Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Politics and Media Richness in World Wide Web Representations of the Former Yugoslavia

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Politics and Media Richness in World Wide Web Representations of the Former Yugoslavia

Article excerpt

Until the rapid expansion of the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s, cyberspace was a world of words, not images. Servers were filled with data files and text reports that could be retrieved, but only through a process too formidable for the casual user. Discussion groups, bulletin boards, and chat rooms teemed with conversations, manifestos, and diatribes capable of conveying a sense of place; yet they were soapboxes or salons, not posters, flyers, or newsreels. Now, however, the Web allows cyberspace to be a realm of imagery as much as ideas.

Images of the former Yugoslavia have been made available on the World Wide Web in thick profusion. The political and cultural upheavals in Eastern Europe since the mid-1980s left spatial problems in their wake, struggles over the "official state" constitution and over authoritative definition of the country's physical place. We argue that analysis of communicative and spatial elements of the Internet provide a unique context for the definition and conveyance of place. In the Web is what Richard Daft and Robert Lengel have termed a "rich medium," a tool capable of forging shared meaning in an equivocal environment (1986).

STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION AND THE STUDY OF CYBERSPACE

Interest of Anglo-American geographers in communication technologies dates from the early 1980s (Falk and Abler 1980; Abler and Falk 1981, 1985; Abler 1987). Recently, a significant body of research has documented how communication technologies transform societies, while also theorizing about how technology makes sociospatial change possible.

Three perspectives of communications research inform our study. By far the bulk of work is from the perspective of changing economic geographies. This research examines telecommunications technology as part of corporate control and international finance, exploring the ways in which technology has facilitated changes in corporate control networks by allowing firms to relocate to dispersed locations for production while concentrating control in cities removed from actual production (Langdale 1985; Gillespie and Williams 1988; Warf 1989; Daniels 1991; Hepworth 1991; Driver and Gillespie 1993). These studies explore the effects of technology without capturing the potential for strategic variations in use of the technology.

A second perspective taken by geographers in the study of communication technologies addresses sociospatial community formation. This perspective examines computer-mediated communication as it helps form social networks that serve various political and social purposes (Brunn, Jones, and Purcell 1994; Brunn and Purcell 1996; O'Lear 1996). Emphasis is on the communities created, with little consideration of how the technology and human agency combine to create new rules and resources for community maintenance.

Without focusing solely on computer-mediated communication, a third perspective addresses how technologies produce space (Adams 1992; Berland 1992). This third perspective turns critical attention to the technology itself, addressing the epistemology and politics of space. How does communication technology enable the creation of space? What interests are represented in that space? Who has influence or control over the space? Theory emerging from this perspective asks about the tools that people are using and about how they mediate among technology, power relationships, and human agency.

These three perspectives combine to emphasize different inquiries, which we use to understand a specific communication technology, the World Wide Web. The Web gives individual Internet users the ability to make information available to any other Internet user, without an intermediary to censor or structure the data in either content or form. In contrast to other communication technologies, such as e-mail, Usenet or listserv groups, or chat forums, the Web is, primarily, a tool of presentation. Web documents must conform to a particular programming language, hypertext markup language (HTML) - simple to learn and requiring no compiling program - which users employ to create high-quality graphic designs easily and quickly. …

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