My name is Matt Rafalow and I am a Sociologist (PhD, University of California-Irvine), a social scientist at Google, and a Visiting Scholar at UC-Berkeley’s Center for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society. At Google I lead a research program on live streaming experiences. Before working at Google I was an ethnographer for many years with the Connected Learning Research Network. I have also been a researcher at Yahoo! Labs and GovLab. I strive to conduct research that blends academic inquiry with applied solutions that have a meaningful impact.
In my academic work, I primarily study how youth/young adults adopt digital technologies with mind to social inequities (particularly along race-ethnicity and social class). My largest project to date explored how digital technologies are taken up and evaluated in different educational contexts. For this study, I found that teachers draw on organization-level understandings of student race and class to construct students as either risky hackers or Steve Jobs potentials. Contrary to popular belief, digital technologies were not magic bullets to address educational inequities — rather, teachers adopted very similar technologies quite differently depending on the race and class of their student body. A paper based on this work is out in American Journal of Sociology. A book that expands on this study came out in August 2020 with University of Chicago Press. It’s called Digital Divisions: How Schools Create Inequality in the Tech Era.
My research in education also benefits from my collaborative work with other scholars on youth peer practices with digital media. As part of the Connected Learning Research Network, a research group consisting of teams around the country, I studied learning experiences that occur as youth interact online. I’m really proud of our book, Affinity Online: How Connection and Shared Interest Fuel Learning, on learning in the digitally networked era.
If you’re curious as to what a sociologist does in the tech industry, see this little writeup I put together. When I’m not doing research, I’m quite active with LGBTQ outreach both locally through mentorship and more broadly via the internets. I’m also really into cooking, and I am most certainly a dog person (especially when it comes to my own).