Internet studies is an interdisciplinary field studying the social, psychological, pedagogical, political, technical, cultural, artistic, and other dimensions of the Internet and associated information and communication technologies. While studies of the Internet are now widespread across academic disciplines, there is a growing collaboration among these investigations. In recent years, Internet studies have become institutionalized as courses of study at several institutions of higher learning. Cognates are found in departments of a number of other names, including departments of "Internet and Society", "virtual society", "digital culture", "new media" or "convergent media", various "iSchools", or programs like "Media in Transition" at MIT. On the research side, Internet studies intersects with studies of cyberculture, human–computer interaction, and science and technology studies. Internet and society is a research field that addresses the interrelationship of Internet and society, i.e. how society has changed the Internet and how the Internet has changed society.
The topic of social issues relating to Internet has become notable since the rise of the World Wide Web, which can be observed from the fact that journals and newspapers run many stories on topics such as cyberlove, cyberhate, Web 2.0, cybercrime, cyberpolitics, Internet economy, etc. As most of the scientific monographs that have considered Internet and society in their book titles are social theoretical in nature, internet and society can be considered as a primarily social theoretical research approach of Internet studies.
Topics of study
In recent years, Internet studies have become institutionalized as courses of study at several institutions of higher learning, including the University of Oxford, Harvard University, London School of Economics, Curtin University of Technology, Brandeis University, Endicott College, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Appalachian State University and the University of Minnesota.
Disciplines that contribute to Internet studies include:
- Computer-mediated communication: such as the role of e-mail, social media, MMORPGs, online chat, blogs, and text messaging in communication processes.
- Digital rights: including privacy, free speech, intellectual property, and digital rights management.
- Digital Labour and the "Gig Economy"
- Internet architecture: including the fundamental programming and architecture of the Internet, such as TCP/IP, HTML, CSS, CGI, CFML, DOM, JS, PHP, XML.
- Internet culture: including the emergence of Internet slang, Cyberculture and digital music.
- Internet security: such as the structure and propagation of viruses, malware, and software exploits, as well as methods of protection, including antivirus programs and firewalls.
- Online communities: including Internet forums, blogs, and MMORPGs.
- Open source software: focusing on the ability of Internet users to collaborate to modify, develop, and improve pieces of software which are freely available to the public without charge.
- Sociology of the Internet: including the social implications of the Internet, new social networks, online societies (virtual communities), identity practices and social interaction on the Internet.
- Science and Technology Studies: how and why we have the digital technologies we have, and how social shapes their development.
A number of academic journals are central to communicating research in the field, including Bad Subjects, Convergence: The Journal of Research into New media Technologies, Ctheory, Cyber Psychology + Behaviour, Computers in Human Behavior, First Monday, Information, Communication, and Society, The Information Society, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, M/C, New Media & Society, tripleC: Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society, Fibreculture Journal, and TeknoKultura, but research relating to internet studies appears in a diverse range of venues and disciplines.
Key foundational work, that developed in to Internet Studies, is found in studies of the Information Society and the Network Society by scholars such as Manuel Castells, Mark Poster, Frank Webster, etc. Other important authors are Sherry Turkle and Robert Kraut for their socio-psychological contributions; Abbate and Patrice Flichy for their socio-historical research; Barry Wellman and Caroline Haythornwaite for their social network approaches; Ronald E. Rice for his information science contributions; David Lyon and Philip Agre for their privacy and surveillance writings; Lawrence Lessig, Andrew Chadwick, Jonathan Zittrain for their study of law and politics; and Robin Williams, Robin Mansell and Steve Woolgar for their contributions about innovation.
As Barry Wellman argues, internet studies may find its beginnings with the 1978 publication of The Network Nation, and was largely dominated by computer scientists, presenting at venues like the annual CSCW conference. These were quickly joined by researchers in business fields and library and information science. By the late 1990s, more attention was being paid to systematic investigation of users and how they made use of the new technologies. During the 1990s, the rapid diffusion of internet access began to attract more attention from a number of social science and humanities disciplines, including the field of communication. Some of these investigations, like the Pew Internet & American Life project and the World Internet Project framed the research in terms of traditional social science approaches, with a focus less on the technology than on those who use them. But the focus remained at the aggregate level. In the UK, the ESRC Programme on Information and Communications Technologies (1986–1996) laid considerable ground work on how society and ICTs interact, bringing together important clusters of scholars from media and communications, society, innovation, law, policy and industry across leading UK universities.
In 1996, this interest was expressed in other ways as well. Georgetown University began offering a related master's program in that year, and at the University of Maryland, David Silver created the Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies on the web. Middlebury College developed Politics of Virtual Realities, one of the first undergraduate courses dedicated to exploring the political, legal and normative implications of the Internet for liberal democracy. By 2001, The Chronicle of Higher Education noted that "internet studies" was emerging as a discipline in its own right, as suggested by the first undergraduate program in the area, offered at Brandeis University, and noted that "perhaps the most telling sign of the field's momentum" was the popularity of the annual conference created by the then nascent Association of Internet Researchers.
From particularly sociological perspective, James Slevin (2000) develops a social theory of the Internet that is primarily informed by the line of thought grounded by the British sociologist Anthony Giddens., while Christian Fuchs (2008) is a social theory account that is primarily grounded in the works by critical theory scholars such as Herbert Marcuse, by the concept of social self-organization, and by neo-Marxist thinking.
More recent approaches to studying the internet have focused on situating technology use within particular social contexts, and understanding just how it is related to social and institutional change.
- American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST)
- American Sociological Association, Section on Communication and Information Technologies (CITASA)
- Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR)
- Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Communication & Technology Division (CTEC)
- Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)
- European Association for the Study of Science and Technology
- European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) Internet & Politics Standing Group (SG)
- International Communication Association Communication & Technology (CAT) division
- International Association for Media and Communication Research
- National Communication Association (NCA) Human Communication and Technology Division (HCTD)
- Society for Social Studies of Science
- Silver, David (2004). "Internet/cyberculture/digital culture/new media/fill-in-the-blank studies". New Media & Society. 6 (1): 55–64. doi:10.1177/1461444804039915. Archived from the original on 2013-02-01.
- Sagástegui, Diana (Summer 2005). "La apropiación social de la tecnología. Un enfoque sociocultural del conocimiento" (PDF). Razón y Palabra. 49: 1–18 – via Razón y Palabra.
- "Computers in Human Behavior". Elsevier.
- "The Fibreculture Journal". fibreculturejournal.org.
- Wellman, Barry (2004). "The three ages of internet studies: ten, five and zero years ago". New Media & Society. 6 (1): 123–129. doi:10.1177/1461444804040633. Archived from the original on 2013-02-01.
- Rice, Ronald E. (2005). "New media/internet research topics of the Association of Internet Researchers". The Information Society. 21: 285–299. doi:10.1080/01972240500189232.
- Newhagen, John E.; Rafaeli, Sheizaf (1996). "Why communication researchers should study the internet: a dialog". Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 1 (4).
- "Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Technology". pewinternet.org. 8 October 2015.
- World Internet Project. "World Internet Project". World Internet Project.
- Robin Manse. "Information and Communication Technology Policy Research in the United Kingdom: A Perspective".
- "RCCS: Welcome". rccs.usfca.edu.
- Middlebury College. "PSCI0307A-S11". middlebury.edu.
- McLemee, Scott (30 March 2001). "Internet studies 1.0: a discipline Is born". The Chronicle of Higher Education. 47 (29). p. A24.
- James Slevin. 2000. The Internet and Society. Cambridge, UK: Polity.
- Christian Fuchs. 2008. Internet and Society: Social Theory in the Information Age. New York: Routledge.
- Society and the Internet – An overview book about the topic published by the University of Oxford.