Samantha Oxford

Skills For Anthropology And Conservation

Critical Reading Exercise
The Anthropology Of Online Communities Samuel M.Wilson and Leighton C. Peterson Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 31 (October 2002), pp. 449-467.

The article I have selected is about the Anthropology of Online Communities. The authors aim to investigate if Online Communities are suited to be studied by Anthropology. They recognise that there has been a development of technology and the Internet, causing new methods of communication, allowing new communities to develop. The authors declare that Online Communities have cultural aspects within them, referring the text and media involved with the community; creating a culture and the possibility to study them as there are no noticeable reasons not to. The authors do appreciate that not all anthropologists see Online Communities as worthy of study, as they believe them to be a hallucination. The authors have included a vast number of references to articles and studies of those who see ‘Online Communities’ as communities and those who do not. The authors have used facts of the increased numbers of users of the Internet since 1994 (it doubling annually) as evidence to support that the Internet is becoming an increasing popular form of communication, and therefore it does have some significance in the study of communities. They also raise the point that communities are not defined as such by face-to-face interactions as scholars have challenged this boundary in the past; supporting the authors’ point that Online Communities do have the potential to be classed as Communities. I believe that the authors have put forward a convincing argument that Online Communities are something to be studied in the future by Anthropologists. They raise a point that on the Internet, identity can differ, and although this may create a difference between how a person is seen and behaves in real life and on the Internet, it is not necessarily a bad thing. The authors use an illustration to portray this, which adds interest to the article and is a good source of evidence. The illustration shows two dogs, one using a computer and is annotated with the sentence ‘On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog!’. Although exaggerated this picture represents that users of the internet can feel more comfortable with their ‘Online Community’ then they do in their real life one, possibly because they do not fit in. Therefore making it more of a community, and more worthy of study to anthropologists. However the authors conclude that tools of anthropological study can apply to ‘Online Communities’, and that we should use these traditional methods to study them. What the authors are ignoring here is that even though there are similarities between online and real communities, due to the distance inbetween members and the different methods of communication and interaction witnessed in Online Communities, it would not be possible to use all traditional Anthropological methods of study to collect and analyse data, and until these methods are developed the authors should recognise it would be difficult to study Online Communities.