The Internet as a Library-Of-People: For a Cyberethnography of Online Groups

  • Maurizio Teli University of Trento
  • Francesco Pisanu University of Trento
  • David Hakken Indiana University
Keywords: computer mediated communication, cyberspace, virtuality, cyberethnography


The concept "cyberethnography" remains undefined in the social sciences while, at the same time, still overlapping too much with the more well-known concept of "virtual ethnography." The aim of our paper is to remedy this situation by underlining new directions in the ethnographic study of computer mediated settings. To do so, we define cyberspace as computer-mediated contexts intrinsically related to supposed-to-be "real" places. From this point of view the ethnography of online groups is not just the ethnography of the groups online (or the online ethnography of groups), but it is both the ethnography of online and related off-line situations, the ethnography of humans and non-human actors in these related fields. It is hybrid, like a cyborg. In a word, it is a cyberethnography. In the first part of the paper, we discuss linkages between classical ethnography and its cyber developments. In the second part, we ground epistemologically the argument in favor of a robust social concept of "cyborg" drawing mainly from the fields called Science, Technology and Society (STS), and Organization Studies (OS). In the third part, we focus our argument on web-based group issues, using field data from our own research to define this kind of group and propose a metaphor, "the Internet as a library-of-people." This metaphor, which is strictly grounded in the cyborg concept, highlights the cyborgic characteristic of society that arises in research practice. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0703338


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Author Biographies

Maurizio Teli, University of Trento
Maurizio TELI is a PhD Student in Information Systems and Organizations at University of Trento. His main research fields are Organizational Studies, Information Systems, and Science, Technology and Society, with particular interest in social and cultural issues in Open Source and Free Software movement.
Francesco Pisanu, University of Trento
Francesco PISANU is a PhD Student in Information Systems and Organizations at University of Trento. His main research field is work and organizational psychology, with particular interest in social and cultural issues in computer mediated teams, e-learning, training process and training transfer evaluation.
David Hakken, Indiana University
David HAKKEN is Professor of Social Informatics and Director of International Activities at the new School of Informatics at Indiana University in the United States. Trained as a cultural anthropologist, he has carried out field studies on the social correlates of automated information and communications technologies with geographic connections to Europe, the United States, and Asia. He is currently doing comparative studies of Free/Libre and Open Source Software development and advocacy and of US/Asia university linkages.
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