Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Sharing All Our #Goodtimes

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Sharing All Our #Goodtimes

Article excerpt

Digital habits reveal the delicate dance between our public and private selves, says Tara Brabazon

Social Media in an English Village

By Daniel Miller

UCL Press 234pp, £35.00, £15.00 and £5.99

ISBN 9781910634424, 4431, 4455 (e-book), 4448 (open access)

Published 29 February 2016

Generalisations simplify knowledge, transforming intricate research into checklists, bullet points and consultancy-ready PowerPoint presentations. Provocative and troubling intellectual detours and culs-de-sac are crushed, compacted and bituminised to build smooth, commodifiable outcomes.

Courageous and quirky studies are rare. However, a new monograph series, Why We Post - drawing on a project involving nine anthropologists looking at the same topics simultaneously around the world - embraces the idiosyncratic and denies the simple convenience of a predictable scholarly motorway. The books use standardised chapter headings, but focus on specific local studies. In a valuable critique of the "Cultural studies for dummies", plug-in-and-play theories of digitisation and identity, Daniel Miller, one of the nine researchers, observes: "Most studies of the internet and social media are based on research methods that assume we can generalize across different groups. We look at tweets in one place and write about 'Twitter'. We conduct tests about social media and friendship in one population, and then write on this topic as if friendship means the same thing for all populations."

Social Media in an English Village, the first of the location-specific Why We Post titles, develops innovative interpretations from rich ethnographic data. Miller does not allow "the English" to remain an unmarked sign. Similarly, online life is not separated from analogue life; he shows the free and fluid meshing of bytes and blood.

What makes this English study distinct from the others in the series is that Miller shadows an intricate dance between public and private. Social media are the spaces where those contradictions are revealed and negotiated. Indeed, his conclusion is that "the English have subsequently re-purposed social media into more of a tool for keeping people apart or at a distance". …

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