CAMRI and DIGSUM co-organised Critical Digital and Social Media Research-Conference in Umeå

15th March 2019

The conference “Critical Digital and Social Media Research” took place at Umeå University in Sweden from March 6-9. Umeå University’s Centre for Digital Social Research (DIGSUM) and the University of Westminster’s Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI) co-organised this event that had around 80 participants. The conference’s goal was to contribute to the advancement of critical approaches, methodologies, theories, epistemologies, practices, and ethics in the field of digital and social media research. It was part of an international research collaboration between DIGSUM and CAMRI that has taken place since 2014 under the theme of “Advancing Social Media Studies”. The Swedish Foundation for International Collaboration in Research and Higher Education (STINT) funded this co-operation between two leading international research centres in media and digital communication research.

The conference had a special focus on featuring the research of doctoral students and postdocs. It therefore gave space to 54 presentations by early-career researchers. Keynote talks featured Mark Andrejevic (Monash University), Annette Markham (Aarhus University), Christian Fuchs (CAMRI), Kylie Jarrett (Maynooth University), Donatella Della Ratta (John Cabot University), Richard Rogers (University of Amsterdam), and Simon Lindgren (DIGSUM).

An important overall theme of the conference was that the dominant approaches and methods in digital media research in a positivist manner rely on big data analytics. There is a lack of focus on critical theories, critical digital methods, ethics, interpretive sociology, advocacy, social change, and critical analytics.

CAMRI co-director Christian Fuchs commented, “The conference showed that mainstream digital research that takes on the form of big data analytics, computational social science and the digital humanities and gets so much public and academic attention today is flawed. Big data positivism’s obsession with quantification colonises the social sciences and humanities and undermines the engagement with philosophy, theory, and the study of human experiences. The conference showed that there is a desire among doctoral students and postdocs to do Internet research differently. We need critical and digital and social media research that combines critical theory, critical methods, and critical ethics”.

DIGSUM director Simon Lindgren pointed out, “The DIGSUM team has been so happy to host this conference together with CAMRI. Its focus on young researchers proved to be a great success, and everyone attending has seemed so happy about the whole event. I was surprised by the very high-quality presentations in the sessions, many of them given by very early-career scholars. This gives great promise for the future of critical digital media research”.

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