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Couldry, Nick ORCID: 0000-0001-8233-3287 and Kallinikos, Jannis (2017) Ontology. In: Burgess, Jean, Marwick, Alice and Poell, Thomas, (eds.) The SAGE Handbook of Social Media. The SAGE handbook series. Sage Publications, London, UK, pp. 146-159. ISBN 9781412962292

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The methodology of any domain depends, first, on clarifying what types of object are being researched – indeed can exist – in that domain: that is, on clarifying the ontology of that domain. The ontology of social media might seem wholly unproblematic: social media sites are certainly infrastructures with considerable, even massive, presence in our lives, the focus of our everyday habits of checking and updating, circulating and sharing. When 1.5 billion people are active monthly users of one leading social media platform alone (Facebook), then the ‘object’ of study is hardly trivial. But what type of object are we studying exactly? Again from one point of view, the question seems straightforward: Facebook, Twitter, and other sites of social media activity are platforms (Gillespie, 2010), where social activity is supported generally by commercial operations.1 The facts of such platforms – their design and other features – are important. But in this chapter we want to go beyond the platform ‘surface’ and ask a different ontological question: what are social media from a sociological point of view? Or, more precisely, in what sense are ‘social media’ actually ‘social’, as opposed to merely being outputs labelled as ‘social’? And, running behind that question, how should we interpret the related epistemological claims, made by various actors every day, that ‘social media’ provide evidence of ‘the social’? Those questions, it turns out, are far from straightforward, yet we cannot advance far in the study of social media without answering them. The answers will shape why we would want to spend our time studying social media at all rather than some other object.

Item Type: Book Section
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2018 The Authors
Divisions: Management
Media and Communications
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1990 Broadcasting
Date Deposited: 17 Oct 2017 08:08
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2023 10:05

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