Public Sociology on Twitter: a Space for Public Pedagogy?

Abstract

Research has examined various elements of Twitter; however, no scholarship has explored how sociologists currently use the platform. This empirically driven paper explores how individuals that self-identify as sociologists on Twitter use the popular micro-blogging social media site. A total of 152,977 tweets from Twitter profiles of 130 sociologists were collected and examined using qualitative media analysis. The potential use of Twitter allows the sociologist to become both the generator and interlocutor of dialogue with publics. We frame our data analysis and discussion around the core theme of expertise - namely, the role that expertise plays in the use of Twitter by sociologists. Our findings indicate that when sociologists used Twitter as sociologists (i.e., drawing upon their stated research expertise) little direct engagement with publics occurred. Thus, while sociologists appear to be using Twitter as a space for public sociology, the use of this interactive platform is mostly limited to the generation of content, a finding consistent with Burawoy’s traditional form of public sociology. Suggestions for future research are noted.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    As one exceptional example see Sandlin et al. (2010) Handbook of Public Pedagogy: Education and Learning Beyond Schooling.

  2. 2.

    A more recent example includes Hanemaayer and Schneider (2014) The Public Sociology Debate: Ethics and Engagement.

  3. 3.

    In April 2015, Twitter introduced the “retweet with comment” option. The data for this research were collected prior to the addition of this feature. This percentage does not account for tweets that featured links to news media reports. Many of these are the exact same as retweets.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the organizers of the 2015 Qualitatives (Steven Kleinknecht, Carrie Sanders, Lisa-Jo van den Scott, and Anthony Puddephatt) for their invitation to present a version of this manuscript as a Featured Presentation. We are also thankful to Larry Nichols for his helpful suggestions on an earlier draft of this paper.

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Correspondence to Christopher J. Schneider.

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Schneider, C.J., Simonetto, D. Public Sociology on Twitter: a Space for Public Pedagogy?. Am Soc 48, 233–245 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12108-016-9304-2

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Keywords

  • Public sociology
  • Twitter
  • Social media