Social media as academic labour?

Leeds Beckett University hosted a seminar on the 27th June with Mark Carrigan. Held by the Centre for Applied Social Research (CeASR) the topic of Mark’s talk was ‘Social media and academic labour’ and Darren Nixon of Sociology at Leeds Beckett provided a response to Mark’s talk.

Mark Carrigan.jpg

Mark Carrigan speaking at Leeds Beckett University (picture via @chrishtill)

Social media has increasingly become part of our lives, and that’s true of academic lives also. Increasingly academics have a presence on social media, blogs and all manner of other networks and platforms. However, whether the use of social media has been assimilated as part of our ‘work’, the duties we perform remains less clear.

Mark discussed whether social media can in fact be part of the ‘impact agenda’ that is highly present within academic life in contemporary universities, where metrics are king. We therefore perhaps need to be careful about how we use social media and whether our use is complicit or resisting (or somewhere in between) of those agendas. In a more positive vein social media can allow academics space to write, and writing is itself part of academic labour. Mark suggested that we can produce things as academics more quickly, and give social existence to things by their ‘posting’ online.

I digress, but this possible analogy of posting with the idea of ‘birthing’ strick me afterwards as interesting, and is often the beneficial part of attending seminars such as this; it makes me think, around things, within things.  This analogy however may go further, particularly as Carrigan talked of how social media items, be it blogs, or tweets, or podcasts, can talk on life forms of their own, taking new paths and directions different from how the poster may have envisaged, which too could be analogous of the experience of parenting, and offspring following their own paths. We often think we ‘own’ the things we produce online but they can often in fact become part of other social communities, adopted by others and cherished or rejected by people other than those who created them. Social media can therefore perhaps be relational in creating connections, but also the artefacts produced by social media may be relational in and of themselves. How users feel about what they post is perhaps as important then as those who read or see, or share the product of those posts.

Mark also discussed how importantly, social media can allow us to share with different audiences, and create a living archive of our thoughts and ideas. There is something inherently transparent about the conception of that, and if used correctly, that social media could be important in breaking down perceptions around ideas of the university as ‘ivory towers’ where we (academics) produce ‘stuff’ (research/thought/teaching) ostensibly for the public good, but often very much hidden from the public gaze. Social media can allow academics and journalists, and academics and communities, to interact, it creates new spaces, but Carrigan offers a note of caution about how these spaces are framed, and Nixon usefully questioned this in relation to quality, and the controlling of that.

The final part of Mark’s talk was about using social media as an academic in the context of acceleration, and this was perhaps where his caution about social media was readily apparent. Acceleration can he argued help breed and fuel individualism, and the idea of ‘craft versus careers’ becomes stark in that context  The logic of career progression and social media as a tool for that can be increasingly seen, are we now our own publicists? PR agents? Marketing managers? People talk about developing your ‘Brand’, your personal ‘brand’, the surface stuff that people ‘see’ (rather than developing your self as a person which perhaps is deeper and thus I would argue more interesting). Living fast in the workplace is seen as living fully, and Carrigan useful noted that fire fighting is often our default positions (and think most of the room could identify with that notion). Does social media contribute to that sense of fire fighting ? Is it just ‘one more thing to do’? Or can we use social media as a means to create collaboration rather than competition, as a positive note in the increasingly intensified world of labour?

These are then perhaps questions for resolutions, and some of them we explored in the discussion beyond the talk and response at this seminar. The value of a seminar like this, is for this type for discussion, the thinking, the provocation, the stuff on the margins. And perhaps Carrigan showed that the slower stuff in academic labour, about how we develop our own ideas and values about things within the university, how we can think more consciously about our social media use demonstrates just that, fast is not always better.

A huge thanks to Mark (@mark_carrigan) for coming to talk to and with us at Leeds Beckett for this seminar, and to Chris Till (@chrishtill) whose tweets I used (along with mine) to write up these reflections.

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