Johan Fornäs, Kajsa Klein, Martina Ladendorf, Jenny Sundén, Malin Sveningsson (eds.). Digital borderlands: cultural studies of identity and interactivity on the Internet. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2002. viii, 196 p. ISBN 0-8204-5740-X. $22.95. (Digital Formations, Vol. 6).
Usually my organised "librarian's mind" guides my writing from what it sees as the starting point (within a review it is an introduction) to the end. This time it saw the starting "end" at the "Postscript" chapter of the book written by Steve Jones, in which he ponders the issue of the development of an Internet "discipline". The author leaves the issue open. Still I found the basic question odd. Have we ever raised a question of the basic discipline of studying a book? It is a complicated phenomenon and many representatives of academic community will see it as an object of their studies depending on why and what their interests are. These studies may range from chemistry and engineering to semiotics or literature research. I am used to Internet and WWW studies that treat both as information resources that should be made accessible to information users to cater for a wide variety of their needs. Even this perspective has a range of very different aspects, some of which are quite close to at least one of the studies in Digital Borderlands. The images of borderlands proposed by the authors in the book (p. 4) could be appropriate to explain the possible interrelations of the disciplines studying the complicated phenomena happening in and through computer networks.
Digital Borderlands was a research project primarily financed by HSFR (the Swedish Council for Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences). Its research team consists of Professor Johan Fornäs, the doctoral candidates Kajsa Klein, JMK, Martina Ladendorf, and Jenny Sundén and Malin Sveningsson coming from several research institutions in Sweden.
The project consisted of four projects looking into rather different aspects of network communication. The first one conducted by Malin Sveningsson looks into the ways, in which people create and develop intimate relationships using the internet (Cyberlove: creating romantic relationships on the net). Jenny Sundén participated in one of the MUDs for two years observing the representation of gender and body in a virtual space (Cyberbodies: writing gender in digital self-presentations). Martina Ladendorf analysed features of 11 electronic feminist magazines for young women (so called grrrlzines) investigating how borderline feminist meanings are created in them (Cyberzines: irony and parody as strategies in a feminist sphere). The fourth project is devoted to the meanings represented in some Web-sites of the United Nations. Kajsa Klein investigated complex relations and structures of UN-related sites and did more detailed analysis of several.
The first chapter of the book maps the basic concepts, approaches and methods used in all four projects. Communication is perceived as "hermeneutic process of creating and sharing meanings". Cultural studies of investigating meanings requires the application of interpretative methods and interaction with the studied communities. Cyberculture is regarded as a branch of cultural studies by the project participants. On the other hand, they see its connection to media studies because it is impossible without digital media communications. The projects are carried out meticulously and with great precision. The attitude of the researchers towards the Internet and cyberspace as an extension of the previous ways and means of interaction between people, texts, or organisations is effective and allowed them to extend and shape the researched phenomena beyond meagre technologically-bounded shadows of "true reality".
The results would be interesting for a wider academic community, not only the representatives of culture or communication studies. It would be very interesting if some other team would set out to test the results on a wider scale. It would be interesting to check if application of methods usually used to discover the value systems of different social groups would be suitable to the investigation of cybercultures or if it is too sensitive for any quantitative approach.
The large part of the book is also a very enticing reading for anyone who is interested in social and humanistic research. The subjects of the projects may attract attention even of a lay public and the style of the articles is accessible to most educated people.
How to cite this review
Macevičiūtė Elena (2003) Review of: Fornäs, Johan, Klein, Kajsa, Ladendorf, Martina, Sundén, Jenny, and Sveningsson, Malin (eds.). Digital borderlands: cultural studies of identity and interactivity on the Internet. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2002. Information Research, 8(3), review no. R093 [Available at: http://informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs093.html]