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Vlog Theories CO:RE at LSE Published: 05 Nov 2020

Sonia Livingstone on disarming technological determinism and moral panic

In this vlog, Sonia Livingstone talks about her work, the ideas that inspire her, and how we should develop our current thinking related to children’s internet use.

Excited to kick off the theories vlog series with an interview with the Theories WP5 leader, I begin my conversation with Sonia Livingstone whom I know very well as a Professor of Social Psychology in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) where I work.

There’s been a long-standing critique of technological determinism and a really important recognition of the way in which attention to technological innovation spawns moral panics and anxieties about technological impacts on people. Yet, we struggle to find another kind of language.

Sonia greets me with her usual smile and we gently take off on a journey. ‘I began as a social psychologist’, she says, ‘thinking about media audiences and since 1995 or there abouts I’ve been really doing research on children and what we used to call their new media use when new media meant do they have a VCR or a TV in the bedroom’. Jotting some notes while Sonia talks about the influence of sociology, psychology, and cultural studies, I can feel that I’m in for a treat. She doesn’t need any prompts from me, so I slowly abandon my notetaking and quietly listen how theory of late modernity and the tradition of audience and interpretation theorising come together.

We move on to talk about the concepts that Sonia disagrees with and how she makes links between theory and her empirical research. ‘I would really like us to stop talking in any kind of simple way about the idea of technological impacts’, she says, ‘to me, impact is a kind of a red flag that implies an overly causal, overly linear, probably too simple analysis of the way in which children relate to and engage with the digital environment’. I listen attentively, moved by her passion about the topic and her ability to see the full picture in its complexity, yet conveying it concisely and with ease. We wrap up our discussion by talking about the ways in which we can move the debate further and Sonia reminds me of the importance of thinking about children and the digital world not as a niche topic but as a point of intersection – ‘where different disciplines, different debates, and different tensions are very much focused’.

Watch the full vlog with Sonia Livingstone

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Further reading

More about Sonia Livingstone’s work.

Livingstone, S. and Blum-Ross, A. (2020) Parenting for a digital future: how parents’ hopes and fears about technology shape children’s lives. New York: Oxford University Press.

Livingstone, S. and Sefton-Green, J. (2016) The class: living and learning in the digital age. NYU Press, New York. ISBN 9781479824243. See launch and blog.

Davies, C., Coleman, J. and Livingstone, S. eds. (2014) Digital technologies in the lives of young people. London: Routledge.

Further resources from work package 5 Theories


Full expert interviews from the theories vlog series

Question-based excerpts from the theories vlog series


About the author Mariya Stoilova

CO:RE Theories at LSE

Mariya Stoilova is a post-doctoral researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) working on children’s rights, online risks and opportunities, and well-being. She is a member of the Work Package 5 team.

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