Professor Christine Hine
Christine Hine is a sociologist of science and technology who has a particular focus on the role played by new technologies in the knowledge construction process. She has a major interest in the development of ethnography in technical settings and in "virtual methods" (the use of the Internet in social research). In particular, she has developed mobile and connective approaches to ethnography that combine online and offline social contexts. In common with many scholars in Science and Technology Studies, Christine has a scientific and technical background herself. She studied Botany (BA, Oxon) and Biological Computation (MSc, York) and completed her DPhil in the Biology Department at York before making a transition to Sociology of Science and Technology.
University roles and responsibilities
- Chair, University Ethics Committee 2015 - 2018
Christine Hine has taken a lead role in promoting discussion of methodologies for sociological understanding of the Internet, publishing widely on qualitative methodologies for study of online cultures in everyday life. Her research is located within sociology of science and technology. She is author of Virtual Ethnography (Sage, 2000); Systematics as Cyberscience (MIT, 2008) and Ethnography for the Internet (Bloomsbury, 2015). Substantively, her research includes ethnographic studies of scientific culture, information technology and knowledge infrastructures. She has also carried out research into digital work and particularly digital volunteering; local online groups and sustainability initiatives; and knowledge construction in online spaces. She was President of the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology, 2004 to 2008.
New smart technologies offer great promise to improve care for people living with long-term conditions such as dementia and to enable them to live in their own homes for longer. Engineers work with healthcare professionals, patients and carers to develop technologies to monitor wellbeing and support people to live well at home. Significant ethical challenges arise, however, as decisions are made about what features the technology should contain, who has access to data collected by monitoring devices and what actions should be taken in response. Smart technologies can take decisions on our behalf, and sometimes this can be troubling. In this project, Christine Hine, as a social scientist is working with Prof Payam Barnaghi, an expert in machine learning and Internet of Things who is developing smart technologies for care settings. Together they will explore how ethical challenges arise and are managed in everyday practice.
The research will entail interviewing engineers, healthcare professionals, carers and patients who are involved in development of smart technologies for care settings. The aim of these interviews is to identify from each participants’ perspective when and how they become aware of ethical challenges, how they distinguish the ethical challenges from other kinds of issue such as a technical hitch or a misunderstanding, and how they deal with the various kinds of issue to negotiate acceptable outcomes. As a result we will learn more about whether ethical issues can be anticipated in
advance and develop ways to build ethical decision-making into the lifespan of a project.
This research is funded by the APEX award scheme. In partnership with the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society (‘the Academies’) and with generous support from the Leverhulme Trust, the APEX award (Academies Partnership in Supporting Excellence in Cross-disciplinary research award) scheme offers established independent researchers, with a strong track record in their respective area, an exciting opportunity to pursue genuine interdisciplinary and curiosity-driven research to benefit wider society.
Postgraduate research supervision
I supervise doctoral students in sociology of science and technology and studies of digital culture. Past students have included:
Narratives of identity in role-playing games. Thordis Sveinsdottir
Acceptability of web surveys for national statistics. Zoe Dowling
Enacting Controversy: An Ontological Study of the Development of Computer Encryption. Richard Fletcher
Online Support Spaces for a geographically-isolated group with specialist support needs. Jo Hope
Understanding the use of social networking sites by professional employees in the UK. Acheinu Iseko
Courses I teach on
This article aims to expand on the currently popular practice of conducting ethnographic studies of individual online fan groups to find other ways of using the internet ethnographically for television studies. The example of the Antiques Roadshow is used to explore a strategy for ethnographic attention to the diversity of mundane engagements with a particular television text via the internet. The development of this strategy draws on recent thinking on the constitution of ethnographic field sites, focusing on conceptualization of the field as a made object, and development of multi-sited approaches as appropriate forms of engagement with contemporary culture. This strategy also builds on recent debates about the significance of ‘found’ digital data for social research. Potential problems with this approach include loss of depth and contextualizing information, and the risk of only focusing on that data which is easily found by dominant search engines. These problems can be offset to some extent by increased focus on reflexivity, and by allowing the field site to spill out beyond the internet as the ethnographer finds it necessary and useful in order to explore particular practices of meaning-making.
Many local online platforms for people to give away or sell items have arisen in recent years. While some research has analysed modes of consumption emerging in such sites, there has been little exploration of the nature of the contact between local residents that these sites occasion and their implications for local sense of community. This paper analyses interviews with users of local online platforms for giving and selling items within one town in south-east England, identifying judgments that users make about one another and exploring the connections that are made between online and offline. Imagining other users and projecting social norms onto them emerges as important in making transactions meaningful. Users also often imagine social difference and make judgments that reproduce socio-economic stereotypes. Usage is portrayed as a positive experience enhancing users’ views of local community in a general sense, but shows limited tendencies to overcome existing social divisions.
Social science research requires methods that are responsive to and congruent with contemporary social formations. Digital technologies present a challenge to which social researchers must rise, and in turn offer the chance to access, generate and analyse new information in new ways and address new research questions. In response to this challenge, this interdisciplinary collection considers the quantitative and qualitative analysis of social media, addressing the contemporary concern with 'big data' but also the rich or 'thick data' available. It provides examples of research that has sought to explore digital methods through comparing and combining these with 'offline' or traditional approaches, and presents case studies that are both innovative in their use of new, existing and combined methods but also question the nature of innovation. It also develops some of the key challenges in mainstreaming digital methods, including debates in educational research, research with young people, and the ethical issues that digital and social researchers face.
The use of information and communication technology in scientific research has been hailed as the means to a new larger-scale, more efficient, and cost-effective science. But although scientists increasingly use computers in their work and institutions have made massive investments in technology, we still have little idea how computing affects the way scientists work and the kind of knowledge they produce. In Systematics as Cyberscience, Christine Hine explores these questions by examining the developing use of information and communication technology in one discipline, systematics (which focuses on the classification and naming of organisms and exploration of evolutionary relationships). Her sociological study of the ways that biologists working in this field have engaged with new technology is an account of how one of the oldest branches of science transformed itself into one of the newest and became a cyberscience. Combining an ethnographic approach with historical review and textual analysis, Hine investigates the emergence of a virtual culture in systematics and how that new culture is entwined with the field's existing practices and priorities. Hine examines the policy perspective on technological change, the material culture of systematics (and how the virtual culture aligns with it), communication practices with new technology, and the complex dynamics of change and continuity on the institutional level. New technologies have stimulated reflection on the future of systematics and prompted calls for radical transformation, but the outcomes are thoroughly rooted in the heritage of the discipline. Hine argues that to understand the impact of information and communication technology in science we need to take account of the many complex and conflicting pressures that contemporary scientists navigate. The results of technological developments are rarely unambiguous gains in efficiency, and are highly discipline-specific.
Smart technologies in the home promise efficiency and control, but this simplistic story obscures their potential to reconfigure relationships and introduce new tensions into domestic contexts. This paper explores ethnography as a method to facilitate sociological analysis of the smart technologies in the home and develop a grounded understanding of their role in lived experience. The paper assembles insights from ethnography of silence, ethnography of infrastructure, and autoethnography. While much sociological commentary stresses the dataveillance capacities of such technologies, for ethnographers it is important to remember that our role is to do justice to members’ understandings whether they relate to dataveillance or not. Ethnographers need to address the common tendency for facilitating technologies of this kind to become unspoken aspects of everyday life Autoethnography offers a route into exploring the nuanced meaning of the silences that the use of smart technologies entails and engaging with emotional dimensions of their use.
This paper focuses on the way in which people deploy scientific knowledge alongside other resources in everyday interactions. In the UK headlice are common amongst schoolchildren, and treatment is viewed as a parental responsibility. Choice between treatment options lies with individual parents, with official guidance giving no clear steer. In the face of this combination of responsibility and uncertainty, users of an online parenting forum justify their actions using a variety of resources, including claims to scientific knowledge of both headlice and the action of various treatments, but also drawing on the authority of having direct experience, trust in brand-named products and generalised suspicion of “chemical” treatments. These discussions occasion expression of knowledge as part of portraying oneself as a responsible parent, and thus while they do not necessarily represent public knowledge about science more generally, they do offer a useful site to explore what people do with science.
The internet has become embedded into our daily lives, no longer an esoteric phenomenon, but instead an unremarkable way of carrying out our interactions with one another. Online and offline are interwoven in everyday experience. Using the internet has become accepted as a way of being present in the world, rather than a means of accessing some discrete virtual domain. Ethnographers of these contemporary Internet-infused societies consequently find themselves facing serious methodological dilemmas: where should they go, what should they do there and how can they acquire robust knowledge about what people do in, through and with the internet?This book presents an overview of the challenges faced by ethnographers who wish to understand activities that involve the internet. Suitable for both new and experienced ethnographers, it explores both methodological principles and practical strategies for coming to terms with the definition of field sites, the connections between online and offline and the changing nature of embodied experience. Examples are drawn from a wide range of settings, including ethnographies of scientific institutions, television, social media and locally based gift-giving networks. - See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/ethnography-for-the-internet-9780857855701/#sthash.6wmdZKzF.dpuf
Whilst digital technologies are often popularly portrayed as inherently different from their material counterparts, recent research has accentuated continuities between the two. Research on the material aspects of digital technologies has emphasised that both material and digital technologies are embedded in practice and acquire their meaning in context. This is particularly so in science, where research in science and technology studies has illuminated the contextual interpretation of representations and their contingent manifestation through embedding in specific sociotechnical configurations. The current paper explores how digital technologies are experienced in a specific field of science, biological systematics. Email accounts were solicited from biologists who have been working with digital images of the biological specimens conventionally used in work on the classification and naming of organisms. Thematic analysis of the interviews shows that qualities of digital images were highly contextual, often defined in dialogue with their material counterparts which are also defined in fluid and contextual fashion. Discussing the use of digital specimen images involved distinctions between different forms of work and different organisms being studied and referenced the varied institutional and geographic positioning of respondents. The introduction of digital images offered the possibility of new sociotechnical configurations emerging and to some extent realised the aspirations of digitization projects to enable new forms of distributed working. This was, however, a qualified success restricted to only some aspects of the systematists’ work.
Background: Artificial intelligence (AI) is said to be “transforming mental health”. AI-based technologies and technique are now considered to have uses in almost every domain of mental health care: including decision-making, assessment and healthcare management. What remains underexplored is whether/how mental health recovery is situated within these discussions and practices. Method: Taking conversational agents as our point of departure, we explore the ways official online materials explain and make sense of chatbots, their imagined functionality and value for (potential) users. We focus on three chatbots for mental health: Woebot, Wysa and Tess. Findings: “Recovery” is largely missing as an overt focus across materials. However, analysis does reveal themes that speak to the struggles over practice, expertise and evidence that the concept of recovery articulates. We discuss these under the headings “troubled clinical responsibility”, “extended virtue of (technological) self-care” and “altered ontologies and psychopathologies of time”. Conclusions: Ultimately, we argue that alongside more traditional forms of recovery, chatbots may be shaped by, and shaping, an increasingly individualised form of a “personal recovery imperative”.
The new social contexts formed via the Internet, and the new forms of data made available by the increasing use of diverse forms of computer mediated communication, have challenged researchers to develop approaches which do them justice. At the same time, there has been concern that established principles should be preserved, and that the connection between virtual research methods and more conventional research approaches should not be rejected out of hand. Despite a number of handbooks and textbooks published in recent years there is still a dearth of authoritative works which offer comprehensive coverage of the virtual research methods available to social researchers. In particular, there is none which thoroughly explores the full range of virtual research methods and their antecedents, and which explores the methodological and epistemological ramifications of their development. This multivolume reference collection fills this gap. The collection covers perspectives on the Internet as a social space; research models for the Internet and the skills, techniques and approaches needed to conduct research in a virtual environment; innovations in the research process and reflections on these innovations; and the ethical considerations to take into account when doing research on the Internet.
As use of the Internet has become increasingly widespread, the Internet has also become a natural site for qualitative research. New researchable populations emerge, and illuminating discussions on every conceivable topic have become accessible to researchers. The Internet also presents many challenges, however, raising the questions of how to develop ethical and achievable research projects, and how to present findings to the widest possible audience. This book focuses on the process of writing qualitative Internet research, from the construction of the initial proposal to the preparation of different types of research reports, including conventional dissertations and more innovative media forms. Covering ethnographic, interview-based, and documentary analysis, The Internet offers clear guidance on the challenges and opportunities posed by the application of these approaches to Internet settings, drawing on a wide array of published examples and rooting its advice in the established principles of qualitative research. The author emphasizes the importance of reflexivity and developing awareness of the various genres of qualitative writing, together with building research reports that are significant as mainstream social research. Although the emphasis of this book is on qualitative research, it also draws on quantitative research techniques, since the sheer wealth of data available on the Internet prompts consideration of new ways of visualizing and summarizing data. The Internet also explores initiatives by Internet researchers to make use of new media technologies for analyzing and presenting their research, and to allow for new forms of interaction with research participants and audiences.
This chapter explores the varied ways in which qualitative and quantitative, large-scale and small-scale research designs have been combined in the study of the Internet. The chapter also considers multimodal and online/offline studies, which explore a research object by combining diverse forms of data drawn by crossing the offline/online boundary or combining digital and analogue data. The focus of the chapter is on exploring the motivations for these combinations and outlining the distinctive issues that heterogeneous research designs in these domains encounter. Internet research has occasioned many innovative research designs, as the sheer quantity of data available online often prompts even those overtly committed to a qualitative paradigm to explore techniques for visualizing data, and exploring patterns on a larger scale through social network analysis or sentiment analysis. The spatial complexities entailed in networked communication often, however, introduce a challenge for researchers seeking to combine perspectives.
The United Kingdom Government are planning to issue guidance on sleep duration. Whilst sleep is clearly important for health, offering such guidance is not the answer. Within this commentary we put forward three arguments to support this claim: (i) sleep is liminal and beyond the limits of voluntary agency; (ii) sleep is linked to structural inequality; and (iii) sleep is multiple. The first two points are now well established. However, the third encourages a considerable break from established thinking. Recent research has highlighted that we need to move away from viewing sleep as a singular, objectively defined phenomenon, and instead position it as many different practices woven together. Sleep is situated, contingent and is enacted in multiple ways. Public health would be better served by a ground-up approach which explores good and poor sleep across these three axes: liminality, social position and ontology.
There are enduring inequalities in usage of social media, relating both to the demographic patterning of users and to differences in the kinds of use people make of these platforms. This paper presents a content analysis of representations of Twitter in three British newspapers from 2007 to 2014 aimed at exploring the potential contribution that differing journalistic practices make to sustaining the inequalities in uptake and use of social media platforms. The newspapers were selected for the contrasting composition of their readership, allowing for comparison of the portrayals of Twitter to distinct socio-demographic groups. The portrayal of Twitter was found to differ between the three newspapers analysed, with the readers of the tabloid and mid-range newspaper being presented a depiction of Twitter as a site for elite and celebrity voices and for fandom rather than a site for their own active participation or political content creation, to a greater extent than the readers of the quality paper. These results suggest that the journalistic practices distinctive to these diverse newspapers may have significant implications for the extent to which their readership are encouraged to see themselves as able to have a voice on social media: the tabloid style risks depoliticising Twitter.