Cyberculture Studies, Merging Disciplines, Research Activism

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
david silver
University of Washington

As a number of scholars (including Geert Lovink in another pattern submitted for DIAC-02) have noted, various academic disciplines and nodes of knowledge have begun exploring the field of digital culture, Internet studies, or cyberculture studies. Unfortunately, the majority of these projects are contained within particular disciplines, including communications, cultural studies, English, and sociology, and seldom exist as a transdisciplinary object of study. While this makes for some interesting and grounded research, it fails to benefit from what we might call disciplinary cross-pollination.


Ten years ago, the first Conference in Cyberspace took place at the University of Texas at Austin. According to most accounts, the conference was invite-only and attracted some of the best minds around, including Michael Heim, Chip Morningstar, Marcos Novak, and Allucquere Rosanne (aka Sandy) Stone. A year later, the ideas crept to the rest of us, in the form of the appropriately entitled Cyberspace: First Steps, edited by Michael Benedikt.

Throughout the last decade, many more steps have been taken. While Howard Rheingold's The Virtual Community examined communities in cyberspace, Sherry Turkle's Life on the Screen, along with the work of Amy Bruckman, Elizabeth Reid, and Stone, explored the formation of identities within online environments. By the mid-1990s, the first steps of an emerging field of study upgraded to a brisk jog. Under the altering guise of cyberculture studies or computer-mediated communication or Internet studies or social informatics, the field began to blossom with books like CyberSociety and Virtual Culture, both edited by Steve Jones, Internet Culture, edited by David Porter, and Network & Netplay, edited by Fay Sudweeks, Margaret McLaughlin, and Sheizaf Rafaeli. As the true millennium passes, the brisk jog has become a modest marathon, as reflected in book-length case studies like Nancy Baym's Tune In, Log On, Paulina Borsook's Cyberselfish, and Christine Hine's Virtual Ethnography, as well as critical subfields within the field, including Race in Cyberspace, edited by Beth Kolko, Lisa Nakamura, and Gilbert Rodman, women@internet: Creating New Cultures in Cyberspace, edited by Wendy Harcourt, and CyberSexualities: A Reader on Feminist Theory, Cyborgs, and Cyberspace, edited by Jenny Wolmark.


To date, most of the intellectual energy focused on this problem has been concerned with the *naming* of the field of study (See for example Bell and Kennedy, 2000; Gerlach and Hamilton, 2001; Silver, 2000) and very little spent on the *politics* of the emerging field (with the exception, perhaps, of Nakamura, 2000). Although very real academic turf wars exist on this matter, interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary collaborations yield insights too interesting, important, and powerful to ignore. Therefore, while not slighting the debates over the naming of the field and the kinds of methodologies we employ, I suggest that a most useful question we can undertake concerns the means by which we can promote interdisciplinary scholarship that transcends not only individual departments and disciplines but also the university itself.


Let me say this: far be it from me to suggest that I have the answer to this problem. But what I would like to see occur within this pattern is a brainstorming process focused on various ways and strategies to get scholars and practioners around the same table, debating and suggesting solutions to economic, cultural, and political questions regarding the Net and contemporary society. Perhaps one solution would be to borrow a page from research activism and assemble teams of scholars, artists, and activists interested in a particular problem or dilemna.

Pattern status: