Mapping the political Twittersphere

Public seminar by Daniel Allington
Starts: 16:00 15 Nov 2017
At: Mitchell Centre for Social Network Analysis, University of Manchester

Who follows British politicians on social media? Who stood with Ken Livingstone online? What would it be like to get all your political news from Twitter?

For over a year, I’ve been seeking answers to these questions and more using data scraping and a mixed methods approach centred on social network analysis. Social media have changed British political culture, creating quasi-celebrities out of figures who would otherwise have been condemned to the margins, and giving wide circulation to ideas long believed to be politically defunct – most alarmingly, the belief in an international conspiracy of Jews. In this seminar, I will present theoretical and methodological approaches to the large-scale study of online political culture, as well as sharing preliminary findings.

Open to all. Booking via the University of Manchester events website.

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Online networks and the production of value in electronic music

Daniel Allington, Anna Jordanous, Byron Dueck

[Cross-posted from https://culturalvalueproject.wordpress.com/2015/07/17/dr-daniel-allington-dr-anna-jordanous-and-dr-byron-dueck-online-networks-and-the-production-of-value-in-electronic-music/]

This project began with Pierre Bourdieu’s argument that cultural value is a form of belief. Drawing on Marcel Mauss’s work in the anthropology of religions, Bourdieu (1993 [1980]) argued that a painting or a poem is a sort of fetish: that is, a ‘magical’ artefact whose special status derives from the fact that believers hold it to be magical. So, for Bourdieu, cultural production involves not only the production of artefacts, but also the production of belief in the value of those artefacts. It’s easy to see how this would apply to what Bourdieu called the ‘field of large scale production’, i.e. the commercial culture industries: big businesses such as major record labels and Hollywood film studios invest both in the production of what is now called ‘content’ and in advertising and other forms of publicity through which to generate demand for that content. But what most interested Bourdieu was what he called the ‘field of restricted production’ or the ‘field of art and literature’, which puts little emphasis on the audience, is embarrassed by excessive commercial success, and appears to operate on the principle of ‘art for art’s sake’.

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SoundCloud and the social networks of electronic musicians: my talk at the Mitchell Centre, 16 June 2015

Last month, I was invited to speak at a Sociological Review symposium on Music and Social Networks, hosted by the Mitchell Centre for Social Network Analysis and organised by Nick Crossley, the author of Networks of sound, style, and subversion: the punk and post-punk worlds of Manchester, London, Liverpool and Sheffield, 1975–80 (MUP, 2015). It was a brilliant event, and I wish I could have stayed for the whole thing. As I was extemporising from slides, I don’t have any proper notes to put up here – but I do at least have the livetweets. So here they are. They’re a pretty good record of a lot of my main points, provided you read ‘@dr_d_allington did X’ as ‘@dr_d_allington and his colleagues did X’ whenever the topic is music, and remember that those colleagues were the brilliant Anna Jordanous and Byron Dueck (or do I mean @annajordanous and @ByronRDueck?). I’ve inserted comments on the tweets where necessary.

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The geography of SoundCloud: who’s following whom?

[Cross-posted from http://valuingelectronicmusic.org/2014/09/08/geography-soundcloud-following/]

Wanting to find out what was typical SoundCloud behaviour – as opposed to what our case study users were doing – we took a random sample of 150000 SoundCloud accounts earlier this year and downloaded their profile data, plus the profile data of everyone they were following (plus some other stuff, but that’s for another time). One of the things we did with this data was to construct a social network graph showing ‘follow’ relationships at city level: every time our computer program found that a sampled user self-identified with city A followed a user self-identified with city B, it created an ‘arc’ (represented with an arrow) from city A to city B. We then combined all the arcs so that instead of, say, 2000 arcs from city A to city B, there would now be a single arc with a ‘weight’ of 2000. We then imported this data into Gephi, sized the nodes representing cities to reflect the total weight of all the incoming arcs, positioned them with the Force Atlas algorithm, and used the Louvain community detection method to identify ‘clusters’, where a cluster is a group of nodes that are better connected to each other than they are to nodes from outside the group. And here’s the result, with five colours to represent the five clusters.

Cities on SoundCloud: who's listening to whom?

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Exploring genre on SoundCloud, part II

[Cross-posted from http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/vem/2014/06/exploring-genre-on-soundcloud-part-ii/]

In my previous post on this topic, I introduced a problem – how to understand the work that explicit genre categorisations are made to do by people uploading tracks to the SoundCloud audio-sharing website – and a potential solution – identifying the three categories most frequently used by each individual in a sample and studying regularities in the ways in which pairs of categories tend to pop up within the same group of three. I also presented some partial and preliminary findings in the form of a matrix comparing co-occurrences of the five genre categories most frequently used by people within an initial sample. And I either glossed over or left unmentioned a slew of problems, some of which we’ve been more successful in addressing than others at present (because these are only blog posts, and we haven’t finished the research yet). The biggest problem is the sample itself: the analysis was done on the basis of a snowball sample, when a random sample would be more appropriate. Hence the provisionality of all this. The analysis will be redone soon on the basis of a sample that will enable us to make more robust claims, but in the meantime I wanted to share our thought processes and working methods with the world because – quite apart from anything else – I’m excited about the patterns that are emerging.

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Announcement: ‘Online networks and the production of value in electronic music’

Investigators: Daniel Allington (Open University), Anna Jordanous (King’s College London), Byron Dueck (Open University)
Funder: Arts and Humanities Research Council [1]
Duration: 3 Feb to 31 July 2014

Cultural value is one of those areas in which (as the saying goes) perceptions are also realities. Thus, sociologists have argued that the production of cultural value is actually the production of a form of belief. Although popular accounts of how art gets made tend to focus on brilliant individual creators, research has highlighted over and over again that their work typically emerges from a creative milieu, in which value (or belief in value) comes into existence. This highlights the complex relationship between professional, semi-professional, and amateur cultural production, and may explain why so many cultural producers create work primarily for appreciation by their peers.

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Intrinsically cultural value: a sociological perspective

Cross-posted from the #culturalvalue Initiative. [EDIT 13 Dec 2013:] Reposted by request on the London School of Economics Impact of Social Sciences blog on 13 December under the heading, ‘”Intrinsic value” understood as a dynamic social process offers a productive alternative to defensive instrumentalism’.

[EDIT 13 Dec 2013:] [Introduction to the Impact of Social Sciences re-posting]: Drawing from Pierre Bourdieu’s work on symbolic capital, wider network analysis frameworks and his own research into the production of cultural value, Daniel Allington outlines how the value of a cultural form is ultimately and fundamentally a social process. While this piece was originally written to engage with cultural policy research and practice communities, a sociological perspective on the production, transmission and propagation of ‘intrinsic value’ demonstrates the complexity of impact and the interdisciplinary potential of understanding these social relationships.

This originally appeared on The #culturalvalue Initiative under the title of ‘Intrinsically cultural value: a sociological perspective’ and is reposted with permission.

[Introduction by Eleonora Belfiore to the original #culturalvalue version]: The #culturalvalue initiative has been exploring the form of the mini-essay for those contributors who want to contribute a longer, more complex or elaborate set of reflections to the debate around cultural value. The mini-essay has proved a popular format and it especially lends itself – I would argue – to guest posts such as this one, kindly contributed by Daniel Allington of the Open University, which aim to bring new methodological perspectives to the debate. Daniel’s piece combines a set of premises derived from Bourdieu on what symbolic capital is and how it works to then merge it with insights from network analysis. These are two set of sociological approaches that do not always mix, and therefore there is a very exciting, experimental flavour to Daniel’s argument. Part of the excitement is also that these sociological insights are still relatively unexplored by my own ‘cultural value research community’, which is that broad and variegated area of research that goes under the label ‘cultural policy studies’. And yet, there is much in this post that is of relevance to the cultural policy research and practice communities, and this is why it’s very exciting to be able to encourage a wider disciplinary exchange on a topic of shared interest.

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Livetweets from my talk on social network analysis, interactive fiction, and cultural value (because I just can’t get over the novelty)

Last month at the Open University, I not-quite-livetweeted Tim Hutchings’s excellent talk on digital bibles. Last week at King’s College London, I found myself – for the first time ever! – being livetweeted (actually livetweeted, no time delays). I’d been liveblogged before, but this was different. So forgive my gauche enthusiasm, but I can’t get over the novelty. It also formed a tidy little record of what I spoke about – as opposed to what I thought I might speak about, or what I promised to speak about. Thanks are due to everyone, but especially to Simon Rowberry.

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Forthcoming seminar: ‘Network analytic approaches to the production and propagation of literary and artistic value’

I’ve just received details of my forthcoming seminar, ‘Network analytic approaches to the production and propagation of literary and artistic value’, at the Centre for e-Research (CeRch) at King’s College London. It will take place at 6.15pm on Tuesday 1 October in the Anatomy Museum Space on the 6th floor of the King’s Building at the main KCL campus on the Strand. As you can see from the abstract, the focus will be on methodology and its theoretical implications (my approach emerges from Bourdieu’s sociology but employs social network analysis: two things that are often assumed to be in opposition). However, I’ll be illustrating everything with details from my empirical research on interactive fiction and a couple of other ongoing projects where I also look at relationships between cultural producers (early 20th century authors probably; contemporary visual artists possibly; maybe also something on electronic musicians). I may find time to talk about the specific digital tools that I’ve been using (for those who care about such things: Python 2.7, NetworkX, PyGraphviz).

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