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Pondering the Relevance of Cooley's theory of communication in theorizing web-based visualizations

Organised by Visiting CSISP Fellow Anders Koed Madsen (Copenhagen Business School) 

May 3rd, 16:00-17:30, WT1204 

This reading group examined the relevance of the early-20th century American Sociologist Charles Cooley for theorizing online forms of social inquiry. With an Introduction by Anders Koed Madsen. 

Visualizations based on digital traces are increasingly used as research tools in the social sciences and some of the most interesting attempts at establishing a theoretical framework around them have found inspiration in the sociology of the early 20th century. On the basis of the writings of John Dewey and Walter Lippmann it has been proposed to interpret them as images of issue-networks and on the basis of the sociology of Gabriel Tarde is has been suggested to look at them as images of monads or as new value-meters. I am currently pondering the idea of using the communicative sociology of Charles Herbert Cooley and its subsequent development in the work of Harold Innis to conceptualize such visualizations as ´web-visions´ that demarcate the experience of their users in specific ways depending on the way they are assemblaged.

Of specific interest to this project is the way Cooley and Innis highlight the role that concrete selection mechanisms of communication play in creating environments of experience that influence processes of valuation and social organization. If web-based visualizations are seen as devices that give rise to environments of experience on the part of their users it seems that their work suggest to take the mechanisms that goes into constructing these visualizations into the heart of their conceptualization. Such mechanisms are, for instance, the interfaces where people leave digital traces and the settings of the crawler that is programmed to collect them. The idea of this CSISP reading group was to look at two writings of Cooley as well as a piece on Innis in order to ponder the extent to which the communication theories of the early 20th century can contribute to establishing a framework around web-based visualizations.


Carey, J. (1989), Space, time and communications – A tribute to Harold Innis, In J.Carey, Communication as Culture (pp. 109-133), revised edition, Routledge.

Cooley, C.H. (1897), The process of social change, In J. D. Peters, & P. Simonson, Mass Communication and American Social Thought Key Texts 1919-1968 (pp. 21-25). Rowman & Littlefield.

Cooley, C.H. (1912), Valuation as a social process, The Psychological Bulletin, Vol. ix. No 12

Readings available upon request.