Tokens, bits, cookies and nudges: How platforms took over the world

30 November 2023 (14:00 – 18:00) Business School, University of Edinburgh

Welcome to the age of the platform! From Twitch, to Coinbase, to Airbnb, platforms are changing how we make money and have fun all the while redefining everything from banking to marketing, from travel to games, intimacy to work. But what is it exactly that they do to us and we do to them? This workshop will explore platform cultural-economy relations from multiple vantage points. We will be joined by Robert Cluley, Liz McFall, Karen Gregory, Jake Pitre and Platform Social researchers who will share their recent work on changing marketing epistemologies, streaming cultures and economies, markets and pricing technologies, and nudge’s travels into Silicon Valley. We will end the day with Rachel O’Dwyer who will talk about her new book Tokens: The Future of Money in the Age of the Platform. Rachel is a lecturer in Digital Cultures in the National College of Art and Design, Dublin. Tokens, published in October, was longlisted for the Financial Times Business Book of the Year award.


14:00 – 15:00: Opening discussion by Robert Cluley “Working with and working for platforms”

15:15 – 16:30: Workshop: Tokens, bits, cookies and nudges (with contributions from Jake Pitre, Vassilis Galanos, and Elif Buse Doyuran)

16:30 – 18:00: Rachel O’Dwyer on Tokens: The Future of Money in the Age of the Platform (Chair: Karen Gregory and Respondents: Philip Roscoe and Donald MacKenzie)

Rachel O’Dwyer is a lecturer at the School of Visual Culture at the National College of Art & Design, Dublin. She was a Fulbright Scholar at UC Irvine and the Microsoft Research labs, Cambridge; she is currently a fellow at Connect, the centre for Networks and Telecommunications at Trinity College, Dublin. She is the co-editor of Neural Magazine and has written for outlets such as Convergence, MIT Press and the London Review of Books. She has curated a number of exhibitions of digital practise that explore the intersection of art and the Blockchain.

Robert Cluley is Associate Professor in the Department of Marketing at the University of Birmingham and a leading scholar on the organization of marketing and the role of technology in marketing practice. He has developed and championed marketing theory and is highly regarded for his early work adopting a psychoanalytic interpretation of consumer behaviour. He is trained in a range of research methods including advance statistical analysis, ethnography and anthropology.

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From Data to Theory: Theorising at the intersection of digital sociology, economic sociology and STS (A BSA Regional Postgraduate Day Event)

13 October 2023 (10:00 – 18:00) 50 George Square, University of Edinburgh

This day-long workshop will bring together postgraduate and early career researchers doing research related to the digital society and platform economy to share and theorise their work. The workshop will focus on different ways of understanding and theorising the digital through empirical investigation. Rather than focusing on particular research methods or data sources, the emphasis will be on strategies and tactics for researching the digital and how to make the most of the data generated by research activities. In that sense, the event title, From Data to Theory, has a double meaning, referring both to the growing significance of data-things (e.g., assemblages, practices, infrastructures, markets, justice) to theories of the social, and to the practice of theorising our own research data—that is, how to find meaning and significance in what is collected through interviews, observations, focus groups, surveys, documents, archives or walkthroughs. We hope to bring together sociologists working on a range of topics from different theoretical standpoints to explore what different approaches can contribute to our understanding of the social and the sociotechnical amid the rise of digital platforms, data and algorithmic technologies.

Panel: Theorising the digital

This panel is co-organised with ‘Theory in Sociology’ seminar series hosted within CRITIQUE. The panel features contributions from three University of Edinburgh staff, Dr Ben Collier, Dr Karen Gregory and Dr Liz McFall who will speak to the different ways their research is informed by theoretical concerns. The titles of their presentations are as follows:

  • Dr Liz McFall (Sociology): ‘#CovidArcadia: taking Walter Benjamin to a pragmatist STS account of market action.’
  • Dr Karen Gregory (Sociology): ‘Tarot as Care Work: Using Marxist Feminism and Ethnography to Understand Spiritual Entrepreneurialism Online’
  • Dr Ben Collier (STIS): ‘Navigating theory-methods in the study of digital infrastructures’

Keynote: Here today, gone tomorrow?: Digital culture, concepts, and changing times – Dr Francesca Sobande

How is digital culture changing and what does this mean for society? If digital culture is constantly shifting then (how) can research keep pace? What do theories of digital sociology reveal about dynamics between knowledge, power, and digital culture? Focusing on challenges and opportunities involved in digital sociology and economic sociology research, this session will reflect on the relationship between time and different experiences and conceptualisations of digital culture. Drawing on research on the marketing of social justice and digital culture, there will also be discussion of how ideas about morality are implicated in digital experiences and studies of them.

Francesca Sobande is a senior lecturer in digital media studies (Cardiff University). She is author of The Digital Lives of Black Women in Britain (2020), Consuming Crisis: Commodifying Care and COVID-19 (2022), and Big Brands Are Watching You: Marketing Social Justice and Digital Culture (forthcoming 2024). Francesca is also co-editor with Akwugo Emejulu of To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe (2019), and is co-author with layla-roxanne hill of Black Oot Here: Black Lives in Scotland (2022) and Black Oot Here: Dreams O Us (2023).

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The Platform Social Inaugural Workshop

25 April 2023 (10:00 – 18:00) Business School, University of Edinburgh

The Platform Social is a collective of PhDs and ECRs who began convening monthly to read and discuss newly published research papers on the digital economy and society. What brought us together and out of our Covid-complicated silos was our shared empirical interest in how digital platform interventions are reshaping the societies, communities, and economies that we study. The inverted Platform Social twists the social platform to convey our positioning as a social-scholar community formed by a shared interest in how platforms work, socially and socio-technically.

To that end, we are delighted to launch with an event that combines work-in-progress presentations from post graduate researchers from both Universities of Helsinki and Edinburgh with provocations from Franck Cochoy, Minna Ruckenstein and Donald Mackenzie reflecting on their recent work exploring how platforms and their algorithms feel, move, trade and ‘socialise’ us.

Keynote presentations

  • Minna Ruckenstein: Irritation in algorithmic relations: An emerging form of social critique
  • Franck Cochoy: Platforms or flatforms? Insights from an auto-ethnographic account of a virtual cycling app
  • Donald MacKenzie: Mediators, intermediaries and digital advertising’s tensions [with Addie McGowan and Koray Caliskan]

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