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A Blog recording the life a Web Scientist
May 1st 2013 marked the first Web Science Social Theory workshop, held at Web Science 2013 in Paris, France. As part responsible for organising and running it (credit goes to Lisa Sugiura who was focal in organising and putting the workshop together, and also Huw Davies!), I felt like today was a great success in terms of the number, engagement, and sheer enthusiasm that both the participants and presenters had.
The morning opened up with Dominique Boullier who gave a seriously fantastic talk entitled ‘Social theory and technical architectures: 3 stages and many traps’, in which Dominique provided one of the most comprehensive accounts of how social theory has evolved, and how this relates to Web Science. Covering: Durkheim to Latour, Berners-Lee to Kleinberg, Dominique’s keynote was something that I know a lot of Web Scientists wanted to hear; the talk raised a lot of discussion, with the audience engaging in topics from methodological and epistemological challenges, to the practicalities of applying social theory to an ever changing Web. Undoubtedly, this keynote set the tone for the rest of the workshop.
Following Dominique’s keynote, the first of two paper sessions commenced, which included from topics such as the use of social theory for understanding the Arab Web and the development of a model for interdisciplinary teamwork with the use of social theory. Both presentations raised some important issues regarding the implications of using social theory, and the challenges that are faced. Sabrine Saad et al. (presented by Stéphane Bazan) disucssed issues regarding the ‘Laurence of E-Beria’, a term developed to label researchers that study the Arab Web, but are not familiar with the culture and practices of the Arab world, thus interpret the results incorrectly. Some really important points where made here, and demonstrated the use of social theory as a way to begin to understand some of the differences in uses. Peter Kraker’s paper on interdisciplinary working also raised the know issue of the divide between the computational and social sciences, an issue that has been brought up before in Web Science; and as a working solution, proposed an iterative process in order to collaborative as well as cooperate together.
After the (much needed) coffee break, a second panel session which featured 4 great talks was given, including Jess Vass’s social machines and social theory paper, offering a new take on how social theory can be used to conceptualise and understand the outcomes of a social machine. This was followed by Kristine Gloria giving a talk on how Foucault could be used to understand the Semantic Web, and how the use of social theory can be used to unpack the different forms of truth that are constructed (and hidden) within a Semantic Web Ontology. Olivier Philippe and Jen Welch then presented their work on looking at the methodological implications of using Big Data within sociological research, taking examples from recent studies of Twitter and how they offer only shallow meaning and representations of what the data may actually represent. This echoed the discussions during the morning’s keynote by Dominique, and the examples provided really brought this to life. Finally, our last presentation was given by Fabian Flock, who discussed the possibility of using media related social theory to understand the role of collective intelligence on (in) the Web; this was great as it approaached the issue of social theory from an angle that previously had not been discussed (or considered).
The final session of the workshop was a 20 (but went onto 40!) minute discussion which featured Susan Halford, Stéphane Bazan, Craig Webber, Dominique Boullier, and David Beer, who despite Skyping in managed to give a short, but extremely relevant keynote, as well as take part in the discussions. Some really good (but hard) Web Science questions were being asked, and in return were answered with passionate responses. With discussions varying from the application and integration of social theory into Web Science, to the specific details of combining new forms of data with existing social theory, much ground was covered; we even managed to question the role of Google glass for future Web Science research.
Overall, today was a great day for Web Science. We all took part and contributed to many great discussions, and the room was filled with a collection of highly engaged, enthusiastic, and excited researchers who we hope now are inspired and charged to carry on the great research that they are already undertaking.
I would like to thank all that came to the workshop and also those that presented! Bring on Web Science 2014!