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Mindmap of Miller and Slater (2000) The Internet

August 1, 2009

gviewThis is a Freemind map of the Conclusion to Slater, Don and Miller, Daniel (2000) The internet: an ethnographic approach. Berg Publishers, Oxford. I’m revisiting this book as part of a review article on recent anthropological studies of the Internet. (More on Freemind maps here.)

Of possible relevance to the recent internet studies I’ve been reviewing are the following areas:

  • The trouble with virtuality in existing studies (assume internet disembedded from real life; virtual seen as defining feature of internet; assumption of placeless cyberspace and that bounded mediated realms are new)
  • Instead of starting from dubious assumption of a placeless cyberspace, Miller and Slater start from opposite assumption: that internet practices are extensions of real-world practices in places like Trinidad (online boundedness to be explained not taken for granted; Internet must be disaggregated despite its symbolic unity; no fluid postmodern identities a la Butler found among Trinis online; no pregiven seamless Internet – instead achieving even pockets of integration e.g. in business, a huge challenge)
  • This book’s ethnographic approach to internet studies (as basis for comparison; follows long-term immersion; this is not an ICT domestication/appropriation study; rather how Trinidadians put themselves on the global stage via internet; it’s about material culture)
  • So-called digital divide (surprised to find huge presence of internet on ‘poor’ island; often indirect access; some people try to bypass formal education via ICTs)

Connections to four works being reviewed:

  • Plenty to Boellstorff’s Second Life ethnography (2008) – could do a whole review on these alone.  It seems to me that Boellstorff does indeed demonstrate that you can study a virtual world in its own right, and he defends his position well. The binary choice between starting either online or offline strikes me as being as false now as it was then. Yes, Miller and Slater were correcting the excesses of the cyberlit of the time and breaking new ethnographic ground in an unlikely locale with improbable digital natives, but still. To me it’s more a matter of degrees and qualities, and these authors themselves anticipate this argument: attaining and maintaining boundedness online (or, in Boellstorff’s account, place-making) is quite an achievement. Boundedness is not an either/or state: some networked environments will be strongly bounded and closed to outsiders and external content (e.g. company or residential intranets) whilst others are in principle open to anyone as long as they don’t misbehave.
  • Less connection to the other three studies, probably a significant disconnection. That said, there are links to Hinkelbein’s use of Latour and ANT to follow internet ‘actants’ in the study of digital initiatives among poor immigrants in Germany; and the point about the lack of seamless integration resonates with Kelty’s discussion of the 1980s open systems gang wars when ICT advertisers promised us (like they do today) ‘seamless integration’.
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