||In social sciences there is a phenomenon described as “disciplinary ethnocentrism” (Campbell, 1969). As one outcome, authors of articles in scientific journals and conference papers tend to omit to report the theoretical assumptions of their research. Whether they consider it unnecessary within their tribes, or if they are themselves unaware of those assumptions, cannot be known by just reading their works. Another feature is the relative ignorance of the theoretical assumptions of other schools of thought, and, as scientists are also humans, with the tendency to disapprove of the little they know. Academic “wars” are sometimes the result (see e.g. Kellner, 1995).
I entered the IT department some years ago, bringing with me a bag of Internet user studies that had been carried out in extra-academic contexts. By adding a theoretical introduction, along with references to the relevant scholarly discussion, it seemed a PhD could be comfortably obtained. At least this was the idea. However, my empirics, reflecting the topics of public interest in media and politics, turned out to be scattered around a number of scholarly fields. For an outsider to orient oneself in this tower of Babel was a confusing experience, mildly speaking.
Attempts to delineate the scientific field of Internet studies have been made both quantitatively (bibliometrics) or qualitatively (“Handbooks”). So far both approaches have failed, not only because they all disagree with each other, but also because they have proven inappropriate as means of reference for locating the studies from different research traditions.
With this background, and adhering to my original ambition to position my empirics into a scholarly context, I have
1. identified a number of research programmes (Lakatos & Musgrave, 1970) within Internet studies, where my respective empirical studies seem to belong, including descriptions of the programmes in terms of a few methodological concepts, and,
2. suggested a conceptual framework (a “map”), based on four subfields of media research together with three forms of interactivity, by which the research programmes can be positioned.
It is rather simple, although it took quite a time to figure out.
What was intended to be a thesis on the use of Internet has become a meta-thesis on researching the use of Internet. Sociologists label such phenomena “the unanticipated consequences of purposive social action” (Merton, 1936).
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