[Air-l] ethnography and ethics

Thomas Koenig T.Koenig at lboro.ac.uk
Mon May 24 19:14:02 PDT 2004

At 02:24 21/05/2004, Jonathan wrote:
>Thomas writes:
> > "Perception" and "convention" are two different things. Those domains of
> > the Internet that I mentioned below, are public by convention, however any
> > single individual perceives them. The technique that makes the data on
> > www/usenet available does not allow for effectively concealing the data
> > from the general public, once a URI has been published or a posting has
> > been posted.
>That is simply not the case.

How can you say that? What, if I have a different perception of hiddeness? 

>Much stuff can be hidden.

"Being hidden" and "having been concealed" are two different things. There 
is, of course, lots of hidden material on the www, but that material has 
not been intentionally concealed.

>And besides, simply because you can do something does not make it ethical 
>- whatever that is...

See my reply to Charles.

>As i was arguing ethical tropes are not inherently persuasive, but depend 
>on rehetorical and personal factors.  Ethics are ultimately undecideable. 
>That you don't find the arguments i said more or less persuased me, is not 
>inherently surprising, and indeed I know of know way to make those ethical 
>arguments persuasive.

That's terrible. Does Mr. Habermas know that? Does his idea of 
communicative rationality not have enough problems already? Seriously: If 
you argue that on a purely philophical basis, ethical arguments cannot be 
ultimately decided, then that is a truism. That does not mean that ethics 
are merely a matter of taste, or that all arguments are equally persuasive.

> > If some people think their blogs or usenet discussion enjoy privacy
> > protection, they are mistaken, their *perception* does not reflect the
> > actual technical and institutional arrangements.
>Again, because you can shoot people does not make it always ethical - even 
>if the law allows it.

That's besides the point. I am not arguing here that the way the Usenet and 
the www works is morally good, I am merely describing that communication on 
these parts of the internet is publicly available. That is a falsifiable 
hypothesis that seems pretty hard to refute to me. So, I challenge you to 
falsify it.

>However, perceptions, do reflect social facts and processes, as such they 
>cannot be assumed, and it may not be ethical to violate them by fiat.

Perceptions are certainly not a isomorph reflection of social reality, you 
don't have to read Marx (->false class consciousness) to figure that out. 
How do you "violate" perceptions?

> > If you just fell off Mars and would not know, what kind of technique TV 
> is,
> > you might conceivably think, that the news anchor on TV could watch you
> > watching the news, your *perception* of the lack of privacy would be 
> false,
> > you still would watch TV in private.
>If I was studying martians I would find this interesting, and not 
>something to dismiss as ignorance or stupidity.

No offense, but I think that the ETs will become my friends, because I will 
be glad to explain them their mistake.

> > >As such, different people, in different social positions if you will, are
> > >going to bring different social conventions to a field - especially when
> > >it is relatively new to them.
> >
> > There may be different concepts, about what *belongs* into the public
> > realm, but as long as you are making any distinction between public and
> > private, it will be hard to make an argument that Usenet and www are *not*
> > public(ly available).
>This sounds like you believe that humans are consitantly rational or 

I don't understand, how you get the idea that I would argue here that 
"humans are consitantly rational". I do think, however that most humans are 
able to grasp the concept of "being publicly available".

>I was trying to argue that law and ethics are not the same thing.  Because 
>you can legally do something does not mean that it is ethical.

Of course not, but in democratic polities, law is IMO a pretty good decider 
for ethical questions.

> > > > Public: Usenet, (most of the) WWW, Unmoderated Listserv, gopher
> > > > Private: email, non-anonymous ftp
> > > > Ambiguous: Moderated Listeserv, IRC
> > >
> > >who is is making these assumptions?
> >
> > Common sense? The actual technical configuration and its institutional
> > underpinnings, if you'd prefer the fancy answer.
>Common sense, is something to be investigated not assumed.

I did investigate it and found that common sense, for once, made sense.

>  The technical configurations have nothing necessarily to do with social 
> conceptions and conventions - they may have, they may not.

In this particular case, they do have something to do with each other: When 
I publish my webpages on the WWW the technical configurations make it 
feasible that you access these pages for any computer that is connected to 
the Internet. In fact, my employer had the conception that I should make 
material available for public use, and, voila, it is.

> > If they are password protected or the relevant URIs have not been
> > published, that's a different story. In fact, if there are no links to 
> your
> > private website parts, it is debatable, if they are even part of the www.
>That is the point is it not: "it is debatable"!

Yes, it depends on your definition of the www. A definition that would 
exclude such pages, seems reasonable to me, just as one that would include 
them might be a possibilty. In sociology, I would prefer the former 
definition, in engineering the latter.

>Not "it is certain" to me the investigator.

Once, we have agreed on a definition of what exactly constitutes the www, 
it is certain for all practical purposes, that is, leaving some ephemeral 
philosphical musings aside.

[to be continued] 

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