The Sociological Imagination A daily dose of the Sociological Imagination Sat, 25 Oct 2014 07:00:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Call for Papers: Feminism, Activism, Education Sat, 25 Oct 2014 07:00:29 +0000 Read More ›]]> Call for Papers

If not now, when? Feminism in contemporary activist, social and educational contexts

Political and socio-economic developments in recent years have created new opportunities and new battlegrounds for feminism, with women taking to the streets and demonstrating against the status quo, corruption, sexism, austerity and capitalism. On February 13th2011,

demonstrations took place in various Italian cities, with over a million participants in total. They were coordinated by the feminist coalition Se Non Ora Quando? (If not now, when?). The demonstrations voiced the urgent need to reassert women’s dignity and renewed faith in the effectiveness of a popular feminist movement.

There seems to be a pervasive optimism that feminism is now entering a new era, as evidence from different countries seems to suggest. At the same time, it is said that the advance of neoliberalism and the indisputable gains of feminism in the last thirty years have resulted in de-politicisation and a decline of interest in feminism. The mainstreaming of feminism has also raised concerns about its independent and autonomous existence.

‘If not now, when?’ invites potential contributors to consider the present moment of feminism and the presence of feminism on the streets and in mainstream society. It is seeking both theoretically informed and more empirical contributions on feminist endeavours, the strategies they employ and the values they uphold, the lessons learnt, and the new or emerging debates and challenges. In the context of a broadly defined feminist education, ‘If not now, when?’ also wishes to explore the pedagogical aspect of contemporary feminism, as well as testimonies of politicisation and mobilisation relevant to the formation of a feminist consciousness, especially in higher education.

Further, and focusing on the present, it invites contributions on the theoretical ideas that are most relevant for feminism today. We are particularly interested in the notion of timeliness or kairos, the right time for something to happen as opposed to chronos or linear time. This temporal aspect of the contemporary feminism needs to be analysed and fully understood in the light of debates over the future of democracy, the welfare state, neoliberalism and globalisation. As evidence from the ‘periphery’ of Europe and the Mediterranean show that feminists decide to take to the streets again, we particularly welcome contributions that speak about the present and recent past of feminism in that part of the world, especially in the light of the significant political, social and economic changes in the region.

Contributions might address the following topics:

  • Feminist alternatives to patriarchy and neoliberalism: contemporary strategies, theoretical ideas and practices;
  • Feminism in the academia and beyond: reflections on the past, emerging issues in the present, pedagogical prospects;
  • Contemporary feminist activism in the South of Europe and beyond: what do know, what do we learn?
  • Feminism, ethical values and the role of the individual;
  • Feminism and the idea time and timeliness (Kairos);
  • Is feminism still transformative or has it become too mainstream and confluent with dominant politics?
  • How could the insight, issues and strategies of popular movements be transformed into permanent advantages for feminism?
  • How does academic feminism respond to ideological, political and cultural demands outside the academia?

350-500 word abstracts are due by 1st December 2014.

Proposals should be for original works not previously published (including in conference proceedings) and that are not currently under consideration for another journal or edited collection. If your proposal is accepted for the special issue, a full draft (5000-7000 words) will be required by June 2015. Editors are happy to discuss ideas prior to the deadline.

Proposals should be sent to:

Olivia Guaraldo, University of Verona, Italy and

Angela Voela, University of East London, UK

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Four concepts of social structure Fri, 24 Oct 2014 07:00:53 +0000 Read More ›]]> The concept of ‘social structure’ is central to sociological inquiry yet there is little agreement about what it means. This matters because social explanation hinges on what we take ‘structure’ to be and a lack of ubiquity about the term helps fuel the disagreements and confusions which are already rife within sociological theory. In a paper from 1989 Doug Porpora identifies the four most prominent uses of the concept:

I. Patterns of aggregate behavior that are stable over time
2. Lawlike regularities that govern the behavior of social facts
3. Systems of human relationships among social positions
4. Collective rules and resources that structure behavior

The first use tends to be associated with individualists concerned to explain how social patterns arise aggregatively from individual behaviour. The second use tends to be associated with holists concerned with social facts and the properties of collectivities. The third use is most frequently associated with Marxism and network theorists (for different reasons) with their respective concerns for the causal power of social relations. The fourth use has often been associated with symbolic interactionists, as well as the structurationist theory of Anthony Giddens.

Another way of considering the different uses of ‘social structure’ is offered by Dave Elder-Vass. He argues that a notion of structure as an emergent feature of social wholes can contribute to existing understandings of structure within sociological theory:

This paper engages with the long running debate on social structure, using Lopez and Scott’s typology of social structure as a starting point (Lopez and Scott 2000). In their useful summary of this debate, they have portrayed the history of this concept as a dialogue between two different concepts or facets of structure, both with roots in Durkheim. On the one hand, institutional structure is comprised by the cultural or normative expectations that guide agents’ relations with each other. On the other, relational structure is composed of the social relations themselves – causal interconnections and interdependences between agents. More recently, a third facet has come to the fore: embodied structure, and Lopez and Scott suggest that embodied structure can play a key role in reconciling and integrating the earlier institutional and relational views.

Institutional structure include macro phenomena (e.g. property, employment, marriage) and micro phenomena (e.g. queuing, turn taking, gift giving). In both cases, institutions serve to regulate interaction by conditioning the reciprocal expectations of actors. Relational structure encompass the relations between roles (e.g. teacher/students, employer/employee) and between concrete individuals. With regards to the latter, we can find a weak sense of relation found in someone like Crossley (a relation is a past history and expectation of future interaction between A and B) and a strong sense found in Donati and Archer (a relation is an emergent property of interaction, producing relational goods/evils, which can only be experienced through participation in that relation). I think Crossley’s sense is congruent with network theory but I’m not certain. Embodied structure is a notion found in theorists like Giddens, Bourdieu and Foucault (in different ways) and concerns the way in which structure ‘gets inside’ actors. It sees social conditions as inculcating behavioural dispositions with consequences for those conditions. In someone like Bourdieu there’s an extremely sophisticated sense of those conditions, which leaves embodied structure as a mechanism through which relational structure gets transformed or reproduced.

In his paper Dave Elder-Vass in concerned to integrate these notions of structure into an account of social wholes. The idea here is that wholes have powers in virtue of the arrangement of their parts:

Let me illustrate the point with one simple example from the natural world. Dogs usually have the emergent power to bark (the property of being able to bark). The dog’s vocal cords, windpipe, lungs, mouth, and brain are all required to make this happen, but none of these parts, or even all of them linked together, would have the power to bark if they were not organized (along with its other parts) into the anatomical relations required to form them into a living dog. We could explain how these parts, combined in this way, generate the power to bark, but this does not take away the fact that this power can only be possessed by a whole living dog, and not by the parts as such.

However understanding how this can be so necessitates that we address the underlying ambiguity in the word structure, as a feature of lay discourse, which compounds the higher level confusions surrounding it as a concept in sociological theory:

These arise from the ‘persistent ambiguity’ in the meaning of structure identified by Raymond Williams (Crothers 2002: 7; Williams 1976: 253). As Williams explains, the word originally referred to the process of building, but:

The word was notably developed in C17, in two main directions: (i) towards the whole product of building, as still in ‘a wooden structure’; (ii) towards the manner of construction, not only in buildings but in extended and figurative applications. (Williams 1976: 253)

It is clear from the history of structure and structural that the words can be used with either emphasis: to include the actual construction with special reference to its mode of construction; or to isolate the mode of construction in such a way as to exclude both ends of the process – the producers . . . and the product, in its substantive sense. (Williams 1976: 257)

In other words, the label structure can be used to refer to different structural elements. It can, for example, refer to a whole entity that is structured by the relations between its parts ((i) in Williams), which I shall call structure-as- whole, or it can refer to the way that a group of things (generally the parts of a whole) is related to each other ((ii) in Williams), which I shall call structure- as-relations.

It’s in this sense of structure-as-whole that we can conceive of wholes as having powers in virtue of the arrangement of their parts.

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Emma Uprichard on Complex Temporal Ontologies and Method – October 28th @SocioWarwick Thu, 23 Oct 2014 11:26:20 +0000 Read More ›]]> In the second Centre for Social Ontology seminar of 2014/15, Emma Uprichard (Associate Professor at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies) discusses Complex Temporal Ontologies and Method:

This paper reflects on the methodological challenge of applying complexity theory to study social systems. More specifically, the focus is on the problem of capturing complex patterns of time and temporality empirically. The onus of the talk will be: a) to problematize existing longitudinal qualitative and quantitative social research approaches, which fail to capture complex temporal ontologies, and b) to suggest some tentative methodological alternatives which focus on capturing temporal patterns of change and continuity from a complex systems perspective. A particular concern throughout the discussion is how to study complex change and continuity empirically, whilst also ensuring that notions of agency and the reflexive ageing actor remain central.

All welcome! The seminar will take place on October 28th, from 5pm to 6:30pm in R1.15 (Ramphal Building) on the University of Warwick campus. See here for help getting to the campus. Feel free to contact Mark Carriganwith any questions.

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“Invisible Lives”: Romanian Night Workers in London Wed, 22 Oct 2014 07:00:12 +0000 Read More ›]]>

Global cities like London have an incessant rhythm of consumption that needs to be maintained around-the-clock. This short film shines a light on the invisible lives of people working at night whilst the majority sleep or enjoy the nocturnal life. Invisible Lives is a short documentary that explores the experiences of Romanians working at night in London.

This film, made by Tim Marrinan and Iulius-Cezar Macarie, features night workers in the construction and hotelier industries, a sex worker on the street and a market trader. They share their stories that encapsulate the highs and lows of night work, from moments of danger to moments of tranquillity when night meets day.

These people’s lives are hardened by threats from pimps and punters or from tiring 12-hour night shifts. The night workers’ experiences are revealed in snapshots through audio stories combined with a visual portrait of nocturnal London– a city that never sleeps.

Through a mix of visually artistic frames and in somewhat poetic manner, the film documents through images and words, the pulse of the nocturnal London, and how and in what ways the precariousness affects the lives of Romanian migrant night workers in this global city. Uncertainties and risks taken by workers on short-term contracts or working illegally (sex worker and market trader), flexibility demands, and no welfare benefits available to protect them reveal the presumed precarious livelihoods. What sets Invisible Lives aside from other films is that it allows the protagonists to portray their lives as they are, without much interference through commentaries or analysis.

As SI’s visual sociology editor, I was very excited to find such a great recent example of visual ethnography/sociology (which is why we included it both in the Visual Sociology and the Sociological Craft categories). The carefully dovetailed image-and-narrative work together to explore a number of important sociological issues – migration, gender, labour, sleep, precarity. Invisible Lives makes great use of thick description – both in the traditional, narrative sense, and a more modern visual ethnographic sense. While it does guide the viewer towards a certain standpoint of analysis (critical of the precarious life-paths of the invisible night workers, reproachful of society’s lack of engagement with the night workers’ plight), it does so in a gentle, non-prescriptive, and all the more convincing way, allowing for multiple interpretations, and letting through the authentic voices of the research participants.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the film is the brainchild of a sociologist – Iulius-Cezar Macarie, junior research fellow at the Centre for Political Studies at the Central European University, and a documentary filmmaker with some great projects in his portfolio – Tim Marrinan.

Tim Marrinan is a freelance documentary filmmaker based in London working primarily on films addressing issues related to art, culture and society. He is currently working on his first feature length documentary and his previous short film, Beam Drop was
screened internationally at film festivals and was aired on television in the UK (Sky Arts), the US (Plum TV).

Macarie’s PhD research investigates who is up at night, why and for what purpose. It seeks to explore if an anthropologically informed qualitative inquiry could reveal differences and similarities amongst Romanian and Turkish night workers’ access to a decent human life in global cities like London with an acute need for migrant labour to maintain its 24-hour economy. The central theme of solidarity against competition amongst migrant night workers provides the conceptual framework for his in-depth comparative research to investigate these two communities living and working the nightshift in London. Macarie gr­ew up in Romania and collaborates with Nightlaboratory. Since September 2013, he is an ‘INTEGRIM’ Marie Curie Junior Research Fellow affiliated to the Center for Policy Studies, and in parallel a PhD student in Sociology and Social Anthropology, at the Central European University, Budapest.

The film co-directors, sociologist Iulius-Cezar Macarie (left) and documentary filmmaker Tim Marrinan

The film co-directors, sociologist Iulius-Cezar Macarie (left) and documentary filmmaker Tim Marrinan


The film is part of Roundtable Projects 2013 — an open platform for cultural projects developed in partnership with the members of the Romanian community in the UK. If you liked it, here you can check out the film’s Facebook page.

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Why don’t more early career researchers produce podcasts? Tue, 21 Oct 2014 07:00:39 +0000 Read More ›]]> I’ve never understood why more PhD students and Early Career Researchers don’t produce podcasts. I’ve wondered this for a long time and the question came back to me when reading this post on LSE Impact. I think she overstates the case slightly (both in terms of the degree to which social media reproduces existing hierarchies and the extent to which podcasts level them) but it’s an important argument nonetheless:

I’m extremely optimistic about the use of podcasts because academia is a slow ‘industry’ and often only a few people hear about your work. With a podcast the focus is on your research topic and you can quickly share your results. Findings are also made more accessible and engaging for people outside of the academic bubble, and who are often directly applicable to the results. In addition, social science research can become sanitised when researchers are left to summarise their findings in a few lines. By literally giving researchers a voice, findings become more exciting as people are allowed to animate their findings and bring character to their research, which I think does more justice to the research that they carry out.

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Limits of democratization. Two roots of the current political misery Mon, 20 Oct 2014 19:53:13 +0000 Read More ›]]> by Ralf Wetzel

Rwanda. Somalia. Iraq. Afghanistan. Libya. Egypt. And Syria. And Iraq again. The number of failed modern political interventions is legion. Successful examples are the rare exceptions. There are few worth mentioning, except certainly post-war Germany or post-Apartheid South Africa. How come? People trying to understand malfunctioning or even ‘failing’ states tend to make two fundamental mistakes, mostly by ignoring the conditions of societal intervention in the modern world.

The three forms of societal evolution
It would be moot to state that societal conditions and the level of development around the globe differ considerably. The fundamental difference, beyond differences in commercial wealth, political participation, or educational inclusion, is the state of societal evolution. This term is understood here in the way the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann developed it in the second half of the 20th century. According to his extensive work on societal evolution and differentiation, we know three distinct forms of societal differentiation: a.) a peripheral society which distinguishes between a centre and its periphery, b.) between above and below, forming a stratified order, and c.) between different functional domains, like the economy, politics, or education in modern society. Such centre|periphery-based societies arose in the very early days of social evolution, when different tribes began operating in limited spatial conditions, fully reliant on physical co-presence and interaction. Ancient Greece or medieval Europe can figure as examples of above|below-centered societies, in which different social strata (slaves|craftsmen|nobility), the parallel hierarchy of religion, and the overall dominance of a religion (the temporal expression of a presumed divine will) determined the social world. Latest with the 18th century in Europe and North America especially, a new form of societal differentiation occurred, which is the so-called functionally differentiated society. Here, the ranking of different social strata has been replaced by the appearance of different societal domains, such as the economy, politics, education, or science. Religion stepped down from its eminent place as a primary and distinguished observer of society and became one amongst many functional milieus. Since then, Western modern society has lost its foundations of a hierarchical nature.

Functionalism as the precondition of modern democracy
The current political ambition that modern democracy could hold sway as the governing principle of today’s world results from a terrible overestimation of its applicability. Originally born under highly specific and improbable conditions in one specific stratum of ancient Greek society, its first manifestation disappeared alongside the political and societal context that gave birth to it. It reoccurred as the political outcome of the Renaissance ending the medieval order in Europe, when Europe’s societies shifted their constituent principle from stratification to functionalization. Both economic and political communication separated from and challenged the religious primary, visible in the tectonic shifts in the political landscape between the 15th and 17th century. Religion lost substantial societal impact and parties and enterprises appeared independent from any religious roots. Democracy became a core program for the system of politics in the first impactful modern nations in Europe, like England or France, later on the ascendant in North American state building ventures. The success of democracy was grounded in its ability to adapt to the call for broad participation of individuals in these societies. If there had not been society-wide political communication, resting on the call for participation and inclusion, there would have been no democracy. Democracy became the modus vivendi of modern societal politics.

The modern relevance of organizations
With the functionalization of society, another social system launched its extraordinarily successful career: the formal organization. Already used to great effect in local projects such as dam construction, in armies, and in religious orders, the sheer number of organizations exploded while the stratified society of yore disappeared. Since the general stability of stratified societies was replaced by modern ambiguity and individual uncertainty resulting from the heterogenization of modern society, organizations stepped in to fill its place. The temporal hierarchy of organizations could serve the need of stability and provide clarity, temporal goals, and individual inclusion. Formal administration became the backbone of nation building, and formal procedures guaranteed the application of democratic principles. Furthermore, organizations have become the core and almost single means of modern society to intervene in itself. Political and economic intervention is basically less about the injection of materiel, overwhelming numbers of soldiers, or developmental aids. It is about an organization (government, enterprise, army, NGO, United Nations, whatever) intervening in another organization (government, army, company, school) or another social system (economy, education politics, or quasi-systems like nations or networks). There is nothing left to use but organizations. We have ‘unlearned’ other means. Accordingly, the form of democracy we know today is fate-bound to the principal conditions of modern Western societies, which are functionalization and organizationalization.

The pre-modernity of intervened nations
A quick look at the constitution of the ‘nations’ that form the targets of modern intervention reveals that these preconditions of modern democracy do not hold true there. Without any exception, we find stratified or even peripheral societies in which the implementation of a Western kind of democracy lacks all prerequisites and, in very generic terms, is not meaningful. The cognitive horizon of these societies is bound to their form of societal differentiation as much as modern Western society is bound to its own. Literally, implementing democracy does not make sense for pre-modern societies, since the general notion of and emphasis on heteronomy, equality, and individuality is simply not given and has no anchor in the societies’ constitution (as the implementation of pre-modern regulatory means would not hold under modern conditions). Democracy, in short, is unusable, and the attempt to implement such a political and highly organized program astonishingly naïve. Furthermore, the organization-based style of intervention is inappropriate as well. Different societal constitutions are based on different forms of intervention, and intervening by means of organizations in a society unused to organizations cannot hope to lead to the intended effects.

And now? About functional equivalences
Clearly, the West has been too self-assured in assuming that a modern technology to produce collectively binding decisions could be applied under circumstances which lack the essential preconditions. And it has been astonishingly ignorant to the point that political interventions by means of organizations will not take hold, since there are almost no organizations to intervene in. The agenda now has to be to look for functional equivalences of democracy, which could stabilize the societies in question and which could provide a link to modern conditions of decision-making and participation. An equivalent stand for a program which could create collectively binding decisions (like democracy does to modern nations), however, must acknowledge the different societal constitution. This search will be painful, since Western values and myths like equality and individualism will not be mirrored by whatever it reveals. To bring these values by modern, Western means to pre-modern societies is a vain illusion. There is no other way than to acknowledge the fundamental difference of pre-modern societies first, to accept a fundamental distinction in terms of the values and aspirations on the other side, and to check what is possible in the development of both (arrogant) modern and (ignorant) pre-modern societies in their co-evolution. Local wars will certainly be a constant and almost unavoidable part of this pain. Let’s face it, this pain won’t go away easily.

Ralf Wetzel began his career as an electrician. He joined Vlerick Business School as a Professor of Organization and Management after extensive work experience in management and organization research and after being a head of a joint research and consulting group. His career path led him from Germany to the UK, via Switzerland to Belgium. He applies art-based research like improvisation principles and theatre play in his work, especially for inquiring into topics like organization theory & behaviour, change management, consulting, leadership, organization & society. Aside of his academic writing, he loves to turn research results into art-based forms like fiction, accessible for non-academic readers. Twitter: @RalfWetzel

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Gurminder K Bhambra on Connected Sociologies Mon, 20 Oct 2014 16:44:17 +0000 The discussion of Connected Sociologies as theoretical methodology around the 13 minute mark is particularly interesting:

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Call for contributions: Power, Acceleration and Metrics in Academic Life Mon, 20 Oct 2014 16:30:49 +0000 Read More ›]]> There is little doubt that science and knowledge production are presently undergoing dramatic and multi-layered transformations accompanied by new imperatives reflecting broader socio-economic and technological developments. The unprecedented proliferation of audit cultures preoccupied with digitally mediated measurement and quantification of scholarship and the consolidation of business-driven managerialism and governance modes are commonplace in the contemporary academy. Concurrently, the ever-increasing rate of institutional change, (the need for) intensification of scientific and scholarly production/communication and diverse academic processes seem to characterize the overall acceleration of academic life (i.e., in many disciplines the new maxim ‘patent and prosper’ (Schachman) supplements the traditional ‘publish or perish’). Quantification and metrics have emerged not only as navigating instruments paradoxically exacerbating the general dynamization of academic life but also as barely questioned proxies for scientific quality, career progression and job prospects, and as parameters redrawing what it means to be/work as a scholar nowadays (i.e., the shifting parameters and patterns of academic subjectivity). Metrification now seems to be an important interface between labour and surveillance within academic life, with manifold affective implications.

This workshop will inquire into the techniques of auditing and their attendant practices and effects and will also probe into scholars’ complicity in reproduction of such practices. It will consider processes of social acceleration within the academy and their implications for the management of everyday activity by those working within it. This will include:

• empirical and theoretical engagements with the acceleration of higher education
• the origins of metrification of higher education
• metrification as a form of social control
• the challenges of self-management posed by metrification and/or acceleration
• common strategic responses to these challenges
• the relationship between metrification and acceleration
• how metrification and acceleration relate to a broader social crisis

The workshop will take place in December 2015 in Prague. At present, we’re seeking to clarify the level of interest before determining the length of the event, fixing a date and inviting keynote speakers. Please send expressions of interest – a biographical note and brief description of interest in the topic – to and – deadline January 31st 2015.


Hosted by Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic the event will take place in Vila Lanna, V Sadech 1, 160 00, Prague 6, Czech Republic (


Air: From Vaclav Havel Airport Prague take the bus no 119 to Dejvicka (which is the terminal stop). Vila Lanna is 5-6min walk from there.

Train: From Main Railway Station (Praha hlavni nadrazi, often abbreviated Praha hl. n), take metro line C (red), change at Muzeum for line A (green) and get off at the terminal stop Dejvicka. Vila Lanna is 5-6min walk from there.
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“I have no idea what to tweet about!” Mon, 20 Oct 2014 07:00:51 +0000 Read More ›]]> Are you a social researcher who feels this way? Here are some ideas which might help:

  • Have you read any interesting papers recently? Link to them and briefly explain why you liked them.
  • Are you going to any conferences soon? Tweet that you’re going and ask if anyone else is.
  • Are there any new stories which connect to issues you address in your research? Link to them and explain why
  • Working on a presentation or a paper? Take one idea, try and express it succinctly then throw it on to twitter to see what reaction you get.
  • Have you read anything good recently that isn’t related to your research? Tweet about it and explain why.
  • Try to find other people working on similar issues to you. Tweet and ask! (e.g. “Does anyone know other people working on x, y, z?”)
  • Are there any blogs or other websites you follow that are connected to your research? Tweet and tell other people why you like them.
  • Are there policy or political conclusions which follow from your research findings? Explain what they are.
  • For that matter, what are your research findings? Tell people.
  • The most obvious one: link to your publications. Tell people what they’re about and why the work mattered to you.
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Digital Sociologist: Noortje Marres from @SociologyGold Sun, 19 Oct 2014 09:03:29 +0000 Read More ›]]> s200_noortje.marres

How did the Goldsmiths MA/MSc in digital sociology come about?

Is it difficult to unify the disciplines that are represented on the course? 

How would you describe the aims of the course? 

What sort of students are attracted to the course?

Do you think digital sociology courses like this will become more common over time? 

You can find out more about the MA/MSc in Digital Sociology here. You can find out more about Noortje’s work here.

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