By: Gina Marie Longo, Ph.D.
When I first found Digital Sociology as a Ph.D. student, I must admit that I felt a little adrift. I was unsure of where I fit. I certainly did not consider myself a “computational” sociologist, although there are a few overlapping commonalities. I also was not wrangling “big data” or running complex models. I considered myself a qualitative researcher and feminist scholar interested in how social inequality is made and challenged through digital spaces. My department offered excellent mentorship and sociological training, but there were no courses or hands-on opportunities to learn digital methods or the theoretical terrain. I taught myself using YouTube and tutorial sites, but they did not use critical sociological approaches to think through digital research.
It was not until my dissertation advisor introduced me to two guest speakers, Drs. Jessie Daniels and Tressie McMillan Cottom, who we now consider the ‘Founding Mothers’ of Digital Sociology that I found my scholarly “home.” Along with a network of up-and-coming and seasoned interdisciplinary thinkers, their work hallmarked an emerging subdiscipline of Digital Sociology that uses digital tools and spaces to share sociological perspectives, self-expression, and reflection through public engagement. This community grounded me, but I continued to long for a place within that community where people could work together to build, research, learn, teach, and train to do social justice work and scholarship using the core principles of digital sociology.
This is why I am thrilled to announce the launch of the Digital Sociology Lab. VCU’s Sociology Department has already been paving the way with the Digital Sociology Master’s program, the only one like it in the United States. Now, we expand with the Digital Sociology Lab to provide opportunities for pedagogy to meet practice for the communities we serve. Our lab’s mission is to provide Digital Sociology training and research that emphasize a public, social justice approach that is “about, for, and by underrepresented communities.” (Barnard 2017).
We begin by building the organizational structure using a genuinely collaborative approach. There is no hierarchy in the organization. Instead of a top-down style of governance, we draw on the expertise and leadership across disciplines, students, faculty, and area organizers. We do not limit expertise simply to academic accolades, age, social privilege, or professional positions. We grow as we learn. Our vision for the future is to provide digital tools, training, research, and resources to social justice organizations and activists so they are empowered to enact the changes they strive for.
So, I wholeheartedly welcome you to the Digital Sociology Lab. I hope you will follow us as we set out. We are looking forward to working with you, our community. Let us know how you would like to get involved or what you would like to see as we grow.
Gina Marie Longo, Ph.D.