Understanding Culture Online – NOTES

Understanding culture online



Initial views of CMC was that it was brief, unemotional but egalitarian. Studies have since reveal diverse and authentic online communities that demand a participant – observer approach.


  1. 2 ‘Technologies are not repressively foisted upon passive populations, any more than

the power to realize their repressive potential is in the hands of a conspiring few. They are developed at any one time and place in accord with a complex set of existing rules or rational procedures, institutional histories, technical possibilities, and, at last, but not least, popular desires’. (Penley and Ross 1991, p. xiv)


Tech and society intertwine. Don’t be deterministic or essentialist.

What can influence our tech use – specific times and places, distinctive

rules or rational procedures, institutional histories, technical possibilities,

practical and popular uses, fears and dreams

thus we need ethnography.



Theoretical Basis – social psychology

Research Method – psychological tests

Conclusion 1 – online is bad for cultural and social activity

Reason – No social cues from real life.

Conclusion 2 – Social status hierarchies will be flattened

Reason – No social cues frees people up. Less dominance and social barriers. People become uninhibited.


Then we start to see emoticons develop, ASCII art, net-slang. Gets round the assumed “coldness” of CMC.


Walther – p.4 online if people don’t expect to be interacting in the future they just talk about the task in hand. If you are going to talk again it becomes more friendly.

Olanrian – p.4 when groups have diverse members you need to focus on similarities rather than differences. DUH!



Destroys the flat social hierarchy position. People always develop symbols to mark out the pwnrs and the noobs.

Shows why you need to go in the field not just in labs. Look at actual developed groups not just one offs for lab work.



Survey – population, demographic, frequency

Psychological Experiments – links between individual and group variables, e.g. memory

Ethnography – cultural practice


NETHNOGRAPHY – shows online groups follow same rules as IRL groups. Norm developments and identity. However anonymity and accessibility change some group interactions.


Info seek from official info – user gen content – lurk – gradually post – learn the norms and language – become an old hand

From task oriented to social.

Gradually in sharing info personal elements seep in, inevitably a community forms.


COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE – ‘a community’s structures are instantiated and recreated in habitual and recurrent ways of acting or practices’ (Baym 1999, p. 22).


Ways of creating group identity – evaluation, commiseration, criticism.



Things you can study in NETHNOGRAPHY –


Meaning and symbols – netspeak, slang, communal language


Typology and Classification – types of users, interactions, groups


How IRL practice and identity relates to online groups


Relationship between commercial and community – ‘all commercial portals purporting to serve politically marginalized groups beg the question of whether there can be a harmonious

balance between the interests of community and the drives of commerce’ (see also



How does the institutionalisation of online communities change local community practice? Does drumeo change things for local drummers? Or other bloggers?



consumption (what the group is “about”), the more you self-identify with the group’s consumptive purpose the more you are likely to get involved. Interest + expertise.


Social relation. How you see others in the group. Friends? Interesting strangers?