Toward a digital sociology of school

Accepted chapter abstract for: ‘The Digital Sociology Handbook‘ (eds. Jessie Daniels, Karen Gregory & Tressive McMillan Cottom).


The proliferation of digital technologies into schools and schooling clearly merits renewed and sustained sociological attention. This chapter will provide an overview of the key issues, including questions and methods that digital sociology can bring to bear on the critical study of contemporary schools and schooling. The chapter will comprise the following sections:

  •  Using digital sociology to problematize: The chapter will start with an overview of recent digitizations of school – most notably the ways in which ‘the digital’ has been utilized by powerful interests to legitimize broader projects of public school reform. Digital sociology, it can be argued, offers a rebuttal to the political, corporate and techno-libertarian agendas that are driving such change.
  •  Using digital sociology to question: The concerns and preoccupations of digital sociology map neatly onto the specific context of school. The chapter will outline sets of questions and problems that digital sociology raises in relation to schools and schooling. These include: the changing nature of school knowledge and expertise; management and governance; social relations; labor; time and space; materiality and place; surveillance; regulation and resistance.
  •  Using digital sociology to inquire: The chapter will then consider how the methods and methodologies of digital society can be applied in school research. This includes the opportunities offered by digital ethnography: large-scale data harvesting and analysis; critical participatory design, and the growing use of digital tools to support the creative, artful enactment of ‘live methods’.
  •  Using digital sociology as a catalyst for change: Finally, the chapter will consider how digital sociology offers insights into ‘thinking otherwise’ about schools in the digital age. In particular this involves using sociological inquiry as a catalyst for re-imagining, re-scripting and re-designing schools along more inclusive and less oppressive lines.