Monthly Archives: February 2017

Keynote abstracts! Research Methods for Digital Work: Innovative Methods for Studying Distributed and Multi-Modal Working Practices 25 May 2017 – 26 May 2017

We have a great programme resulting from our call for papers which we hope to share soon.  In the meantime to whet your appetite the abstracts for our keynotes are posted below with more details available on the event website and dedicated blog page.

We will be opening registration soon, watch this space!


Diane E. Bailey Associate Professor in School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin

Wrestling with Digital Objects and Technologies in Observations of Work

Observing people who use computers at work can be difficult. A person working with physical objects and physical technologies behaves in ways that an observer can readily track. For example, in early motion and time studies, the Gilbreths devised a system of 18 elemental movements (e.g., select, grasp, move, inspect) to analyze what workers did. A person working with digital objects and digital technologies poses a greater challenge for the observer because small, nearly indiscernible actions (such as typing a single letter) may initiate a series of work actions on the computer. Worse still, a person may be hard at work when away from the computer while software programs run “in the background.” In this talk, I discuss the methods that I developed with my colleagues to combat these issues in our multi-year field study of engineering work and technology. Our methods blend the industrial engineer’s eye for detail with the ethnographic tradition of observation and interpretation. I discuss in particular methods for collecting and analyzing digital objects and for understanding the array of digital technologies in a workplace.


Monika Büscher Professor of Sociology, Director of the Centre for Mobilities Research and Associate Director for the Institute for Social Futures at Lancaster University

Is IT Ethical? Mobile Work, Mobile Data, Mobile Methods in Crises

Disaster response can involve extreme physical and digital mobilities. In the aftermath of the 2015 Germanwings crash, for example, hundreds of emergency personnel from local and international agencies converged to scour two square miles of steep, rocky terrain for debris and DNA. Surrounding such physical mobilities are often myriad efforts to mobilise information and coordinate actions through digital technologies. New capabilities for mobile work that emerge in this context can be very positive, but they can also raise complex ethical, legal and social challenges. In collaborative research with practitioners, information technology developers and interdisciplinary teams of researchers, I explore what it means to do work on the move in crisis management to gain insight into the relationship between embodied practices of mobile work and the im|material im|mobilities of data. This takes the form of engaged ‘speculative’ sociology and involves a mixture of mobile methods, including participant observation and participant intervention, ways of ‘following the information’, affirmative critique, disclosive ethics, utopia as method, ethical and privacy impact assessment, and speculative design. These methods are a means for ‘staying with the trouble’ of often ambiguous emergent ‘intra-actions’ and effects. In this talk I provide examples from this collaborative research to explore how we can combine methods or devise new methods to capitalise on diverse forms of data to build rich and practically as well as theoretically fruitful understandings of digitally-suffused working life.

Richard Rogers Professor in New Media and Digital Culture, University of Amsterdam

Social Media Engagement: Beyond Vanity Metrics

In the age of social media one dominant mode of engagement is distraction. Whilst appearing oxymoronic, distracted modes of engagement have invited the coining of such terms as ‘flickering man’, ‘continuous partial attention’ and ‘ambient awareness.’ One’s engagement with social media (however much in a distracted state) is also routinely measured. Klout scores and similar are often called ‘vanity metrics’ because they measure performance in (what is referred to as) the ‘success theater’ of social media. The notion of vanity metrics implies at least three projects: a critique of metrics concerning both the object of measurement as well as their capacity to measure unobtrusively or only to encourage performance. The second is a corrective interface project, for users are continually distracted by number badges calling to be clicked; there is a recently revived movement afoot for so-called ‘encalming technology’. A third project could consider how one may rework the metrics. In the project I call critical analytics, I propose to repurpose altmetrics scores and other engagement measures for social research, and seek to measure the ‘otherwise engaged,’ or other modes of engagement (than vanity).



Student Volunteering Week


As Student Volunteering Week gears up for the launch of the 2017 event on February 20th so too does its social media campaign, active across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (#SVW2017). This initiative (now in its 16th year) builds on the long tradition of student volunteering as described by Georgina Brewis in her social history of student volunteering across a hundred years. Brewis showcases the enduring significance of student voluntary effort while arguing that it takes a distinctive form in the social and political conditions of each time in history.


Figures released last year (as reported by NCVO) showed a significant increase in the number of young people volunteering in recent years – a rise that was attributed in part to the success of initiatives and campaigns that raise awareness of volunteering and in part to the rise of online recruitment platforms that give easier access to opportunities. As a product of its time, Student Volunteering Week combines some features of these two factors – putting together a concerted online campaign with on-the-ground initiatives at universities, schools and colleges across the country connecting potential volunteers with opportunities to contribute their time and their skills where need arises. Many of these opportunities are not just one-off occasions for Student Volunteering Week, but ongoing efforts that are brought to a new audience through this event. Contemporary volunteering capitalises on the potential of digital technologies to connect people with opportunities but much of the work being done still takes a very recognisable form, involving ongoing face-to-face work with beneficiaries and other volunteers, getting the job done. Digital technologies complement and augment the volunteer experience and potentially bring new participants into the mix, but in many ways the student volunteering scene remains true to its historical roots.


The relationship between on-line and off-line volunteering

It has been assumed that those taking part in off-line volunteering are a different group from those taking part in on-line volunteering.  Indeed, there has been some concern that those engaging in on-line volunteering were less committed and engaging in ‘clicktivism’ as a very minimal type of involvement.  However new research by Jennifer Ihm, published in Voluntas recently, suggests that these assumptions need to be re-examined.

Based on the results of a large scale survey in the U.S. , Ihm  concludes that we can differentiate between low level volunteers and high level volunteers and that the latter engage with volunteering more often and in more organizations than the former, whether this is on-line or off-line.  In other words , committed volunteers use both on-line and off-line channels to further their volunteering activities.  As Ihm concludes:

“volunteering is a complex activity where individuals manage their commitment and time to participate within varying organizational contexts, to different degrees, in order to maximize their reach to both online and offline spheres”.

However the results also indicate that lifetime volunteers (20+ years), perhaps because they began volunteering before online volunteering gained momentum, are less likely to move into the online sphere.

This research is very important in focusing on the relationship between online and offline volunteering and in its findings that the two are related.  In our research, the objective is to also explore this relationship, but in a more qualitative way.  If volunteers are engaging both offline and online, how do they negotiate these different kinds of interaction on an everyday basis?  Do they find that their experience differs even with the same organization across these two different spheres?   How can they integrate this intensive volunteering into already busy lives?

Ihm’s work is important in recognising online and offline are related, but this is only the tip of the iceberg in understanding volunteering in the digital age.