Forthcoming New Book: "The Costs of Connection”
As a sociologist my main interests are media and communications, culture and power, and social theory. Most of all, I am interested in the consequences for everyday reality of symbolic power’s concentration in particular institutions.
Throughout my career I have tried to confront a basic paradox: that information and communication technologies, because they present us with a ‘reality’ every day, can easily come to seem like a second nature. As a result, what should always be contestable can end up seeming beyond challenge, a structure of power that is too ‘hard’ to move or break through.
Initially, my work was focussed on the power of traditional ‘media’ (particular television and the press) to define political and social reality. More recently, I have become interested in how a range of institutions associated with ‘media’ have, in the digital age, taken over that power. Today, the work of constructing reality is done just as importantly through algorithms and data processes that work to measure our performance online or while using ‘connected’ objects (the ‘internet of things’).
In all these cases, I am interesting in asking what social theory can contribute to understanding these processes and their transformative effects on society.
I pursued these questions first with Andreas Hepp in the book The Mediated Construction of Reality which won the theory prize of the German Communication Association in 2017. My latest project has developed these concerns through the framework of data colonialism in the book The Costs of Connection co-written with Ulises Mejias which is published in August 2019. More information here.
Underlying all this is my desire to understand the many ways, often hidden, through which symbolic power works; and how, in those moments when we seem to be most ‘ourselves’, or most ‘together’ with others, we may, at the same tim,e be most thoroughly enfolded in the deep workings of power. Never has this been more true than in the age of Big Data.
Between 2015 and 2018, I was also the Coordinating Lead Author of the chapter on Media and Communications in the report of the International Panel on Social Progress. I encourage you to read the chapter, also available in Spanish. Further information on recent projects can be found on the Research Page. For access to videos, podcasts and other media, please follow this link.
I believe in the role of universities as institutions which can open new horizons of possibility, enabling people to seize their own opportunities for action and imagination. This ‘liberal’ vision of the university is today under threat from many forms of instrumentalism, including neoliberal politics, Big Data imperatives and the tyranny of market ideology. Academics can play a role in holding on to that older vision and building a counter-culture that sustains it.