Sociology in the Age of the Internet

Sociology in the Age of the Internet

Sociology in the Age of the Internet

Sociology in the Age of the Internet

Synopsis

In recent years there has been a large and diverse body of writing from scholars in the social sciences who have been studying changes brought about by new communication technologies in general and the Internet in particular. The question of how people behave, interact and organize themselves in relation to this form of communication has been given added prominence by developments within new social theory, especially in relation to the novelty of contemporary social formations and the importance of mass communications to this changed order. For the student new to the study of technology and society, there are a bewildering array of claims and counter claims, representing a spectrum of theoretical, methodological and critical sensibilities in relation to the Internet. In this new book Allison Cavanagh evaluates the work in this area by: Investigating the novelty of the Internet and setting the Internet in the context of communication histories Evaluating the extent and rate of change through a synthesis of the available empirical literature Providing a key to understanding the changes identified through an evaluation of the utility of new social theory Sociology in the Age of the Internet is essential reading for academics and students with an interest in the relationship between the internet and society.

Excerpt

Studies of the internet often become obsolete between writing and publication. Most academic work on this topic was in progress when the internet, as we recognize it today, was still ‘virtual’ in a Deleuzian sense, had not taken shape as a compelling force in modern life. The splurge of scholarship that appeared in print in the last years of the twentieth century was part of an early attempt to theorize and understand a technology that appeared as though from out of the blue, both to scholars and in populist discourse. The development of the internet, as a technology, medium and social space, has well and truly outpaced academic responses to it. Over the past decade, the whole nature and form of the internet has profoundly shifted away from its historical roots in military and academic research communities and towards a commercial and mass form. Whereas empirical studies have in some cases kept pace with these changes, the theoretical bedrock of scholarship into the internet has not. Academics find themselves trying to synthesize research and provide a future agenda for empirical investigation on the back of the hastily composed and now largely anachronistic theoretical frameworks of the early theorists. Scholarship which precedes from the premises established in the founding literature of internet studies will swiftly find itself at an impasse. The internet studied by the ‘founding fathers’ is buried deep under the accretions of the channels and layers of the modern internet. This vision of the internet, optimistic, communitarian, egalitarian and participatory, still acts as bedrock ideology of the internet, but the structures it supports no longer resemble those of the early days. And yet such is the nature of scholarship that the visions of the future of these early cyber-enthusiasts, within and without the academy, continue to dominate a sociological research agenda into it.

This chapter examines the position of the internet in modern sociology, considering the impact that it has had on sociology as a discipline and the reasons why it occupies an unusual position in modern scholarship. I begin by looking at the reasons why a programmatic response to the internet has proved so hard to generate. Here I argue that interdisciplinarity, whilst a rich vein for innovation in research, has not allowed a clear agenda to develop. This in combination with a widespread ‘cult of the new’ has promoted a view . . .

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