74 Concluding Thoughts: Urban Social Research in the Digital Age

Jenna Condie, University of Western Sydney, Australia

The previous post in which the authors’ invite you to join the Hydrocitizens online community provides a prime example of how researchers are making use of the ‘participatory web’ (Weller, 2011) to facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations and international networks on urban issues and sustainable practices. Hydrocitizens also demonstrates the diversity of our urban interests and the range of voices and perspectives possible from within and outside of academic and social science circles on the same topic. The Hydrocitizens blog, and many other initiatives like it, aim to instigate dialogues around the ways in which we shape the places we inhabit now and in the future. We need to use online platforms to share our research journeys, projects and findings, as well as to create and distribute content and messages about sustainable urbanisation and transitions to urban contexts. New media spaces are places where we can start things, spread things, make things happen, and bring about social action and urban change. This is the era of the ‘digital scholar’ (Weller, 2011).

That said, in putting together this collection of works by researchers across the world, I have been reminded of how ‘traditional’ communication platforms, primarily email and mail lists, prevail. In the digital age where researchers are increasingly moving online and participating in the social web for the scholarly purposes of knowledge sharing, information finding, and research dialogues, the potential contribution of online networks and social media platforms remains to be seen. More could be done. The questions are what can be done, and how can we make it work?

twitter

An instance of lone tweeting about this book. There is some interactions in terms of retweets (shares) and favourites.

At present, Twitter is one of the most prominent platforms for research dialogues yet the hashtag for this book (#ISSCBookofBlogs) has been sparingly used during the crowdsourcing, curation, and editorial stages of this project. Even as a heavy Twitter user, I have used the hashtag minimally to share this project with others. In contrast, my email account has been buzzing with emails about the book and lots of interesting discussions have happened there. Some of these discussions could have really helped other contributors, particularly those unfamiliar with blogging formats, to write their posts. If we move our electronic communication to more open online spaces, what else could be achieved? What other social connections would form? Who else might have contributed to this collection? Would new initiatives have taken shape?

The ‘traditional’ communication platforms of email and the mail lists of international organisations have realised this book into being. Without those networks, the range of posts would have been narrower and the contributions less varied. Whilst mail lists are great for sharing information, they function less well as dialogical spaces. We need more social online spaces to get to know one another, given that we are located across the world, living great distances apart with many interests in common. The web presents a wealth of opportunities for networked researchers to create environments for dialogue, discussion, and research. Still, researchers need to want to get involved in those online discussions by putting their identities ‘out there’, and in turn, reap benefits from doing so.

A call from one of the author’s in this collection encapsulates the ‘book of blogs’ ethos so well: “we can start by reclaiming the discursive and material spaces that will enable the voiceless to be heard, and for the invisible, to be seen” (Yee, 2015).  In reclaiming discursive and material spaces for urban social research and researchers in this field, we have followed the lead of other ‘books of blogs’ (see Woodfield, 2014; De Souza, 2013, for examples) to break through some of the boundaries of established scholarly publishing channels. The ‘book of blogs’ format removed some of the restrictions of physical space and word count limits (although we did limit posts to ~1000 words), thus a greater number of contributions were made possible.  Furthermore, the time between the initial call for contributors to final publication was around seven months – “urbanisation is fast, and so are we” (ISSC, 2015). This publishing format avoids our work becoming ‘historical’ (Morrison, 2012) by the time it reaches print in comparison to the slower publishing processes of peer-reviewed journals and books.  The initial sign up (126 contributors) and 75 final posts from over 80 authors demonstrates what can be achieved from a more open and collaborative publishing format, as well as the desire and determination of researchers to produce content and disseminate their work in publications that at present, offer little in terms of academic career trajectory.  Whilst curating this collection, I have felt the pressures of sticking with traditional outputs in terms of academic publishing: to be ‘REFable’ and to only write publications that count or ‘perish’ as they say. Such pressures run counter to a project such as this. Although the publishing landscape is changing an alternative, activist, public, and open projects are gaining traction.

For all its advantages, the ‘book of blogs’ inevitably remains tied to the traditional book format; monological and closed in the sense that the words remains fixed with limited options for comments and room to evolve. Yet in another sense, this project may indeed disrupt the ‘status quo’ as the very idea of this book was not to finalise anything about sustainable urbanisation. Far from it. The idea was to start new conversations and further established ones, inspire ideas and new collaborations in the transitions to more urban contexts across the globe.  This is not just a conversation that academics and researchers should be having amongst themselves, but with all those who have stake and interest in urban social research.  Online spaces provide the opportunity for such research dialogues to start from, but extend beyond, this book.

I suspect that the digital world will have a more significant role when we distribute the final product, this book, to share. If you are reading this book right now, I encourage you to share it everywhere that research stakeholders ‘reside’ and find ways to comment and engage in dialogue with the authors who placed their work here for that purpose. I’d also encourage you to embrace new forms of publishing and working together as public intellectuals – this has been a rewarding and transformative journey.

References 

D’Souza, D. (2013) Humane Resourced: A book of blogs, David D’Souza

International Social Science Council (ISSC) (2015)  Call for Contributors – Dialogues of Sustainable Urbanisation. Available at: http://www.worldsocialscience.org/2015/02/call-contributors-dialogues-sustainable-urbanisation/

Morrison, A. (2012) Scholarly publishing is broken: Is it time to consider guerrilla self-publishing? Available at: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/52037/1/blogs.lse.ac.uk-Scholarly_publishing_is_broken_Is_it_time_to_consider_guerrilla_selfpublishing.pdf

Weller, M. (2011). The digital scholar: How technology is transforming scholarly practice, London: Bloomsbury Academic

Woodfield, K. (2015) Social media in social research: blogs on blurring the boundaries, London: NatCen

Yee, D. (2015) Against neoliberal capitalism: post-political urban configurations in post-Haiyan Tacloban (Philippines). In J. Condie & Cooper, A. (Eds) Dialogues of Sustainable Urbanisation: Social science research and transitions to urban contexts, Penrith: University of Western Sydney

Author Biography 

meDr Jenna Condie is a Lecturer in eResearch and Online Social Analysis in the School of Social Sciences and Psychology, University of Western Sydney. Her work focuses on identity and how ‘who we are’ shapes our interactions with environments, places, media, and each other.  Jenna curates and co-manages the Twitter community of New Social Media, New Social Science (NSMNSS). She is a World Social Science Fellow with the International Social Science Council on sustainable urbanisation and the transitions to urban contexts.  Jenna is a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society, a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and a member of the Association of Internet Researchers.

Contact Details:

Email: j.condie@uws.edu.au

Twitter: @jennacondie @NSMNSS @SSAPChat

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