Social media and inequality

Elisabetta Costa (University of Groningen)
Razvan Nicolescu (Imperial College London)
Stefana Broadbent (NESTA)
Room 10
Start time:
15 April, 2015 at 9:15
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Drawing on ethnographies in both online and offline worlds, this panel explores the relationship between the everyday use of social media and the concept of inequality. We aim at discussing how conventional questions regarding social hierarchies are transformed with the advent of digital media.

Long abstract:

This panel discusses the results of 9 ethnographies of the Global Social Media Impact Study (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/global-social-media), a project based on comparative and collaborative anthropology, and invites new contributions that explore the relationship between social media and inequality. Social networking sites have too often been approached through categories such as 'network,' 'connectedness,' or 'individualism.' We argue that in many cases these rather abstract categories have paid too much attention to the different agencies of individual actors while neglecting the work of social and economic forces. Our results contradict most of the mainstream discourses which portray social media as 'democratic' and 'liberating' tools. Instead, some papers in this panel report that social media actually work towards reinforcing traditional systems of power, social hierarchy, social and economic inequality and exacerbating political conflicts. The discussion covers a few topics that are central to the conference: how can anthropological research results be engaged with established debates often based on entrenched agendas concerning issues such as the impact of social media on education, politics and gender relations? How can we include these more conventional agendas while also hoping to contribute to core anthropological concerns about the very nature of humanity and human experience? Papers are invited that engage with how the different online environments represent and articulate social change but also conformity and conventions. Possible themes include: intimacy and domesticity on social media, relation between macro-politics and micro-politics in the online environment, poverty, welfare, and morality.