My name is Matt Rafalow and I am a Sociologist (PhD, University of California-Irvine), a social scientist at Google, and a Senior Researcher at the Stanford Ethnography Lab. At Google I manage a research team studying new experiences on YouTube (live streaming, fan funding, and gaming). I strive to conduct research that blends academic inquiry with applied solutions that have a meaningful impact.
Most of my publishing is on education. In Digital Divisions: How Schools Create Inequality in the Tech Era (University of Chicago Press, 2020), I studied how digital technologies are used in middle schools. 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. 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. I am delighted to share that Digital Divisions is an award-winning book: it received the 2021 Best Book Award from the American Sociological Association’s Communication, Information Technology, and Media Sociology Section.
I am now studying YouTubers and their viewers, and manage two internal teams (one applied, one academic) in the pursuit of this work. For the our academic research, we’re mining a lot of data: interviews with 123 YouTubers varying from 2,000 to 22 billion subscribers and spanning content genres, and cross-national surveys and interviews from their viewers. So far, we’re thinking a lot about how YouTubers decide to create their video content and the role that audiences play in shaping their process.
If you’re curious as to what a sociologist does in the tech industry, see this little writeup I put together. If you’re a social scientist with interests in digital technology you should consider joining a 800+ online community I manage of like-minded folks. If you like learning about social science from somewhat inebriated scholars you should stay tuned for Drunk Sociology, a new series I’m co-producing with Sarah Outland. And if you’re a dog person, meet Eva.