Thursday, April 14

critique of Miller & Slaters' use of a website, supporting their Anne Beaulieu


[reference to the paper by Anne Beaulieu this paragraph is from]

Other non-paper based forms of publishing and communication have also been used by ethnographers Miller and Slater (Miller and Slater 2000). The ethnography which led to The Internet: an Ethnographic Approach, is linked to a website. This website aims to support the book: in its paper version, the table of contents and list of plates send readers to the website for illustrations, as does the back cover blurb: “An innovative tie-in with the book’s own website provides copious illustrations.” On this website,[1] one is indeed able to view a slide show of 6 home pages of websites. These are screenshots of websites (effectively, ‘photographs/snapshots of a single screen displaying one page of a website). These screenshots are shown as a ‘slide show’,[2] but are otherwise completely ‘frozen’ in terms of space and time and functionality. The pages cannot be stopped, or clicked upon, or accessed. They function as illustrations, but not as links or connections to a ‘live’ version of the web. This is a surprising decision (to me), given that the technological implementation is not difficult. This representation can be seen as the internet version of freezing one’s object in time, a move that has a long critique[3] in the disciplinary tradition from which Slater and Miller are working. Incidentally, when tracing one of the Miss Trinidad websites mentioned in the analysis, I was led to a soft-porn website. This highlights one of the advantages of using screenshots on a self-controlled website. This provides stability to the object of inquiry, and enables at least part of the object to be seen by readers subsequently, as it existed when visited by the ethnographers.[4]

The website does try to sustain an intersubjective mode in the ‘discussion areas’ that are related to the main page. The discussion areas are structured according to the main themes of the book. These contain a handful of interventions by people who present themselves as readers of the book and/or ethnographers. Also, in the preface of the book, the authors explicitly request that feedback be sent to them directly, via email, and provide their own email addresses, as granted by their institutions. The fact that the website and email addresses are hosted by the institution of one of the authors perhaps further suggests that the authors see their use of the website as scholarly, collegial academic activities, somewhat separate from the field or from formal publishing. These invitations seem directed at communicating with colleagues about the final representation, though perhaps less about the process (i.e. the site appeared shortly before publication, most activity was in the months immediately following the appearance of the book) or about the object. Here, the internet is both a site for intersubjectivity (communication with colleagues) and a site for ‘illustration’ of the internet, fulfilling functions that the book is considered unable to perform.

[1] accessed 14 August 2003.

[2] Note the metaphorical appeals to other media, other representational technologies, to convey these practices.

[3] Among others. see Fabian, J. (1990). Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object. New York, Columbia University Press.

[4] This is itself a complex issue for scholars of the internet. See Koehler, W. (2002). "Web page change and persistence - A four-year longitudinal study." JASIST 53(2): 162-171..


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