Accepted paper:

The online nomads of cyberia


Alexander Knorr (Ludwig-Maximilians Universit√§t, M√ľnchen)

Paper short abstract:

The paper is based on ongoing fieldwork on a technoludic online community of practice. I argue that anthropological methods and concepts are perfectly suited not only to grasping the shape and structure of online communities, but also to accessing and understanding the practices surrounding new media.

Paper long abstract:

Along with the unleashing of new media, hitting the streets almost globally in an accelerating pace, new fields for anthropology unfolded. In particular services based on the Internet-infrastructure gave rise to a new phenomenon of interest: online communities. The latters' spaces of interaction and 'habitats' are constituted by mediating technologies. At first glance this media seem to be restrictive, seem to rob manifoldness from human communication and interaction. On the other hand some authors claim that online media capture within their domain the whole diversity of cultural practices and expressions. This paper strives to communicate two points. Firstly the issue of the complementary utilization of a wealth of channels of interaction, both asynchronous, synchronous, and even parallel, sometimes dubbed multitasking. The essential questions within this argument are asking for the particular qualities of these channels as perceived by the practitioners, and for the latters' management and use of them. Secondly the fact that the community's terrain is not restricted to an infrastructure at a given time, and its social cohesion does not ultimately depend upon the maintenance and existence of particular loci of interaction. The community can only be grasped in terms of a social body, as it can neither be localized in topograpical space, nor pinpointed to particular conceptual spaces induced by ICTs. 'My tribe' is nomadizing within cyberspace. The paper is empirically based upon fieldwork which started in early 2002 and is still going on, particularly in the shape of thick participation within a transnational technoludic online community of practice. By means of selected examples it will be shown that anthropological methods and concepts are perfectly suited to not only grasp the shape and structure of online communities, but also to get access to, and ultimately gain understanding of the social and cultural practices surrounding new media.

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Understanding media practices