Exploration: Digital Media and Social Inequality

Christo Sims is a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley’s School of Information and a graduate researcher for the Connected Learning Research Network’s Leveling Up project. The project team is investigating the learning dynamics of interest-driven online groups that support academically relevant knowledge-seeking and expertise development. Sims, whose research interests include youth culture, digital media practices, and social inequalities, developed an on-the-ground research methodology while working on the Digital Youth Project. A t
dmlsra2hree-year ethnographic research project, Digital Youth brought together a cohort of researchers who jointly worked to understand how digital media and technology are meaningful to youth in their daily lives. Sims was also one of a dozen graduate students and postdoctoral scholars who participated in the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub’s Research Associates Summer Institute. In the video below, he discusses his developing interest in studying the reproduction of social inequalities and detecting how/if digital media plays a part in that process. Here are just a few highlights from the video, but the full interview (below) dives deep into Sims’ ethnographic approach to digital media and learning research.

I started getting interested in questions about inequality as my dissertation was coming up. I looked at literature about how inequalities persist and get reproduced between generations. For me, the real question is, how is digital media playing into that? Are things just all the same? Is digital media making it worse? Is it ameliorating some of these inequalities?

I don’t think it’s as simple as the technology — digital media as a whole — having some sort of impact one way or the other. I think there’s exciting cases where you see opportunities for breaking or going around these structural constraints. I think a lot of people in the digital media and learning initiative are interested in trying to identify some of those constraints.

My goal is to find a way to stay in the game within the research community, hopefully by continuing to address these kinds of questions of how digital media is tied up into questions of reproducing inequality or not, but from a much more on-the-ground perspective.

I did this year-long project for my dissertation research, and I feel I am beginning to understand this in more concrete ways, and that opens up a whole new set of questions and opportunities. You begin to see moments of hope where you see these kinds of openings.

I am curious to work with people who are more on the intervention and design side to try to see if there are ways to push on those openings as well as ringing a bell when I feel like it’s being used in reproducing inequities in ways we maybe didn’t intend.

Banner image credit: Knight Foundation
Video production credit: Marc Bacarro