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Gerard Goggin and Elaine Lally
THE USES OF THE IN-rERNET
In one of the seminal texts of cultural studies, The Uses of Literacy (1957),
Richard Hoggart explored the profound interrelationship between popular literature
and the life and values of the working-class people who made use of it. The legacy
of this work within contemporary media and cultural studies is seen in its
interdisciplinary approaches to the investigation of social and cultural change through
the close observation and analysis of specific people, in particular places and times,
in interaction with media and other cultural forms which are representative of
broader social and cultural forces. More recently, John Hartley, in The Uses of
Television (1999), proposed that we investigate also how such media have uses'
not only for the audience or 'reader', but also for media and cultural studies
scholars and teachers.
This themed issue of Media International Australia incorporating Culture
and Policy aims to bring together a number of papers by emerging and established
scholars on the uses of the internet within the spirit of these media and cultural
studies traditions. A number of these papers were first presented in a series of
three lively panels on 'Uses of the Internet' at the Cultural Studies Association of
Australia conference held at the University of Melbourne in December 2002. We
are grateful to all those who engaged in this rich dialogue for their contributions.
The interest shown in these panels confirms that internet studies is consolidating
as an area of critical inquiry and engagement - with a strong focus on
understanding the internet as a set of practices and technologies that needs to be
observed and interpreted in the broader field of media and culture.'
Central to critical work in communications, cultural and media studies on the
internet is what Terry Flew has termed a 'new empirics' - a 'strong focus in
recent internet theory upon empirical studies of Internet use and user communities'
(Flew, 2ool: 113). Exemplars include Daniel Miller and Don Slater's study of the
internet in Trinidad (2000), Christine Hine's Virtual Ethnography (2000), Mark
McLelland and Nanette Gottlieb's Japanese Cybercultures Reader (2003) and
Graham Meikle's study of internet activism (2002). Such work provides a corrective
to the speculative, apocalyptic tone of 1990s internet criticism, and to the policy and
business disaster of the dot.com crash, not least perhaps because this new empirical
tum is theoretically inflected and saturated, with a emphasis on the social and
cultural contexts shaping internet technology. It also responds to the plaints of a .
range of leading internet theorists, from Geert Lovink - 'What is required [in the
internet] is an evaluation of what has happened over the last few years. Stories
need to be told ... Too many concepts and phrases remain empty and uncontested.'
Media International Australiaincorporating Culture and Policy
6
(2002: 8) - to Manuel Castells - 'In spite of the pervasiveness of the Internet,
its logic, its language, and its constraints are not well understood beyond the realm
of strictly technological matters. The speed of transformation [of the internet] has
made it difficult for scholarly research to follow the pace of change with an
adequate supply of empirical studies.' (2002: 3)
The writers represented in this theme issue address deceptively simple questions
such as: Who makes use of the internet, and what do they use it for? And what
is the utility of the internet for its many and varied users? The answers to these
questions about internet and media cultures offer rich and thought-provoking material.
Graham Meikle's 'We Are All Boat People' provides an incisive discussion of
internet activism, focusing on one of the most explosive public issues of recent
times: refugees. The use of the internet for activism has received much popular
and scholarly attention, and Meikle teases out implications of his Australian case
study for notions of tactical and citizens' media, as well as cultural production and
political agency. Activism and social movements' experiments with the internet
form the subject also of Juan Salazar's 'Articulating an Activist Imaginary'. Salazar
considers the innovative appropriation of online media by the indigenous Mapuche
people in Chile. Relying on the internet to construct a counter public sphere in both
their national and diasporic resistance, the Mapuche create powerful spaces of
cultural survival in the interstices of global mediaspaces.
Axel Bruns' 'Gatewatching, Not Gatekeeping' offers a timely account of a
phenomenon that is transforming the core business of media studies: news. Bruns'
anatomy of collaborative web-based news gathering, reporting, editing and publishing
makes an important contribution to important transformations in the fourth estate.
The internet's potential for fostering any-to-any cultural activity, and the fate of
cherished idees fortes such as 'open source', also preoccupy Shennan Young in
his 'Sharing Control' . Young discusses distributed computing, a kindred development
to that of the better known peer-to-peer file-sharing applications such as Napster.
Networking computers to share resources is a use that returns us to the very
inception of the internet, something that makes Young's analysis of the politics of
the gift economy in the face of commodification all the more pertinent.
The study of subcultures is to cultural studies what fetishisation of virtual
communities has been to internet and cybercultural studies. Patrick.Williams' 'The
Straightedge Subculture of the Internet' critically interrogates the role of the internet
in constructing subcultural identity, with a case study of the Straightedge group of
the punklbardcore music subculture in the United States. Much recent work on
internet cultures has taken its bearing from ethnography and anthropology. and
Williams' article is a sophisticated example of how such approaches may frame
the study of fan cultures, audiences and online communities. Finally, Terence Lee's
'Internet Use in Singapore' suggests another fertile context for investigating the
constitution of internet as media: the policy discourses and governmental regulation
that constrain and produce the internet in Singapore. Lee's study has important
implications for the role of the internet in citizenship and participation in one of the
most advanced networked societies - and offers new insights into the internet's
role in statecraft, under the mantle of e-government.
No. 107 - May 2003
7
Media studies is only just beginning to understand the internet as a network of
networks of lived meanings and experiences; to focus inquiry on the scope and
complexity of internet cultures; to recognise and debate uses (and uselessnesses)
of the internet. We hope this issue of MIA will spark further work and discussion
in this area.
References
Casiells, Manuel 200t, The lnsemet Galaxy: Reflections on Jhe Internet. Business; and Society, Oxford
University Press. Oxford.
Flew, Terry 2001. 'The "New Empirics" in Internet Studies and Comparative Internet Policy', in
Hugh Brown et al. (eds), Politics of a Digital Present: An Inventory of Australian Net Culture,
Criticism and Theory, Fibreeulrure Publications. Melbourne, pp. lO~t4.
Gottlieb. Nanette and McLelland, Mark (OOs) 2003, The Japanese Cybercultures Reader. Routledge,
London and New York.
Hine, Christine 2000, Yinual Ethnography, Sage, London.
Lovink, Geert 2002, Doric Fibre: Tracking Critical Internet Culture, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
Meikle. Graham 2002. Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet. Pluto. Sydney.
Miller. Daniel, and Slater, Don 2000. The Internet: An ElhlWgraphic Approach, Routledge, London.
Gerard Goggin is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, University
of Queensland.
Elaine Lally is Assistant Director ofthe Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney.
S~ is the author of AI Home With Computers (Berg. Oxford, 2002).
Media International Australiaincorporating Culture Bnd Policy
8
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