Accepted paper:

Digital technologies as baboon society made durable?


Andreas Birkbak (University of Aalborg, Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

Paper long abstract:

In baboon society, as characterized by Latour (1996), social life is a complex affair. Each primate has to constantly test its relationships with others in order to interact successfully. Today it could seem that baboon society is being made durable with digital technologies. Social media input is liked and retweeted in front of our eyes, and users find their place in ever-changing hierarchies with Klout scores (Lury 2012). Journalists incessantly check other digital news outlets in order to mimic their output (Boczkowski 2009). Researchers navigate the texts of their peers by means of citation counts rather than keywords (Evans 2008).

Latour's point was that in primate society there is 'no society' in the sense that social order must be constantly produced through interactions. What is at stake for STS if digital mediation is materializing a society-less society? If our concern is social theory, digital methods might offer new opportunities for STS to problematize micro/macro distinctions in sociology (Latour et al. 2012). However, there is also a question of what to make of the ways in which digital representations of alternative topologies are already operative. On Facebook, it suffices to hover the mouse over an aggregated number of 'likes' in order to see a list of full names behind the likes. How do such representations offer new ways in which controversies can not only be traced but also conceptualized? Is the notion of a solid public that is under constant risk of being fragmented being replaced by a more liquid and stretchable digital operationalization?

panel G2
Digital mediation and re-mediation: What prospects for a future STS?