My week on Twitter with ‘off-Twitter’ consequences

This week, via Twitter, I had several interesting experiences. Here I’ll just summarize and describe them, but I’d like to think more about how these stories relate to identity, power, and community. Monday, April  14, was Dolphy Day at Le Moyne. If you’re curious about what Dolphy Day is, I guess you could look here. I don’t know if there really is a good account of what the day ‘is,’ but over the last few years perusing the hashtag #dolphyday would give you some impression. This year I saturated Twitter with tweets critical of the day (I’m surprised I still have followers). I meant to criticize, on intellectual grounds, what I feel is irresponsible student behavior, bad institutional policy, and the basic disrespect of students, staff, faculty, and campus neighbors the day ritualizes. One of my least interesting but most sincere tweets was used in this article from A number of students responded to me in defense of Dolphy Day, some rather aggressively, others very respectfully. As a result of my tweets, I got an email from a recent Le Moyne graduate very eloquently defending what she considers the good parts of the day. I had students approach me offline to tell me they liked what I was saying, but none telling me they disagreed. A few students asked me how they could communicate what they dislike about the day to administrators. One administrator on campus told me I wasn’t acting as a good colleague. I was also asked to do an interview for the campus newspaper about my opposition to Dolphy Day. I’ve asked the reporter if she’ll let me post the interview here on my blog, and I’ll do so once her story is published. I think it’s a good thing that what I and my colleagues did on Twitter, as well as on a very long ‘reply all’ email chain, might help start a real conversation about what Dolphy Day is at Le Moyne, and how it might be done differently and better.

Then, on Thursday, I had 2 unrelated Twitter experiences that I think are less about being a ‘public scholar’ and more about being a member of a supportive community. In the morning, I had a relatively long Direct Message exchange with a colleague and friend I met via Twitter about some non academic issues I’m finding it hard to talk about with others. It was really nice to have that chance, and it simply wouldn’t have happened without connections I’ve made via web based social networking. Thursday night I went to a Syracuse Chiefs double header, and midway through game 2 I tweeted a picture of view along with my seat location.

The view from my seat at NBT Bank Stadium.

The view from my seat at NBT Bank Stadium.

A Chiefs fan that I follow, and who also follows me, happened to see the tweet and it turned out he was sitting one section over. As we figured that out, he walked over and introduced himself. It turns out he’s a teacher with a great interest and knowledge about baseball. He even wrote his college senior year thesis about the economic impact of minor league baseball teams on their home cities. It sounds like a very interesting project, and I’ve asked to read it.

Each of these experiences are examples of how Twitter, and social networking more generally, have the potential to create community, to foster larger conversations about change, and to be integrated into our offline lives.

Professor to Professor on Twitter

Yesterday at Le Moyne we had a discussion about uses of Twitter in academic work. We focused primarily on how it might be used for teaching, but talked a little bit about how it might allow professors and students to be part of a larger research and professional community, beyond the college. I’d say our conversation was skeptically received by most of those in attendance, but then again they were in the room on what was by far the most beautiful Friday afternoon of the semester.

My colleague Lara Deruisseau, a bio prof here at Le Moyne, made a very interesting point about Twitter and community. I had commented about how Twitter might help us overcome the tyranny of small departments at liberal arts colleges by connecting to professionals all over the planet. Lara, however, drew our attention to the fact that, over the last year, several of us have come to know our Le Moyne colleagues from various departments and offices on campus much better because of our Twitter interaction. These web networks have enhanced our local community in important and powerful ways. Our increased collaboration will certainly have (postive) effects on our curricula and pedagogies.

This strikes me as excellent confirmation of claims about the place of computer networks in daily life. I’m reminded specifically of work by Barry Wellman like this essay about computer networks as social networks (notice the date – he was on this early!) or this one about person-to-person communities. In particular, something that is exciting is that networks like Twitter make it possible for communication at the college level to be professor-to-professor rather than department to department, or, more cynically, professor-to-department-chair-dean-chair-department-to-professor. Especially in the context of increased administrative and procedural layers, Twitter might be seen as a place where faculty collaboration/inspiration can happen person to person.

Twitter Types: Vague Thoughts

Thanks to Todd Schoepflin for taking the initiative to get a conversation started about Twitter. We don’t really know what this collaboration will lead to, but hopefully something that contributes to sociological understanding of Twitter and other forms of social media, but really interaction more generally. Todd posted this over at his blog as a way to summarize our initial conversations.
Fresh off that interview, I posed a question about why people use Twitter, via Tweet a few nights ago, and @DrJasonCrockett and @socsavvy responded with some very interesting comments.


Mechanical solidarity at work or play?

In The Division of Labor in Society, Emile Durkheim writes about occupational groups as a source of community in modern societies. In his language, we might consider these occupational groups as reservoirs of mechanical solidarity in a mass society characterized by organic solidarity. I’ve never thought very seriously about this; mostly because I’ve assumed it’s just wrong. I belong to the American Sociological Association, and I’m happy to, but the ASA doesn’t feel like community to me. I rejoined this year after letting my membership lapse for several years. I joined as a grad student because I was told I should be part of the ‘profession’ if I wanted a good start to a ‘career.’ It wasn’t about joining a community for the sake of being part of a community, and then the meetings felt more like competitive exclusion than religious harmony. I rejoined primarily because Twitter has put me in touch with networks of sociologists and scholars in other disciplines, and those connections have made me feel a bit more connected to the discipline, and the academic-world in general, than I had recently. So, my renewed membership in ASA was really a consequence of feeling part of the community (if that’s the right word) of scholars . Maybe the ASA meetings in New York this summer will create that rare but great feeling of collective effervescence Durkheim tells us is the result of collectively celebrating our morality and social order. Maybe.

If I was asked about the totem of my tribe, I’d not show you my ASA lanyards. Instead I’d show this picture:


Teaching With Twitter: How I think I’ll use Twitter in class

This semester I’m attempting to make Twitter an active part of my teaching. My plan is to share news items, research results, and other helpful information that comes via Twitter with students. I’ve asked them to follow my ‘professional account’ (yes, I’ve got another on which I mostly tweet about music and baseball). I’ve also created tags for the two classes so we can interact that way. Below is something I wrote up as a way to clarify my own thinking about using Twitter for class. I wrote as if I was speaking to the students because I planned on saying it on the first day of class. I did say most of it. I’m sharing it here on the blog because I thought readers might have advice. I’m sure there are holes and contradictions. After the monologue I’ll share some of my concerns and questions at this point, and then I’ll include my syllabus statements about Twitter (some overlap with what I said).


So, as you can see from the syllabus, and if you’ve been following me on Twitter already, I want to use Twitter a bit in this class. I don’t intend for this to mean you’re on your phones/computers/tablets tweeting everything we say (or your own distractions, whatever they are) when we have class. In fact, most of the time I don’t want you tweeting in class because I want you talking (imagine that!), but sometimes it will be appropriate. I’ll let you know when that is (i.e. later in the semester when we talk about social networks, technology, globalization, etc.). See the statement on the syllabus: (more…)

Academic tweeting and blogging: Some thoughts, questions, and links

I’m the first to admit that I’m a late adopter of Twitter and blogging for academic use, and therefore I’m also late to the conversation about how it fits into our existing models of academic work. That said, right now I’d have to classify myself as a true believer in the utility of platforms like Twitter and blogging for the kind of sociology I’d like to do. The potential of blogging to share creative ideas outside the typical channels like conferences, journals, and books is exciting to me for several reasons. When inspiration strikes, you can publicize your ideas, as opposed to writing a stale article and hoping it ends up on the reviewer’s desk on a good day. You don’t have to travel hundreds of miles to get folks into the hotel meeting room at 8:30 AM on a Sunday to hear a talk. There is potentially a much greater audience for a blog, so that your work might be seen by more than those who specialize in your field. It’s been rewarding to get feedback from non-sociologists on my various posts, sometimes academics in other fields, and other times interested readers from outside the academy. As for Twitter, a few days ago I tweeted that I was thankful about how Twitter helps “overcome the tyranny of the small department.” Small departments aren’t likely to have multiple members with shared research interests because that’s a disservice to students. Over the last 8 months or so that I’ve been seriously using my account (I feel bad for the 2 years I let it sit there unused) I’ve made connections with scholars I’d otherwise not know of and have been introduced to work and resources that I’ve found very helpful. In a way, I’d like to think these are like conversations one might have in the hallway of a department with colleagues whose interests are closer to your own. (Sure, I don’t really know what those departments are like…)