Presenter Spotlight: Andrew Schrock

asAndrew Schrock (twitter) is a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California and co-organizer of this year’s ICA Mobile Preconference. He will be presenting a paper titled, Beyond anywhere, anytime: Mobile and locative practices on social network platforms. This paper explores how mobile technology intersects with social cohesion and social capital.

We caught up with Andrew to discuss the research he will be presenting at the Mobile Preconference as well as his thoughts on the future of mobile research and well as its greater impact.

Can you summarize what your research is about and specifically what you’ll be presenting at the ICA Mobile Preconference?

My central research questions relate to the role of mobile media in society and focus specifically on social cohesion. Theoretically I draw on theories of social capital and social affordances to conceptualize “social capital affordances” – how people perceive affordances of mobile social media that provide ways to accrue or draw on social capital. My focal point is what I term mobile social network platforms (MSNPs), which in a basic sense are the result of a convergence of social network “sites” (SNSs) and mobile media. Examples include Facebook’s various mobile incarnations, which are used by many “mobile first” users.

What initially drew you to this research topic? Are there certain theories or concepts that have influenced your own work?

 I was drawn to this topic area by recognizing a large-scale shift in everyday practices and seeing a way I could contribute to emerging theoretical developments. My work draws from a rich lineage of mobile communication, and computer-mediated communication (CMC) research on social capital. To briefly note some influences, Lee Humphreys was instrumental in recognizing the importance of this convergence early on and promoting research of individual practices with mobile social media beyond simply “location” (see her important article in the first issue of Mobile Media & Communication). More from CMC, Nicole Ellison at MSU and Jessica Vitak (now at the University of Maryland’s iSchool) have been steadily moving towards practices with social network sites, rather than frequency or intensity, are a fruitful way to research social capital effects. It’s also important to note that cultural salience, as much as technical “features,” distinguish emergent practices. For example, Roderick Crooks proposes that the particular combination of visibility and conviviality on Grindr has a resonance with previous practices in communities of gay men and other men-seeking-men. This work together put me on a path to think about social capital affordances that signal ways to draw on or accrue social media that are culturally-aligned, relate to networks, and mobile but not necessarily reliant on “location.”

 What do you think the future of your own research will be? What about mobile communication research in general? In your opinion, why is mobile research important?

Looking toward the future, I see several underserved topic areas in mobile media that are very important for us to address. Gerard Goggin pointed out one in Global Mobile Media that deserved further scrutiny: the political economy of mobile media. I explored this last year with my paper on HTML5 and open mobile development environments, which relates to my interest in “openness” as a central theme in governance and industry. Another developing area is how mobile media relate to production of images and videos. We should be the ones to describe why primarily mobile services such as Netflix and Instagram are important touchstones in society for viewing, curating and producing visual media.

As should be obvious in 2014, mobile media is no longer of niche interest. The major move here in an academic sense is towards increased influence on communication theory at large. Individually we are all bridge-builders, so when combined with the increased recognition of mobile media, it seems like increased influence in the discipline at large is a natural outcome. For this reason, I argue that we should be rigorous in developing theories that speak to perspectives of different disciplines and sub-disciplines. As one example I’ll point to Joe Bayer’s work on what he terms the “mobile middle,” a theoretical synergy of cognitive psychology and micro-sociology that considers aspects of recurrent mobile usage that may be unconscious yet driven by both specific situations and societal expectations. It’s very important work that, like my own, hopes to build bridges and describe both individual mechanisms and large-scale movements.

What is it about the ICA Mobile Preconference that you are most looking forward to?

This pre-conference has a special place for me, as it surely does for others. For over a decade it has been a hub of intellectual activity and a vibrant site of interdisciplinary research on mobile media and communication. As concerns my own intellectual trajectory, I was blown away by the collegiality of this gathering my first year. This community guided my general interest and successive drilling down into a dissertation topic. It’s truly a supportive community of peers.

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