A Hashtag Crash: CCS2016, Meet CCS2016, CCS2016, CCS2016 and CCS2016

Visit the Twitter hashtag channel #CCS2016 for information on the 2016 Conference on Complex Systems taking place in Amsterdam this upcoming September. Well actually, isn’t #CCS2016 the hashtag covering the 2016 Canadian Crowdfunding Summit? Or, wait, does #CCS2016 refer to the 2016 Content and Commerce Summit meeting in Orlando, Florida? Or is #CCS2016 the hashtag for announcements regarding 2016 Comic Con Spain? Could #CCS2016 be a hashtag for a cinematography conference in Caracas, Venezuela?

The answer is yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. The Twitter hashtag channel #CCS2016 has been used to promote all of these, a simultaneous indication of the popularity, bottom-up flexibility, and strategic difficulty involved in using the social media platform. #CCS2016 has been used beyond this, within the past year referring to events as diverse as a Brazilian country music festival, a high school spirit effort, a “Corporate Community Summit” and an academic conference on “Cities as Community Spaces.”

The graph below features all participants in the #CCS2016 hashtag channel from April 1 to 11, 2016. Every dot (called a node) represents a Twitter account that has made a post including the #CCS2016 hashtag. Every line (called a tie) represents an instance in which one Twitter account has mentioned or replied to another Twitter account. Together, these nodes and ties make up a springtime social network for CCS2016.

Social Network for Twitter accounts using the #CCS2016 hashtag from April 1-11, 2016

As you can see, this is a disconnected network.  The large dark blue network at the top of the graph consists of Twitter users discussing Comic Con Spain.  The smaller light blue network below it is beginning to grow after the announcement of an annual Conference on Complex Systems.  To its left are participants in the upcoming Canadian Crowdfunding Summit.  To the lower right are a handful of remaining nodes discussing less popular or timely representations of the title “CCS2016.”

Separate conversations are put in separate areas of this two-dimensional graph.  On Twitter itself, no such separation is afforded. The purpose of a hashtag is to provide a space that community members can visit when they have something to say, or have a desire to listen.  In this busy, muddied virtual room called “#CCS2016,” multiple conversations are taking place on top of one another.

Why don’t all these different groups use a different hashtag?  A social media marketer would advise always reviewing past use of a phrase before adopting it as a hashtag of one’s own, lest one be accused of acting as a hashtag crasher.  But regardless, lines of distinction in Twitter can help keep the conversation coherent.  Different users are speaking different languages: English, Portugese, Spanish.  This is a sorting mechanism.  A second sorting mechanism comes from the ties charted in the graph above: people with a particular interest in a hashtag are most likely to find out about that hashtag because they follow other people with the same particular interest.  This means relevant hashtag posts are most likely to appear in a user’s Twitter timeline.  Finally, popularity of particular uses for a hashtag may shift over time, as one event comes to a head and another recedes into the past.

At times, it’s a mess, but this is what civic democracy looks like.

Advising News, April 2016: Closing Windows and Wide-Open Opportunities

Dear Social Science Students,
Writing this advising newsletter to you on the last weekend of Spring Break, I’m watching the birds fly to the feeder at my kitchen window and pick out sunflower seeds.  It’s so exciting to see old “friends” come back who were gone from the feeder.  The chickadees were always there, even when the temperatures dropped below zero, but yellow finches, nuthatches and cardinals tell me Spring is here. As time passes at UMA, keep in mind that new opportunities are opening up while some windows are about to close! Keep the news items below in mind as you think about the future.
As always, I invite you to get in touch with me if you have any questions or need help making decisions about your path to graduation with a Social Science major.  My phone number is 207-621-3190 and I welcome your call.  You can also send me an e-mail message at james.m.cook@maine.edu.  Finally, you’re welcome to drop by unannounced to my office hours, which are Wednesdays from 12-2 PM in Augusta Jewett Hall 122 and Thursdays 8-9 AM and 12-2 PM at University College Rockland.

Look Out! These Social Science Courses are Almost Full
We’re about three weeks in to registration season, and some courses are nearly full.  If you haven’t registered yet and the following courses are on your must-take list, don’t wait until summer.  Jjump on the opportunity now before it’s too late:
SSC 320: Research Methods in Social Sciences — this course has 28 registrants out of 30 slots — only 2 spots left!  This course does fill every year, it’s only offered in the fall, and it’s a requirement for all Social Science majors.  Jump in and register, especially if you think next year will be your last!
SOC 316: Criminology — this course has 23 registrants out of 30 slots — only 7 spots left.  This is a popular course because it pertains to a very practical topic, especially for the United States (did you know the U.S. has the highest rate of people in prison out of 222 countries around the world?  Source: http://www.apcca.org/uploads/10th_Edition_2013.pdf online).
SSC 100: Introduction to Social Science — this course has 16 registrants out of 20 slots — only 4 spots left!  Like SSC 320, this course is a requirement for Social Science majors, and it’s a good one to take relatively early because the course tackles the challenge of showing how the wide variety of social science disciplines all matter put together.

Hidden Social Science Gems
Our social science major has some pretty typical courses — human development, social problems — that you might expect.  We also offer some pretty unusual courses that you might not find elsewhere.  Consider:
SSC 360: Qualitative Methods
It’s fair to say that in the social sciences, quantitative methods based in numerical representation of counts and categories is dominant.  But there is a a strong second tradition of qualitative research in the social sciences.  Assistant Professor Kati Corlew has this to say about the course she’ll be teaching in the fall: “Qualitative methods are a great way to explore a topic in great detail. Someone checking boxes in a survey may be thinking, ‘yes, but…’ or ‘not really, but close enough’ and we would never know it. Qualitative methods often have space for participants to push back and say their piece. Interviews, for example, allow people to tell their stories. But wait, how can gathering stories be ‘science?’ In this course, we’ll learn about the theories and requirements for creating scientifically sound, valid, and elucidating qualitative research. We’ll learn about the varieties, the exceptions, and the possibilities of qualitative research. And we’ll get to have fun — trying out qualitative research interviewing and observation in your own personal research topics. I can’t wait for this fall!
SOC 315: Deviance
Why be normal?  The very concept of “normal” and its counterpart, “deviant,” lie at the heart of this course taught by Associate Professor Lorien Lake-Corral.  If you’d like to take a walk on the wild side and examine why some things we do cross the border between acceptable and unacceptable, this is the course for you.
PSY 489: The Psychology of Evil and Humor
When you think “clowns,” do you see something funny, sad, … or downright creepy?  Have you ever noticed the stories we tell about one another, humor and evil sometimes are placed against one another, and are sometimes allies?  What are humor and evil for?  As Professor Ken Elliott explains, “This course is offered for students having a serious interest in understanding both malevolent behavior and humor as coping skills. Students will study these with an emphasis primarily on individual and secondarily on collective behavior.

Last Reminder: Apply for Graduation!
If you are ready to graduate this Spring or Summer, the deadline to apply for graduation was April 1st.  That was this past Friday!  If you have missed the deadline, it might not be too late; I urge you to call the UMA advising office first thing Monday morning (they open at 8 AM) to check in and see what’s possible.  The UMA advising office’s number is 207-621-3149.
I hope this information is helpful.  As always, please get in touch if you have any questions about registration and the road to graduation.  Enjoy the Spring!

Best Regards,
James Cook
UMA Assistant Professor of Social Science

Feeling Like a Fraud in the First Year of College (and why that’s OK)

When I ask students in their first year of college how they’re doing, I often get a pained look in response. it’s common for students to feel a bit (or maybe a whole lot) like they don’t fit, even like they’re a fraud, not a “real student.” Do you ever feel that way? Well, here’s a confession: I felt that way myself when I got started as an undergraduate student, and it took me some time to shake that feeling. It turns out that this kind of feeling is absolutely normal and even a kind of standard part of getting used to a new role. As Erving Goffman explains in his dramaturgical theory of social interaction (Goffman 1959), we are all in a sense playing roles on a public stage, trying to pull off our scenes, trying to remember our lines. Difficulty in performing a role like that of student doesn’t mean you’re a bad human being — it just means you need to be patient with yourself and give yourself a bit of time to practice your new role before you can feel like you’ve truly nailed it. I share my thoughts on this subject in the video below:

William Shakespeare shared this sentiment in two of his plays:

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”
– Macbeth

“All the world’s a stage,
and all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.”
– As You Like It

Goffman would agree with the second quote, but disagree heartily with the second quote. For Goffman, the lines we deliver and the successful scenes we accomplish in interaction signify a great deal. Indeed, the whole point of our strutting and fretting our hour upon the stage is to learn how to signify to one another. An undergraduate’s role in the first year is hard, because a college or university education involves a whole new way of signifying what matters, how it matters, and how we know what matters.

The bottom line? Feeling like a fraud in the first year of the undergraduate experience is not just normal; it’s actually OK, a sign of growth, a sign that you’re extending yourself into a new role. As the popular slogan goes, you just have to “fake it till you make it,” to keep practicing the new role until you get the part down well. A die-hard dramaturgist might say that there’s really no difference between someone who perfectly impersonates a success and an actual success.

Just keep practicing, keep pretending until the pretense becomes real. You can do it.


Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Random House