[Air-L] Seeking references to philosophical perspective on digital culture and social media

Charles Ess charles.ess at gmail.com
Sun Feb 26 22:41:48 PST 2012

Dear Carmel and Co.
> I would appreciate your help in finding papers and books that employ
> philosophical concepts to explain the impact of current technology or even
> predict human change based on social media and digital culture. For
> example, Slavoy Zizek's latest writing, Roger Silverstone's writing on
> "proper distance", Bauman's writing on presence and mobile telephony and
> even Turkle's latest book. Anything similar goes.

What a delightful question!

One of the most active (and, from my perspective, most fruitful and
interesting) groups of scholars conjoining philosophy with media studies
cluster around two specific forms of critical theory approaches - namely,
1) Andrew Feenberg's critical theory of technology, especially as developed
extensively in conjunction with empirical work on CMC by Maria Bakardjieva -
e.g., her forthcoming "Web 2.0 Technologies of the Self," co-authored with
Georgia Gaden.  ("Online first" - DOI: 10.1007/s13347-011-0032-9)
2) the Marxian (if not more Marxist) inspired work of Christian Fuchs and
many other colleagues - some of which will be highlighted in the upcoming
conference "Critique, Democracy and Philosophy in 21st Century Information
Society," Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, May 2-4, 2012.  Christian has
published - and continues to publish - extensively in these domains, and may
be willing to share some of his forthcoming work that provides a terrific
overview of critical approaches.

More broadly, there has been a very strong growth of research and reflection
rooted in virtue ethics approaches to online engagements, including social
media.  In my view, two of the very best are:

Vallor, S. (2009). Social Networking Technology and the Virtues. Ethics and
Information Technology. Volume 12, Number 2
<http://www.springerlink.com/content/1388-1957/12/2/>, 157-170, DOI:

Vallor, S. 2011. Flourishing on facebook: virtue friendship & new social
media. Ethics and Information Technology. Doi: 10.1007/s10676-010-9262-2.

There is also a more popularly oriented anthology:
Facebook and Philosophy: What¹s On Your Mind?, ? D.E. Wittkower (ed.).
Chicago and La Salle, Illinois: Open Court Press, 2010.
Several of the contributions take up various sorts of virtue ethics
approaches; others expand the field to a wide range of other philosophical
I have a review of the book coming out soon in _Techné: Research in
Philosophy and Technology_ that I'd be happy to share, as it provides both
an overview of the contributions (which, sadly, the book itself does not) as
well as my critical take on which contributions most fruitfully succeed in
conjoining various philosophical dimensions with online engagements.

Finally, a not-to-be-missed resource here is the work of our very own
Elizabeth Buchanan and Annette Markham on the "Ethical Guidelines 2.0"
document for AoIR.  (A version of the document has been posted for comment
by AoIRist - but if you have trouble finding it, please contact either
Elizabeth and/or Annette.)
Closer to my own work - though not directly addressed at the broader notions
of digital culture characteristic of the above - some of the following might
be useful.

Ess, C. and Thorseth, M. 2011.  Introduction, in C. Ess and M. Thorseth
(eds.), _Trust and Virtual Worlds: Contemporary Perspectives_, pp. vii-xxiv.
New York: Peter Lang.
[here we summarize an emerging philosophical anthropology that conjoins
especially phenomenology, Kantian epistemology and ethics, and virtue ethics
- and in ways that are deeply shaped by the empirical findings of Internet
Studies more broadly.  All for the sake of having a starting-point account
of human beings as embodied and ethical agents, in order to better
understand our interactions with diverse technologies, including CMC.]
(happy to share a PDF)

Some of this work is also in play in:
Ess, C. And Cheong, P. 2012. Introduction: Religion 2.0? Relational and
Hybridizing Pathways in Religion, Social Media, and Culture.  In P. Cheong,
P. Fischer-Nielsen, S. Gelfgren, and C. Ess (eds.), _Digital Religion,
Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures_, pp. 1-21.
New York: Peter Lang.
(happy to share a PDF)

[I'm also currently finishing up a more philosophically-focused essay on
"Ethics at the Boundaries of the Virtual" for a handbook on virtuality - but
this is more of a exploration of virtue ethics vis-a-vis diverse forms of
virtual environments, including two recent applications of VE to virtual
experiences, with a view towards highlighting how VE can help us come to
grips with specific ethical problems evoked in such environments that escape
otherwise prevailing ethical frameworks.  Probably too far afield for your

My main focus over the past three years has been on how our understandings
of selfhood and identity interact with media use, using Medium Theory as a
primary framework while simultaneously oriented toward the relevant
philosophical insights and frameworks.
I've just submitted the introduction to a forthcoming issue of Philosophy
and Technology on "Personal Identity Online" (which includes the Bakardjieva
and Gaden article I refer to above) in which I both summarize the various
contributions to the special issue and sketch the larger patterns they
Most of the contributions are rooted in specific philosophical theories
regarding identity and seek to explore how far these theories are consistent
with and/or require revision in light of current empirical findings
concerning our behaviors online, including social media uses.
A couple, however, go the other way, so to speak, and begin with strong
empirical analyses of specific phenomena - e.g., Stine Lomborg's
"Negotiating Privacy Through Phatic Communication. A Case Study of the
Blogging Self."  What I highlight about Stine's contribution is its careful
description of the negotiating processes between a popular blog author and
her audience, as these result in a sense of shared communicative space that
is clearly neither private nor (experientially) public, but rather personal
in a shared sense somewhat captured by the Danish (and other Germanic
languages') word that transliterates as "Intimate sphere".  In contrast to
earlier understandings of privacy as primarily individual privacy strongly
separated from various forms of public engagements - this middle-ground
sense helps move forward our reflections on the ethical dimensions of
privacy issues online, for example.
(happy to share a PDF of the introduction)

I'm sure I've missed some important books, articles, and philosophers - but
again, hope this is helpful in some way or another.

Cheers and all best,
- charles
Professor MSO
Media Studies
Aarhus University
Helsingforsgade 14
8200 Århus N.

Professor, Philosophy and Religion
Drury University, Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA

Exemplary persons seek harmony, not sameness. -- Analects 13.23

More information about the Air-L mailing list