Digital Sociology

Deborah Lupton has established herself as an authority in digital sociology outside the usual academic forums, using social media to beat the paywall and get her research to a wider audience. She explained why you’re mad if you aren’t doing the same.

By Tim Groenendyk

Deborah Lupton

“I’ve already got quite a profile in that area without actually publishing anything in traditional academic outlets on digital sociology yet.” Deborah Lupton

“I really think that universities should be seriously looking at training academics in how to use social media,” said Deborah Lupton, Honorary Associate in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy.

Lupton, a sociologist focused on health, medicine, parenting, and fat politics, has seen her readership increase rapidly in less than a year.

This has been due to a combination of writing to suit a broad audience, publishing on the Library’s e-repository, and publicising her research across several social media platforms.

She has now become an advocate for using social media to disseminate research, using Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Storify, and her blog - This Sociological Life - regularly.

“I published a preamble document on how I’ve been using social media and what I think digital sociology should be.”

She then used her blog and Twitter to announce it was in the e-repository. Since August it has been downloaded over a 1000 times.

“The effect of Twitter is exponential - people retweet to their networks something that you’ve tweeted and then they might retweet it.”

Using an online tool called Tweetreach she could see how many people have seen her tweets and how many times they had been retweeted.

“For example, one of my tweets went to 80,000 people.”
Since Lupton started utilising social media she’s found that it has had a profound impact on her recognition in her field of interest.

“If you Google ‘digital sociology’ you’ll see that many of the top links are blog posts I’ve written on that topic.

“I have written a lot about it in the last six months and people have been reading it and retweeting or referring to my posts in their blogs.

“I’ve already got quite a profile in that area without actually publishing anything in traditional academic outlets on digital sociology yet.”

Currently working on a book, called The Social Worlds of the Unborn, she has found that certain social media tools have been excellent for gathering articles for research.

“For this book I’m writing – which includes discussion of how embryos and foetuses have become public icons, how ultrasounds are now used as decorative items and so on - I’ve got a Pinterest board where I actually show examples of this.

“So I found that a really good way to bring together a social media platform and my research as well. I can collect these images as part of my research and refer to them easily.”

In Lupton’s field, which is very much about commenting on the immediate happenings of the internet and social life, it makes sense for her to work with in a medium that gets her research out instantly, rather than publishing solely in academic journals which require not only subscription but at least a year, and sometimes 18 months, before you’re allowed to take the article public.

“If you have to wait a year or a year and a half after it’s been published it’s going to be a bit old by then.

“Whereas if you’re blogging about your research, it won’t be as academic or as detailed as what you produce in a journal article, but at least you’ll be getting some of the findings out there very quickly, as you’re analysing them.

“You can get it out there straight away and the blog, or a model like that, is the quickest way to get the public access happening. But doing both traditional academic publishing and more accessible writing on digital platforms is ideal.

“It’s been estimated that only one in forty academics have an active Twitter account.

“I’m on the soap box now: I would say to them get in there and find out more about it.

“As academics we really should be making our research accessible to the general public, that’s part of our job description.”

“I wonder why more academics aren’t doing this.”