Why blog?

Huw is a second year Web Science PhD student at the University of Southampton, supervised by Professor Susan Halford and Dr Nick Gibbins. Huw is investigating the implications for young people and huwcdaviestheir (lifelong) education of the democratisation of knowledge on the Web. He argues that existing research is limited by its positivist methods and reliance on age as explanation of youth’s vulnerability to misinformation.  Huw does not consider age to be self-evident and timeless but rather a moral classification – a product of over a century and half of social upheaval and productive power in society. He therefore adopts a mixture of qualitative and digital quantitative methods to demonstrate how young people’s attitudes to information on the Web are shaped by their social environment. You can read more of Huw’s blogs at http://blog.soton.ac.uk/ycw/ and also featured on http://socialtheoryapplied.com/   Huw tweets via @huwcdavies

Why blog?

I’ll get to an answer in a roundabout way. Please bear with me; it’s only 377 words.

As a social scientist PhD wannabe, I worry about my employment prospects. I am not spending my days processing big data. I’m not writing APIs for open or linked data.  I’m not producing social network graphs.  I’m not an expert on corporate security vulnerabilities. I’ll never be on Newsnight dazzling Paxman with my technical knowledge of cyber-warfare.  And, I’m not exactly the Nate Silver of quantitative methods.

However, I do spend my days reading and trying to critique a rare and undervalued commodity. In the desperate quest for growth the coalition government is bankrupt of them; in their place we have dogma, pleas to cut red tape so people can build more conservatories without planning permission and HS2. Ed Miliband comes out with one for every party conference which is then parroted by his party faithful before it fades into obscurity. David Cameron, in the days he used travel husky powered, acquired one he believed could rewrite the social contract between people and the state; or what we remember as the Big Society.  I’m talking about ideas; abstract, sophisticated and transformative ideas.

I’m no visionary but I do think we’ve lost sight of the importance of ideas. We know the current Education Secretary says ‘facts’, the King James Bible and Middlemarch is the foundation of rigorous education but where does this world view leave ideas?

I see, in my field, how ideas turn the wheels of the academy.  Social Machines, Web Science and Digital Sociology are ideas and therefore open to interpretation and discussion.  However, these concepts are becoming muster points for people with similar interests and ambitions to mobilise support, and attract research funding and generate new insights into society.

Endurable, workable ideas are created and developed by people with knowledge of the history of ideas, and a well-practiced ability to critique them. If we move towards an education system that marginalises ideas we leave empty field for dogma and number-crunchers to occupy.

A robust sense of purpose is crucial to a successful PhD.  I am convinced what I do has real value (even if it’s only to make me think a bit harder about ‘stuff’) and I think blogging could help convince others too.

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