Pelizza, A. (2010), ‘From Community to Text and Back. On semiotics and ANT as text-based methods for fleeting objects of study‘, Tecnoscienza. Italian Journal of Science & Technology Studies, 1 (2), 57-89.
This article illustrates a case study where the adoption of epistemological assumptions and data analysis techniques borrowed from both semiotics and ANT have enabled the researcher to transcend the limits that characterise traditional studies on online communities underpinned by a “sociology of the social” approach. Today, the very concept of “online community” seems to be at stake, to the point that it is no longer clear whether there exist online ties that are specific enough to be called “communitarian”. In order to analyse such an opaque and unstable object of study, innovative methods specifically developed to study fuzzy objects have to be devised and some epistemological questions have to be addressed.
Approaches like semiotics and ANT turn out to be useful exactly because they use texts as “handles” to grasp heterogeneous, transient, objects of study. This article discusses in details a “funnel-like” method of analysis in a research field that has too often forgone the critique of epistemological assumptions inherited from other disciplines.
Pelizza, A. (2009), Tracing back Communities: An Analysis of Ars Electronica’s Digital Communities archive from an ANT perspective. Ph.D. thesis, University of Milan-Bicocca.
- For a detailed description of the quali-quantitative methods, see in particular Chapter 2
Since long before the popularization of the Web, community-making has been a significant driving force for the development of the Internet. As a consequence, in mid 1990s online communities became a key object of study at the intersection of social sciences, organizational studies and computer sciences. Today, about fifteen years after these early studies, the concept ‘online community’ seems to be at stake. As a matter of fact, while communitarian ties enabled by digital media are more and more invocated, in late 2000s the Internet is revealing itself as a much more bureaucratic and profit-oriented domain than ever, to the point that it is not clear whether there exist online ties that are specific enough to be called ‘communitarian’. In order to analyse such an opaque and unstable object of study as current techno-social assemblages, innovative methods specifically developed to study fuzzy objects have to be devised and some epistemological questions have to be addressed. This research starts indeed from the impasse that the digital communitarian culture is experiencing at the end of the 2000s and borrows some epistemological insights from the Actor-Network Theory. By analyzing the entry forms submitted to the world’s leading competition for digital communities, Prix Ars Electronica, this research thus calls into question some ‘black-boxed’ concepts like ‘cyberculture’, ‘digital revolution’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘online community’ itself. On one hand, the results bring into question both leading sociological positions and hype-generated commonplaces. On the other hand, the results offer evidence to those arguments according to which current ICT developments represent the beginning of a new phase of technological enclosure.