Re: Anthropology of Internet Communities

D.Brodale (6500dnrd@UCSBUXA.UCSB.EDU)
Thu, 9 Feb 1995 08:35:56 -0800

On Thu, 9 Feb 1995, Danny Yee wrote:

> The sort of stuff I'm after is:
> * ethnographic studies of internet communities
> * discussion of definitions of virtual community
> * anything else on internet communities which uses an anthropological
> (in the wide sense) point of view.

I had recently posted a similar response to an Ethnology mailing-list,
and here is an edited assemblage of what I received within two days. I
have not had the time to check the materials thoroughly myself.
_Cybersociety_ is coming to me by ILL. The WWW Page is indeed funtional,
though the papers are largely in .ps format. If you come across
anything, I'd be interested in hearing back about it.

-Donald Brodale
UCSB, Dept. of Rel. Std.

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Date: Tue, 31 Jan 1995 16:50:47 -0500
From: Nancy Baym <>
Subject: Re: Ethnographic investigation of the Internet

>Are there any articles or completed studies that make use of ethnographic
>methods as applied to the Internet?...

I have done this myself investigating the social dynamics of a soap opera
newsgroup. You can find two examples, both of which deal directly with the
question of culture, here:

Baym, N. (1993). Interpreting Soap Operas and Creating Community: Inside a
Computer-Mediated Fan Culture. Journal of Folklore Research, Vol. 30, Nos.
2/3, 143-177.

Baym, N. (1995). The Emergence of Community in Computer-Mediated
Communication. Steve Jones (Ed.) Communication in Cyberspace. Newbury Park,
CA: Sage.

You might find the former more helpful than the latter. Hope this is of
some help,


Date: Tue, 31 Jan 95 14:06:10 PST
From: Norma Mendoza-Denton <norma@Csli.Stanford.EDU>
Subject: ethnographic internet

Hello Don:

I have a colleague here at Stanford who is doing her dissertation using
ethnographic methods to study language on the Internet. Her name is Lynn
Cherny and her email is She has severalk of her
papers on the WWW, I think. Good luck.

Norma Mendoza-Denton


Date: Tue, 31 Jan 1995 14:59:32 -0800
From: Lynn Cherny <cherny@CSLI.STANFORD.EDU>
Subject: Re: Ethnographic investigation of the Internet

I am doing ethnographic research on the Internet, studying a
well-defined community. The community's Internet focus is a MUD, or
"multi-user dimension," in which real-time conversations occur
between users connected at the same time. I know of several
other people doing MUD research, as well as people studying
mailing list or Usenet behavior, particularly mailing lists that have grown
out of fandom communities (like Star Trek or soap operas).

Nancy Baym has an article on soap fandom on Usenet in Journal of
Folklore Research, 1994. She also has one in a book called _Cybersociety_,
edited by Jones.

Best, Lynn


Date: Tue, 31 Jan 1995 17:30:14 -0400
From: Christine Greenway <>
Subject: Re: Ethnographic investigation of the Internet

A few issues back Lingua Franca had an article about the internet and
mentioned the names of some anthro grad students doing reasearch on
the varieties of communities, etc. that have emerged. Can't find my
old copy or I'd give you the exact names, etc.

Chris Greenway


From: Lynn Cherny <cherny@Csli.Stanford.EDU>
Subject: Re: ethnographic internet

I thought I sent mail to the Ethno list about my work, but maybe
it vanished into the ether. Yes, I have several papers on the Web;
the URL is:

You might also look for a book called _Cybersociety_ edited
by Jones; in it are several relevant articles about net stuff,
including a nice one by Nancy Baym, with references to her other work
on soap fans on Usenet.

Best, Lynn


Date: Tue, 31 Jan 1995 19:37:25 -0500
From: SJS The Prof <>
Subject: Re: Ethnographic investigation of the Internet

I don't know of ethnographic research specifically on internet, but I do
know of at least one study which concerned use of a computer conferencing
system and the "community" that developed from this:

Gerald S. Hopper. 1992. "Caucus: An ethnograhy of computer conferencers at
Eastern Michigan University." _Michigan Academician_, vol. 24, pp. 585-597.

Stuart Sigman
SUNY Albany


Date: Thu, 2 Feb 1995 15:03:04 -0700 (MST)
From: ARCHER LECIA JANE <archerl@ucsub.Colorado.EDU>
Subject: eth. research on internet "communities"

Hiya Don. I'm not on the ethno list, but a colleague forwarded me your
query. I'm in the middle of doing doctoral dissertation research using a
combination of ethnographic methods and discourse analysis. I study
LambdaMOO, a little "society" used by literally hundreds of people
connecting from all over the (English-speaking) globe.

I disagree with your instructor that htis stretches the limits of eth.
research. I would agree that it's at least difficult, if not downright
silly, to call such communities "cultures," which some people do.
However, they certainly have rules for interactioni, visible practices,
etc., which can be gotten at using ethnographic methods. Whoever said
that ethnographic methods were only for getting at culture? They're used
in organizations all the time, and while some argue that they're studying
org'l culture, many would claim that culture just isn't that easily
entered and exited, that perhaps there's no such thing as org'l culture,

Data gathering is really easy, by the way -- just log the interaction!

Check out a new book edited by Stephen Jones called _Cybersociety_,
available through Sage. I just got my copy and because they're out of
the paperback version they substituted the hardcover for no additional
charge! :)

In that text all the studies I've looked at so far have been accomplished
through interpretive methods such as ethnography and discourse analysis.
Good luck!

Lecia Barker
University of Colorado
Dept. of Communication

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Again, good luck!


We find human faces in the moon, armies in the clouds...
- David Hume, 1711-76