social media accounts, I consider the role of these movements regarding their consequences towards extra-local surveillance.


Ambient Intimacies: Mapping the Affective Drivers of Transnational Engagements

Frances M. Cachon, University of Windsor,

Canadian migration scholars have begun to embrace the transnational optic—an analytic exploring the ways in which contemporary migrants construct their daily lives across the borders of nation states. Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) are widely understood to be facilitating transnational practices and the maintenance of transnational social networks. Yet the ICT mediation of transnational engagement is not well understood, often receiving scant attention in the transnational literature and/or evoked in abstract or vague terms. Through qualitative fieldwork among Mexican migrants in Southwestern Ontario, this article examines the novel ways migrants are utilizing technology to create and maintain transnational social spaces. The research demonstrates how the proliferation and affordability of a multiplicity of new ICT channels or polymedia, such as email, Skype, Facebook, instant messaging and cell phones, in particular cell phones with internet capacities (i.e. texting), are increasing both the frequency and intimacy of transnational connections. I argue that these connections constitute an important element of migrants’ affective and intimate everyday lives. Significantly my research elucidates how the simultaneity of audio, visual and text-based contact made possible through contemporary polymedia is facilitating new transnational practices and transnational ‘ways of being’.


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