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Approaches to the Internet.
The Humanities in Digital Networks

October 18-20, 2000 · Juridisk auditorium, building 343, room 375
Organisers: Randi Markussen, Finn Olesen, Niels Brügger and Niels Ole Finnemann

Today the Internet is part of a multiplicity of discourses arising from its many different potential uses: as a new infrastructure, as an independent and/or supplementary news medium, as a new kind of marketplace and centerless commercial network, as a medium for private and quasi-private communication between two or more individuals (email/gossip/chat), as a meeting place for sub-cultures with common interests, as an archive of knowledge, as an educational medium, as a dynamic resource for research, as an entertainment medium (net games, cyber fiction), and as a paradigmatic technology. By these means the net makes its mark on our understanding of the relationship between the local and the global. Political power can be exercised and democratic processes developed with the mere intervention of a modem. The need for participation and community might be satisfied equally as well in electronically mediated transmission as in personal conversation and physical presence-indeed, perhaps better?

At the conference we will focus on the importance of the Internet in public commun-ication, and we will discuss how it is at all possible to understand meanings and functions tied to the Internet in modern society.

On the one hand, the following questions will be discussed: What is the importance of the Internet for the structures of society today-for the relationship between the citizen, the experts, the politicians and public officials, and the different branches of the national and international public spheres. What role does the Internet play in respect to the other-printed and electronic-media? And what effect, if any, do the existing media have on the new media?

On a reflexive level, some other kinds of questions arise concerning the actual approach to examining and understanding the net and digital space. To what extent are we bound by the categorizations of modern society when we speak of the net as a "new, better, and more effective" possibility for "supporting" communication and action? What happens if we let go of these well-known categorizations and instead ask which transformational processes result from using the Internet. One might ask, for example, how the increasing degree of interaction in the simulated worlds of the Internet change our experience of what is real. In short, one should not just ask what the net can do for us, but also what it can do to us. This question may be just as relevant in respect to the behavioral patterns of social groups-for instance, chat groups-or in respect to predominant conceptions of political possibilities. At this reflexive level it becomes meaningful to ask: How can the use of the net transform our daily lives and socio-cultural self-conceptions, and how do we find this out?

Wednesday, October 18
12.00-13.00 Registration
13.00 Introduction
13.30-15.00 Wolfgang Kleinwächter: "How the Internet is Governed: Will ICANN Have an Impact on the Relationship between Government, Industry and the Public in the Global eWorld?"
15.00-15.30 Coffee
15.30-17.00 Christian S. Nissen: "Public Service - From the Monastery to the Digital Marketplace"
Thursday, October 19
09.00-10.15 Niels Brügger: "The Public Sphere and the Internet"
10.15-10.45 Coffee
10.45-12.00 Mark Poster: "Digital and Print Authorship"
12.00-13.30 Lunch
13.30-14.45 Marc Berg: "The Patient, the Professional and Shifting Realms of Expertise: "Translations of e-Medicine"
14.45-15.15 Coffee
15.15-17.00 Klaus Bruhn Jensen: "What's in a Context? A Reassessment of the Concept of 'Context' in Media and Commmunication Research"
Friday, October 20
09.00-10.15 Anne Scott Sørensen: "Cyberia: A Cyber-Cultural Exploratorium"
10.15-10.45 Coffee
10.45-12.00 Lucy Suchman: "Figuring Interactivity: Knowbots, Pets and Agency at the Interface"
12.00-13.30 Lunch
13.30-14.45 Niels Ole Finnemann: "Internet - A New Communicational Infrastructure"
14.45-15.15 Coffee
15.15-16.30 Finn Olesen: "Getting the Act Together: Identities and Agency on the Internet"


Associate professor at the Institute of Health Policy and Management. Marc Berg leads the research group RITHM: Research in IT in health care practice and management. His publications include Rationalizing Medical Work. Decision Support Techniques and Medical Practices (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997) and Differences in Medicine. Unraveling Practices, Techniques and Bodies (ed. with A. Mol) (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998). He is currently working on a book with Stefan Timmermans on medical standardization and ‘evidence-based medicine’.

Cand.mag., assistant professor, Department of Information and Media Science, University of Aarhus. His publications include books and articles on media and cultural theory: Lyotard: Les déplacements philosophiques (ed. with F. Frandsen, D. Pirotte) (Bruxelles: De Boeck-Wesmael, 1993) and Media History: Theories, Methods, Analysis (ed. with S. Kolstrup) (århus: Aarhus University Press, 2000 (forthcoming).

Dr.phil, assoicate professor, Department of Information and Media Science, University of Aarhus. His work concerns the cultural history of modern societies, currently with emphasis on the cultural impact of computerization. His publications include Tanke, Sprog og Maskine (1994) (a translation: ‘Thought, Sign and Machine - the Computer Reconsidered’ is available on the Internet address below). Recent article: "Modernity modernised" in Mayer, Computer Medias and Communication (Oxford UP, 1999). Recent paper: "Hypertext and the Representational Capacities of the Binary Alphabet" (1999), also available as e-text at:

Dr. phil., associate professor, Department of Film and Media Studies, University of Copenhagen; professor II, University of Oslo, and chief editor of 'Danish Media History' (3 vols, 1996-97). His publications include Making Sense of the News (1986); The Social Semiotics of Mass Communication (1995); News of the World: World Cultures Look at Television News (editor and contributor, 1998), and A Handbook of Media and Communication Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies (forthcoming).

Ph.D., visiting professor, Department of Information and Media Science, University of Aarhus; director, NETCOM Institute, Media City Leipzig e.V. His many publications include CSCE and Information (ed. with Kaarle Nordenstreng, 1992); Medienmarkt Ost-West: Innovation durch Vernetzung (with Kerstin Schilling, 1994), and 'The people's "Right to Communicate" and a "Global Communication Charter": How does cyberspace change the legal concepts of human rights and participation?' in: Journal of International International Communication, vol. 5, June - December 1998.

Director general of Radio Denmark. University teacher of international politics 1972-1977. Employed in the central administration 1977-85. Director, the National Museum 1985-1991, the National Hospital of Denmark 1991-94 and Radio Denmark from 1994.

Philosopher of technology, assistant professor at the Department of Information and Media Science, University of Aarhus. His research focuses on technical mediations and science and technology studies. Olesen's publications include Kommunikation og forståelse (co-edited) (1997) and, with Henning Hoegh Laursen, a special edition of the philosophical journal Philosophia on STS and ANT (Verden om tænkningen, Mennesker, ting og natur) (1996).

Professor, Department of History, University of California, Irvine. Ph.D. New York University, 1968. Mark Poster is also associated with the Department of Information and Computer Science. Fields of Interest: European intellectual and cultural history; critical theory and media studies. His publications include The Second Media Age (Blackwell, 1995), which is version 2.0 of The Mode of Information (Chicago Press, 1990) and Cultural History and Postmodernity (Columbia University Press, 1997). Currently Mark Poster is writing a new book, What's the Matter with the Internet. alt="Main page"

Lucy A. Suchman will be starting her professorship at the Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, in September, 2000. She has been Principal Scientist and founder of the Work Practice and Technology area at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in California. Her research has centered on the relation of everyday working practices to computer systems design. Her publications include the important book Plans and Situated Actions: The problem of human-machine communication (Cambridge University Press, 1987) and numerous articles. She is editing the forthcoming book Vital Signs: Cultural Perspectives on Coding Life and Vitalizing Code with Joan Fujimura.

Associate professor at the Center of Feminist Studies and Center of Cultural Studies, University of Odense. Her research focuses on young people's narratives and role playing, on media studies and feminist science studies. Scott Sørensen's publications include 'Taste, Manners and Attitude: around 1800', in Drude von der Fehr et al. (eds.) Is there a Nordic Feminism? (1998); Det er dig selv, der er der: Om rolle- og computerspil blandt unge (forthcoming), and with Kirsten Drotner as co-editor: øjenåbnere; Unge, medier, modernitet.

Marc Berg: "The Patient, the Professional and Shifting Realms of Expertise: "Translations of e-Medicine"

Information- and communication technology (ICT) will have great impact on the practice of health care in the years to come. Creating electronic patient records and connecting different health care sites through high speed communication links, it is hoped, will enhance the quality of the care process and facilitate data retrieval for management, research and policy purposes.

In addition, through Internet-based technologies, patients will gain access to their medical information and search the Web for information on their afflictions and health care providers. At this moment, however, patients hardly have a say in the configuration of health care ICT. Compared to insurers, professional bodies and vendors, the patient has a very weak position in the network that shapes ICT developments. On the other hand, Western health care professionals, as true knowledge workers', have many reasons to both welcome and fear ICT.

How, then, will these actors and their interrelations be affected by these developments? How will the doctor-patient interaction change through the emergence of more knowledgeable patients, armed with printouts of the latest research findings mediated through new technologies? Most importantly, will these new technologies and communication practices constitute a new 'patient' and a new 'health care professional'?

Niels Brügger: "The Public Sphere and the Internet"

Can the Internet constitute the media-material basis of the public sphere? And can a traditional concept of the public sphere be used in discussions of the public sphere and the Internet? It is these two related questions that I discuss in this paper. In order to approach an answer, I shall first examine the traditional concept of the public sphere in a media-theoretical perspective with a view to pinpointing the relationship between the public sphere and media. On the basis of this I then briefly account for the most essential characteristics of the public sphere in cultures based on the printed press, radio and television. Subsequently I attempt to determine the Internet as media. And finally I discuss the two preliminary questions regarding the relationship between the Internet and the public sphere.

Niels Ole Finnemann: "Internet - A New Communicational Infrastructure"

The lecture concerns the Internet as a globally distributed, electronically integrated communicative infrastructure characterised by a set of new features based on the capacity of the computer to integrate the printed media's storing function with the speed of the electronic media. The Internet is thus regarded in connection with the other media in three different respects: as a specific new medium alongside other media, as a medium that can integrate all other media, and as a medium that can absorb all other media. The paper focuses in part on the new features of a lasting character - that is, features that characterise any use of computers on the net - in part on a number of variable features that characterise meaningful but perhaps not lasting uses and functions.

Klaus Bruhn Jensen: "What's in a Context? A Reassessment of the Concept of 'Context' in Media and Commmunication Research"

'Context' joins 'culture' and 'communication' as a candidate for the social-scientific concept with the most, and the most varied, definitions. In media and communication research, it has com-monly been taken to apply both to the material and the discursive structures in which media use is embedded, but often with little specifica-tion of how the two aspects may be related in theoretical terms and for concrete analytical purposes. This paper proposes to re-assess the concept of context with particular reference to the 'virtual' contexts of computer-mediated communication. First, the Internet is characterised as an occasion to revisit classic and unresolved issues of communication theory. Second, virtual contexts are examined as an instance of the 'imagined communities' (Anderson, 1983) that previous research has associated with print technologies, the rise of the nation-state, and modernisation generally. Finally, the paper discusses whether the virtual contexts of Internet use should be conceptualised as different in kind, or in degree, from the contexts of face-to-face and traditional mass communication.

Chr. S. Nissen: "Public Service - From the Monastery to the Digital Marketplace"

The Internet is merely the tender start of a new, international marketplace that will create new conditions for and leave its mark on basically all human behaviour. It is in this digital market that public service will play its societal and cultural-political role. Radio, television and a number of new services will be produced, transmitted and used in an entirely new and different way that is just as revolutionary for human communication as Gutenberg's invention of the art of printing 500 years ago. But can public service leave its secure 'monastery' and move out into the digital 'marketplace' without losing its virtue?

Finn Olesen: "Getting the Act Together: Identities and Agency on the Internet"

What are the significant features of net-persons making it possible to separate one individual from another? By what means is net agency performed, and is it relevant to presuppose distinctions between human and non-human agency? What is the nature of relationships on the net when people and machines interact, and what is there apart from the actions? Contested terrain, where heated discussions debate the distinctions between virtual and real reality.

In daily face-to-face encounters we interact on the basis of knowledge about the person with whom we interact, whether it is a close friend, a public servant or a total stranger. Their behaviour, clothing, tone of voice and so forth shape our sense of their intentions and identity, i.e. their power, social rank and group membership. Part of being a person in face-to-face encounters is to (be able to) send out a broad spectrum of signs as messages to other people about our own identity, and to be able to read such signals from others and act appropriately. But which signals are available in cyperspace to shape our sense of 'facing' another person? Internet interaction lacks a number of sources for signs about the identity of the individuals who in-ter-act on the net, and it has been claimed that this leads to a more democratic interaction because race, gender and class are no longer relevant categories for social interaction. Others claim that the net is just an extension of 'real' social space and hence a continuation of social interaction by other means. I will pursue both lines of argument from a philosophical stance, with special attention to the question of actions and interactions as constitutive elements of identity.

Marc Poster: "Digital and Print Authorship"

The paper explores alterations in authorship and readership brought about by new material conditions of textuality. The argument is that print, broadcast electronics and digital networks each construct authors and readers in different ways. I ask what the material con-di-tions of authors/readers are today. I use Walter Benjamin and Michel Foucault to frame the question of the author/reader in relation to new tech-nologies, and I contrast the analogue with the digital, the printed book with the hypertext, the classroom lecture with the distance learning of the Internet, and the television image with the multi-media hypertext of the World Wide Web. In each case I explore the changed configuration of the subject. I conclude with questions about the nature of the subject in new fields of authoring / reading and connect these with implications for political theorising.

Anne Scott-Sørensen: "Cyberia: A Cyber-Cultural Exploratorium"

Cyberia, cyberdelia and cyberflux are some of the more poetic metaphors to be found among the many cyber-neologisms of the cyber-culture surrounding the new information technologies. These are terms used not least by academic fans and critics like Mark Dery, the man behind the title of this paper (Dery, 1996). In Dery's account, Cyberia is a utopian exploratorium where science, (popular) culture, technological innovation and the (popular) cultural avant-garde meet in a virtual community where the participants are busy playing, telling stories, creating and associating while learning, investigating, designing and developing a new awareness of themselves and their surrounding world. According to Dery, what characterises cyber-culture as a late or post-modern cultural formation is the close-knit relationship between the aesthetic, social and technological dimensions. In the paper I elaborate on this by outlining some modern cultural theories on aesthetic culture as play, creativity and experiment, applying them in connection with some of the genres of cyber-culture: fantasy and computer games, cultural worlds (MUDs, MUVEs and so on) and electronic chat rooms (CHATs).

Lucy Suchman: "Figuring Interactivity: Knowbots, Pets and Agency at the Interface"

As an aspect of the early twenty-first century technoscientific imaginary the sociality of machines is well established. The growth of the Internet in particular has brought with it a renaissance of the idea of personified computational artifacts attributed with a capacity for intelligent, interactive behaviour. The dominant form of this project today is the promotion of computational agents that will serve as a kind of personal representative or assistant to their human users. This paper explores these latter figurings of interactivity at the interface, not by arguing the question of machine agency from first principles but through the project of tracing how the effect of machines-as-agents is generated. This includes the translations that render former objects as emergent subjects, shifting interests and concerns across the human/artifact boundary. I then move on to questions of what is at stake in these particular productions-in-progress, and how we might want to resist and refigure them.

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Updated 21 November 2000 by smc. Please mail comments to the web editor at Centre for Cultural Research.