I’m writing this post from the same cat cafe where I began live blogging on Sunday afternoon. It feels like this was more than a few days ago, probably inevitably given how exhausting this week has been. Most of this was self-inflicted. The conference was preceded by one of the busiest months of my life and I didn’t prepare as much as I could have. But I also didn’t realise how much more complex it would be to organise an event of this kind in an unfamiliar venue. Novel session formats and the absence of the familiar scaffolding of the university converged to produce all manner of contingencies. It was inevitable I would feel stretched because I was co-ordinating the digital plan for the conference, leading the live blogging project with Pat, convening a slightly unusual session and ensuring the fluctuating AV requirements of the sessions were met.
It was also the first event I’ve organised since beginning an experiment with giving up drinking a couple of months ago. It became clear to me in the last few days how alcohol can displace stress, providing a hedonistic end point to an enjoyable day and facilitating detachment in the evening. I was much more present with myself than I would otherwise have been, as has been the case for the last two months. But when chronic organisational stress combines with recurrent social awkwardness, self-presence isn’t always a welcome thing. It was nonetheless an important learning experience, with this live blog inviting me to reflect in an extended way on how I experience conferences and what value I (fail to?) find in them. Ironically enough this included the realisation that I’m much less comfortable sharing myself through digital platforms than I had once been. This is particularly the case for Twitter, increasingly something I feel uncomfortable with as much as I still recognise it can be indescribably useful in professional settings. The experience of publicly reflecting during a time of immense stress has left me rethinking how I use social media, as well as how this can leave me being used by social media. The live blogging project has been immensely interesting on a number of different levels.
Though it might sound negative, it nonetheless feels congruent with the spirit of the conference. I have thought a lot in the last few days about a lot of different things. Our approach to social media was to encourage reflection, treating this as part of the fabric of the conference which participants had to exercise responsibility over rather than being a singular activity we issued rules for. The prospect of institutionalised meta-reflection was what animated this live blogging project. Furthermore reflection is a precondition for doing things differently in the way we aspired to with this conference. Therefore while I’m taking my own reflections offline for now, it seems important we leave this live blog open for some time. If you’ve been part of the project then please continue to upload your reflections. If you’ve not been part of it but would like to contribute something then please get in touch with me. Once Pat and I do a debrief, we’ll get in touch with everyone who participated and plan next steps. Meanwhile back to the cats!
This is a question asked by a medical sociologist on Twitter in relation to some of the themes discussed at our conference. It’s not the first time I’ve seen it posed and it tends to be perceived as polemic but there’s a crucial challenge which remains too little discussed:
This kind of thing is all very well. But we then need to ask: why should anyone get paid to do sociology? https://t.co/nvDsIkCVft
It’s a close relation to this question: why should anyone listen to sociologists? The relative comfort of the university, in spite of its accelerating deterioration, insulates us from a practical challenge we would encounter with much greater frequency outside the university.
Her session on thinking knowledge production without the university clearly relates to our work in the cluster but is taking place outside of higher education. This is a conference organised by a charitable foundation, held in an art gallery and cultural space, seeking to break with traditional forms of academic organisation. Its origin reflects the ambivalence found in seeking an outside to the university, while framing the ambition in a way so idiosyncratically marked by being on the inside. It is outside yet concerned with the inside, dependent upon it yet struggling to move beyond it.
This tension is something we have to negotiate if we are going to find practical ways to facilitate knowledge production outside of the university, beyond the existing epistemic infrastructure of commercial, governmental and third sector activity. If we don’t confront it our attempts to find spaces outside of the university risk being failed escape attempts rather than projects to construct viable spaces that constitute a real alternative to the contemporary institutionalisation of the social sciences.
Though Pat, Kate Thomas and I made initial contributions to the live blogging project yesterday, it really kicked off today when the main Undisciplining conference began. The day started with a short meeting for our co-researchers, before we all set off on our way through the conference. These are the results of day one:
When a conference has a meta-conference: reflections on the first day of live blogging at #undisciplining – Mark Carrigan (you didn’t think I was going to miss this off the list did you?)
What an incredible outpouring of creative energy. I hadn’t realised quite how much was written today because I retreated a bit, having my will to engage sapped by being tied up with a seemingly never ending series of tedious technical tasks. It goes without saying that I incorporated this into a blog, itself in part a response to someone who perfectly articulated what I was feeling (and a practical proposal relating to) on Twitter. Plus I found myself interpreting my later mood in relation to later responses. The whole thing is becoming chronically and almost overwhelmingly meta, compounding my own exhaustion but helping me interpret that and relate it to the conference as a whole.
There is a thread of reflectivity winding its way through the conference, increasingly showing signs of spiralling in upon itself as themes percolate outwards and onwards, across platforms and through the face-to-face. It has seemed increasingly obvious to me over the course of the day that the project needs more curation to feed back in on itself. It needs care and effort to frame the blogs and (re)present them undisciplining in a way that invites further responses. This might be through Twitter but it could also be face-to-face. I’ve struggled to do that during the day, with this project slipping to the back of my mind for long periods, though it should be a bit easier to focus tomorrow. But in a way that makes it more interesting because my fluctuating attention highlights the objectivity of what we’re doing, as something uncertainly begins to emerge from the aggregated iteration of the research team.
(I’m cross-posting this on my own blog first because I compulsively record everything that matters to me intellectually there and it’s dawning on me that I’m going to be thinking about this project a lot in the coming months, as much as my current focus is on the day-to-day of the conference. Plus I’m tired in a way that makes the familiarity of my own blog oddly comforting)
This tweet by Jana Bacevic caught my attention a few minutes ago:
Now we're on a roll on how to do conferences differently, another thing I struggle with as an introvert at conferences is finding space/time to be alone – I usually do this by sneaking off or missing sessions, but perhaps a designated 'quiet space' for future #Undisciplining(s)?
We’re launching a short project today at Undisciplining, recording statements about the importance of the sociological to be released through social media. We’d like to record short statements in response to the following questions:
What does the sociological mean to you?
How did you come to the sociological?
Why does the sociological matter?
Please get in touch with us via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via Twitter (@thesocreview) if you’d like to take part this afternoon.
After the first day of Undisciplining, Pat and I are sitting in a hotel bar discussing what it means for a blog to be ‘live’. Early in our discussions about this project we moved away from the idea that live blogging must simply be a matter of reporting. It should imply something more than this, a reflective moment in which we confront a reality outside of ourselves and relate our own experiences to it. This reflection might involve different experiences of immediacy. Pat finds it hard not to work on blogs as texts, inevitably revising syntax and word choice in order to make the expression something pleasing. Whereas I often find myself writing in a scattergun way, enthralled by immediacy because it leaves me feeling in direct contact with the ideas I’m trying to express. We share a commitment to blogging but our blogs have different purposes and audiences. This has left us with different relationships to the practice of blogging, finding different pleasures in the activity in spite of the similarity of our enthusiasm for it.
We felt it was important to start here because the reflective moment in liveness entails a relation to the self. We have to know where we are coming from, what drives us and motivates us, if our live blogging will avoid reiterating our existing views and positioning. That at least is the hope. It should be reporting plus reflection. Or reporting in order to reflect. Even if we’ve begun this project by interrogating our respective senses of liveness, we’ve done this because we felt it was a necessary precursor to what comes next. At 9am tomorrow morning, the live blogging research team meet for the first time and we’re excited to see what follows.
Seen as I live like 10mins away from the Baltic for #undisciplining I know some great places to eat. The quayside is the closest but seen by us lot in Gateshead as posh and pricey. Try Uno's Italians near the quayside, amazing 🍕
Social media has been central to our journal in recent years, helping us build a new relationship with our readers and expand beyond our traditional audience. We enthusiastically embrace it as a means to promote sociological thought, as well as a way to work towards a more engaged and open culture within the academy. But making good on this promise requires that it is treated carefully. For this reason, we have included this document in each delegate pack, offering some principles and guidelines to inform your use of social media at Undisciplining. We have a few non-negotiable requirements, included after careful deliberation within our team, but mostly what we have included are pointers we hope will improve everyone’s social media experience at the conference.
Be clear about what you are doing and why. It can be easy to slip into using social media in a habitual way, particularly when you’re waiting for a coffee break. But the more concrete you can be about your aims, the easier it will be to ensure you are using social media effectively. The table below provides an overview of conference social media activities and common reasons why these might be undertaken. It is by no means exhaustive so please don’t worry if you intend to use these platforms in a way we haven’t listed here but please talk to us if you have any doubts about its appropriateness after reading these guidelines. There are possibilities we haven’t listed here, such as live streaming and recording audio-visual material, which we request that you don’t use at the conference for reasons explained below.
Remember that people can have different interpretations and will bring different knowledge to the same situation. This might sound obvious but social media can make it hard to remember this by stripping interactions of context and presenting isolated units of communication in a way that is easy to misinterpret.
We want people to be critical of the arguments they encounter but please try to be civil and give other conference goers the benefit of the doubt. People have a right to know what you are saying about them so please ensure you tag other users if you are talking about their contributions to the conference. Likewise please ensure you credit people appropriately, including relevant affiliations (most academic departments now have Twitter accounts) if the person in question does not have their own feed.
Social media can often magnify disagreements and multiply misunderstandings. To paraphrase our favourite xkcd cartoon, if it begins to matter to you that someone is wrong on the internet then that’s a sign you should put down your phone or tablet and engage with the conference without social media for a bit. We want to use social media to help people at Undisciplining connect with each other and the last thing we want is for people to spend the event falling out over social media. We’ve worked hard to create a friendly, engaging and welcoming event so please do your best to approach each other with that ethos when you interact through social media.
Please ensure you use the #undisciplining hashtag on Twitter and Instagram. This will allow us to keep track of what’s happening on social media and curate this material before, during and after the event. We are keen to help people connect with each other and connect to other conference goers, so if you’d like us to recirculate something to other participants at the conference please tweet the request to us or e-mail email@example.com.
Please follow the instructions of chairs concerning social media. While we encourage social media at the conference as a whole, speakers and organisers establish what they are comfortable with in their sessions. Therefore please listen to the guidance of the chairs and respect any concerns or requests made by speakers to this end.
Please refrain from using live streaming services like Periscope or Facebook Live during the conference. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of being live-streamed and its immediacy can create problems, even for those who might be comfortable with the idea in principle.
Pleaserefrain from recording audio or video at the conference. We have put a lot of time and energy into planning the multimedia being produced at the event. We want to ensure that we capture the event in the most effective way and ensure everyone is comfortable with the finished outputs.
Please be considerate in your use of photography at the conference. Photography is ok in the main auditorium unless otherwise specified. Please aim for crowds and avoid foregrounding individuals when taking photography outside of sessions. Avoid photography in workshops unless told it is ok.
If in doubt about something, please ask at any point. Tweet or DM us @thesocreview, e-mail our Digital Engagement Fellow directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or speak to one of the conference team who can direct your query accordingly.
I’m sitting in the riverside terrace at the Baltic, watching Undisciplining take shape as people arrive from across the UK and the world for our early career researcher day. I just read Pat Thomson’s morning blog about what it means to be live. Even though we are using the terminology of ‘live blogging’ for this project, we hope it will extend beyond the traditional meaning of real-time reporting. As Pat puts it, “Live-ness is about the capacity to make analysis and conversation at the time, in the time”. If this works, the live blogging is a layer of reflection which will fold into the conference itself, weaving threads of (unpredictable) collectivity through the fabric of the conference.
But what is a conference? It emerges from a range of people and things, planned in advance but cobbled together in practice. Much as I have always been fascinated by seeing festivals starting to be taken apart on the final day, I often find myself drawn to the site of a conference taking life as people begin to arrive on the first day. We can see the conference as an emerging entity taking form, as people bring life to what had previously been inert plans, carrying all manner of contingencies with them. This is a lively, awkward, uncertain moment before the routines of conferences kick in and regularities emerge. It is the moment when what Pat calls the Hive begins to form.