My name is Matt Rafalow and I am a Sociologist (PhD, University of California-Irvine), a social scientist at Google, and a Research Fellow at University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. At Google I manage a research team (📸) studying new experiences on YouTube (live streaming, gaming, and gameplay). 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, and an honorable mention for the Sociology of Education Section’s 2022 Pierre Bourdieu Award.
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 million 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 1000+ online community I manage of like-minded folks. If you like learning about social science from somewhat inebriated scholars you should check out Drunk Sociology, a series I co-produce with Sarah Outland. And if you’re a dog person, meet Eva.