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On Teaching Social Media to Undergraduates [Syllabus As Essay]

Alice3_smEditor’s Note: We are very happy to feature Ethnography Matter’s first Syllabus as Essay post for 2013 from Alice Marwick, a researcher who conducted pioneering ethnographic fieldwork on the world of social media use. Simply titled, “Social Media,” the syllabus that she created for undergraduate students at Fordham University is breathtaking and groundbreaking. Not only did Alice construct an interdisciplinary reading list to prepare her students to critically analyze social media, she also aimed to give her students practical social media skills for entry-level jobs and internships. Who does that? Only a professor who has a deep understanding of the contemporary internet!

While we weren’t lucky enough to be Alice’s student, she gives us an abbreviated tour of her class below. Alice explains her motivations for including several key readings in her syllabus. We get a peak into some of the lesson assignments for her students. We also get to learn how she integrated tumblr into her lesson plans.

Alice is currently an Assistant Professor at Fordham University in the Department of Communication and Media Studies and an academic affiliate at the Center for Law and Information Policy at Fordham Law School. She is turning her dissertation, Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity & Self-Branding in Web 2.0, into a book. 

Are you teaching a class on ethnography that engages with issues of technology? Then consider being our next guest poster for the Syllabus as Essay series! 


[Social Media Week by Fora do Eixo on Flickr]

I started my first semester as an assistant professor at Fordham with free range to take over a recently-added undergraduate class called “Social Media.” I’ve seen social media classes taught at the undergraduate level that focus entirely on learning to use the sites du jour. Not only does this approach not age well, it doesn’t give students skills to analyze social media critically, which is my primary ethos of teaching media studies.  Instead, I decided to spend the first half of the class grounding the students in a mish-mash of theory drawn from computer-mediated communication (CMC), science and technology studies (STS), and digital ethnography, and the second half organized topically, around key areas of interest like journalism, memes, and privacy. I wanted to do two things with the class: First, give the students some practical skills they could bring to bear in an internship or entry-level job, and second, focus on the sociotechnical, the interplay between technological affordances and social norms, to provide a skill set that would enable students to approach new sites and apps with a critical eye.

For a textbook, I chose Nancy Baym’s Personal Connections in the Digital Age. Like me, Baym is trained in communication, but uses ethnography as her primary method. The book gives a thorough schooling in CMC theory, some of which is out of fashion but still useful, and more modish key concepts in STS, while maintaining a critical, anthropological viewpoint.

Read More… On Teaching Social Media to Undergraduates [Syllabus As Essay]

The god in small things: Ethnomethodology takes ethnography to the details [Syllabus as Essay Series] [guest contributor]

Our June guest contributor is an inter-disciplinary ethnographer, Barry Brown, who is well known for his work in Human-Computer-Interaction, Sociology, and Communications. He pioneered the study of leisure and entertainment in social computing and has applied it to research on augmented reality video games, mixed-reality museum visiting, mobile collaborative tourism, and transportation.  Barry recently joined Mobile Life at University of Stockholm as the center Co-Director.

We’ll do an interview with Barry in another post about his career as an ethnographer who has worked in many  industrial and academic settings. For today, we asked Barry to talk to us about something that very few ethnographers talk about – ethnomethodology.

When I first heard of the word,  I cringed because it just sounded boring and unsexy. It’s hard enough to explain to people what ethnography is. Luckily, Barry was the first person to not only introduce me to ethnomethodology, but mentor me in the techniques of and wonders of ethnomethodology.

So what’s the best best way we can do our  first post on ethnomethodology at Ethnography Matters? A curated reading list!

We asked Barry to curate the first post in our Syllabus as Essay reading series.  In this post, Barry explains how ethnomethodology helps us answer questions that sociological theories just can’t. He also suggests reading Mike Lynch, an author I blogged about a while back on Cultural Bytes. Barry covers Garfinkel and  guides us through Harvey Sack’s writing by recommending specific chapters in his oeuvre. He then ends with the  philosopher, Wittgenstein, who inspired thinkers across multiple disciplines. 

If you would like to contribute to the Syllabus as Essay series, please reach out ethnography matters [at] gmail [dot] com.

Enjoy! Tricia and team.

I work with ethnography and the design of technology – a not uncommon role for contributors to this blog.  It’s something of a truism to say that, when working with computer systems, the details matter.  Not just in the case of a semi colon versus a full stop, your ‘p’s and ‘q’s all in the right place, but in the ways in which the right font here or a well designed feature can turn a computer system from useless to must have.  This attention to detail – ‘sweating the small stuff’ is based on the assumption that what we see as ‘big things’ naturally and unavoidably rest upon the small.

For that reason I’ve always thought there’s something of a natural affinity between computer science – or the design of technology more broadly – and my particular favourite flavour of ethnography.  “Ethnomethodology” is a particularly odd branch of sociology, obsessed to a quite unhealthily degree with ‘the details’ of social life and social interaction.  It is an ‘-ology’ that looks at the methods whereby people live their lives – how we interact (Sacks 1995), talk (Atkinson and Heritage 1984), walk (Ryave and Schenkein 1974), work (Button 1993), travel (McHugh, et al. 1974), break the law (Sacks 1972) or cry (Beach and LeBaron 2002). So, for example, when we converse we do not usually all talk at once – there is structure in our turn taking activity (Sacks, et al. 1974). When we offer an invitation there are certain ways of refusing that avoid rudeness (Sacks 1995).

Our activities are structured yet not simply determined by these structures. Rather structures are seen and used in the everyday organization of this activity. These are the structures that ethnomethodology has studied – something of an inversion of the notion of ‘structure’ as it is commonly deployed in the social sciences (Garfinkel 2002).Read More… The god in small things: Ethnomethodology takes ethnography to the details [Syllabus as Essay Series] [guest contributor]