The Sociology and Social Anthropology Seminar Series: Forrest Stuart
Within the Sociology and Social Anthropology Seminar Series we invite international and national researchers to present and discuss ongoing research. Each presenter talks for about an hour, followed by about an hour's discussion.
Urban Violence, Social Control, and Criminalization in the Digital Age
In recent years, city leaders, law enforcement, and news outlets have warned that digital social media—platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—are amplifying the frequency and severity of urban violence. In turn, police departments and prosecutors increasingly rely on social media content to secure arrests, convictions, and sentences. Despite this development, there is surprisingly scant empirical data capable of disentangling the relationship between social media and violence.
Drawing on five years of ethnographic fieldwork alongside gang-associated youth and their peer networks on Chicago’s South Side, combined with interviews with public defenders and analyses of court cases throughout the US, I propose a framework to begin understanding this relationship more systematically and sociologically. Integrating concepts from new media scholarship, I consider the process of “context collapse” as a key mechanism that: (1) constrains and facilitates physical violence, (2) generates new opportunities for informal social control among community members, but simultaneously (3) provides law enforcement with new resources for punishing impoverished residents of color. More generally, these processes suggest the need for scholars to reconsider the role of social media—and the mechanism of context collapse—in transforming the processes and assumptions underlying many of our longstanding theories of interaction and inequality in urban life.
Forrest Stuart is a Professor of Sociology at Stanford University and the director of the Stanford Ethnography Lab. His research examines the causes, contours, and consequences of urban poverty. He is the author of Down, Out and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row and Ballad of the Bullet: Gangs, Drill Music, and the Power of Online Infamy.