[Air-l] research gaps

Mark Andrejevic mandrejevic at campus.fairfield.edu
Sun Mar 17 11:11:39 PST 2002


Although I have yet to fathom precisely which 
gaps/repressions/oversights in Internet research Lachlan seeks to 
rectify, and while I find the offensive part of his contribution to be 
not particularly academic in nature, and the academic part to be not 
particularly offensive, the question of research emphasis remains an 
intriguing one (and one that I know is of great concern to AoIR folks, 
independent of any provocation/intervention). 

In the spirit of getting the discussion going, I'm tempted to take the 
question seriously, and throw out a couple of observations. First, 
while I don't think the list or the organization necessarily purports 
to represent the state of academic inquiry into the Internet in any 
comprehensive fashion, I was very interested to see the breakdown of 
submissions to the Maastricht conference, which might serve as a rough 
starting point for considering areas of research emphasis. Far and away 
the two most popular topic areas were (the meta-topic of) 
"theoretical/methodological approaches", and "individuals, groups, and 
communities" online. I'm not exactly sure how the numbering here works, 
but it looks like these two groups together accounted for well over a 
quarter of the total submissions.

I suspect there are institutional/historical reasons for this kind of 
emphasis that are related to the formation of comm research and the 
sub-disciplines that have emerged (as well as to the institutional 
history/structure of AoIR itself). I'd be very curious to hear people's 
reactions to the kind of emphasis that emerges from this snapshot (if 
anything meaningful can be drawn from such a general set of topic 
areas). What types of justifications/concerns emerge in response to 
this breakdown. (stats are at 
http://www2.cddc.vt.edu/confman/chair/stats.php3)

On a more specific note, there were some (seeming) omissions that 
jumped out at me (and I'm sure different ones jump out at different 
people). To name a few: In an era when the industry emphasis seems to 
be on jockeying for vertical integration in the coming broadband era 
(so as to lock up a content/pipeline combo -- with a subscriber base 
built in), I'd be very interested in hearing more about the political 
economy of the Internet -- a topic that seems to beg for the depth of 
scrutiny/analysis possible in academic research. Intellectual property 
is certainly an important part of this research -- and one that has 
received plenty of attention from researchers both in AoIR and out. 
However, the way in which the broadband network will be structured and 
developed (and the role played by regulation and by the recent spate of 
merger activity) that remains a central concern, and I'd be grateful 
for suggestions regarding scholarship in this area.

On a related note, the future of the network is a hot topic in 
business/legal circles. While I'm tormenting my students with 
conceptions of the online public sphere, AOL/TimeWarner is trying to 
figure out how to control broadband's killer app (video on demand, 
allegedly). I would be very interested in research that explores the 
emerging economic/regulatory regime that will shape the future of the 
network. This is crucial research for all who are concerned with the 
fate of things like online community/creativity/democracy. 

One of the things that Internet research can/ought to do is not just 
tell us where we have been, but provide some suggestions about where 
we're presumably going, and how we might exercise some control over 
that path. At stake is not just the "code", but the infrastructure: a 
broadband network that's fat downstream (to facilitate pay-per-view) 
but thin upstream (to prevent file-sharing between "end-users") could 
alter what we have come to think of as the non-hierarchical, 
de-centered character of the net and exert important determinations on 
online activity. Any pointers toward research that addresses these 
issues? 

My apologies for the length of this post...
Mark




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