The Digital Stuff research group regularly meets at Cardiff University, the group comprises of a number of academics from a range of disciplines including the Social Sciences and Computer Science.
The Digital Stuff Manifesto
- matter, material, articles, or activities of a specified or indeterminate kind that are being referred to, indicated, or implied.
- the basic constituents or characteristics of something or someone.
Here we advance the argument, somewhat playfully, that social researchers studying the digital would benefit from taking on the concept of “digital stuff” as a term for the kind of work we do, and the kind of things we study. Debates around the naming and classification of digital social research are popular in contemporary academia, and this manifesto is our own small contribution as a group of interested early career researchers.
Stuff can be both a thing (object of enquiry) and an activity (method of enquiry), bringing together analysis and data.
Stuff, as defined above, can refer to things which are both “specified” and “indeterminate”, meaning unspecified. This apparent contradiction really captures how “the digital” can be, or be seen as, simultaneously concrete and abstract, real and virtual, online and offline, known and unknown, perceived and hidden, and so on.
Stuff doesn’t presuppose or privilege a specific human subject, it includes a range of human/non-human actors: users, viewers and subscribers, but also data, networks and sentiments.
Stuff is very broad and inclusive of different disciplinary backgrounds and perspectives, this is appropriate since researchers studying the digital are so diverse, and may want to reach out to other disciplines who have an interest in the digital. This can include qualitative approaches, computational/empirical approaches and everything in between.
Stuff is a little bit fun and informal without being too irreverent. This is quite in keeping with the digital as a new and developing area of study that encourages open participation, and the style of lot of scholarship in the area, particularly the parts that involve activists, digital rights advocates and third sector/NGOs.
Stuff, lastly, also represents a playful refusal of capitalist symbolic order and instrumental academic self-categorisation. Rather than applying institutional or technological labels to ourselves that fit us into pre-defined and loaded categories researchers would be embracing undefined messiness in a way that is resistant and empowering.