Written by Alexia Maddox, Deakin University, incoming Nexus editor: Alexia is a sociologist interested in the experience of digital community and thinking into how to visualise social form. She combines her passion for researching digital social frontiers with an eclectic interest in research methodology and exploring ways to bring these two passions together to shed new insights into our social worlds. Her recent book Research methods and global online communities: a case study explored the notion of community experience as it occurs in a spatially distributed, global context and how this experience is shaped by the mediation of technology and the internet. She is a research librarian at Deakin University library and research assistant at RMIT University. She writes:
Sociology for me is a window into the world, assisting me to be an attentive observer of social life. It has been a powerful lens through which I have gazed in awe at the uptake and integration of the internet into society and the increasing presence of the algorithm in mediating social exposure, experience and exchange. I began this journey as an Honours student studying by distance education through Deakin from Singapore, many years ago now. This time was the beginning of my immersion into my first community study and had the impact of removing the veil between my perception of the world and possible ways of seeing the mundane acts of everyday life. For this, I am very grateful and have continued my research practice operating in this tension between ways of viewing and modes of being across the diversity of human experience. Doing so has taught me compassion and a sensitivity for social intelligence that has become a professional skill. As time has passed, I have clothed this skill with methods of data collection, research design and evaluation approaches. From my scholarly and applied experience of doing this, I see the applications of the sociological imagination as immense yet often difficult to articulate both within and beyond academia.
My research is focused upon digital frontiers, where social experimentation with, and uptake of, current and emerging digital networked technologies produces a cauldron of creativity and emergent social forms. I find this social experimentation and hybrid human–computer zones where things get a little sci-fi both fascinating and innovative. Working in this space assists me to keep my thinking and insights into patterns of social organisation at the edge of social practice as we know it. When I’m honing down data that comes from this research into a synthesis of bare text, numbers or a graphic, I mourn the parsing down of the heaving thrust, joy and pathos of humanity from whence it came. There is so much sensory depth and experiential emotion that comes from doing research with people and the data imprint I take is but a mould of the moment. The further compression of this social imprint into concepts and prose produces sparkling insights and analytical clarity; however, where does all the vibrancy and dynamism go?
This search for the animated dynamism of a social moment has evoked for me a longer term research interest in modelling social form. Through this research interest, I seek to re-animate social experience held within data through new digital methods and opportunities. Consequently, through this exposure, working with and desiring to re-express the digital, I have become reconfigured by my research interests and am somewhat of a digital construct myself. Most recently, I have collaborated on research with the cryptographic community on the illicit drug markets in the dark web. With this work, we sought to understand the impact of an open drug market upon drug use trajectories and the social context and implications of this. Currently, I am conducting a digital ethnography of Bitcoin use through RMIT while working at Deakin Library as a research librarian. In this strange nexus, I see information and knowledge production and exchange from multiple, and sometimes conflicting, viewpoints. Never a dull moment really.
Throughout my research practice, I have sought peers interested in the questions that make me come alive and engage my curiosity about the world. I joined TASA when I began my PhD, remained connected upon its completion and desired to become more active in its future as I have moved through research roles and other applied professional situations. Over time, I have observed how TASA has responded to and provided opportunities for me to connect with like-minded, digitally oriented researchers. I am aware that it acts as a network and professional inspiration for many who attend the conferences and stay connected with people they have met there across the course of their professional practice. I look forward to becoming a part of the Nexus production team and working to learn the ropes and possibilities for Nexus. I hope to be part of developing a vibrant and innovative cultural product that we can use as a testing ground to articulate and disseminate the sociological imagination in all its wonderful forms and contemporary applications.