An ESRC Research programme

Virtual Society?

the social science of electronic technologies


Programme Director
Professor Steve Woolgar
Virtual Society? Programme
Sad Business School
University of Oxford
Park End Street
Oxford, OX1 1HP
+44 (0)1865 288934
+44 (0)1865 288850 (fax)
Virtual Society?- technology, cyberbole, reality

Edited by Steve Woolgar (Oxford University Press, 2002)

Almost all aspects of social, cultural, economic and political life stand to be affected by the new electronic technologies. “Virtual Society” is one vision of the consequential impact of these technologies. But to what extent and in what ways are the Internet and other electronic technologies really changing our lives? Are fundamental shifts and significant changes taking place? Are we moving to a “virtual society”?

This collection provides a comprehensive set of detailed empirical studies of the genesis and use of these new technologies, ranging widely across application areas from cybercafes to new media; email and organisational memory to surveillance-capable technologies in the workplace; virtual reality to CCTV in high rise housing; stock exchange addicts to student study networks. It offers a new perspective – analytic scepticism – for making sense of some surprisingly counterintuitive results, and for developing a refreshingly critical view of many taken for granted assumptions about the impact of the Internet on social relations and institutions. Each chapter presents a high quality exemplar of its own disciplinary perspective, addressed to a general social science audience. The diversity of disciplinary perspectives is brought to bear on a central message laid out in the opening discussion of the “Five Rules of Virtuality” – that with due reflexive caution and ironic sensitivity, general messages can be drawn from the observations of particular substantive contexts. In particular, claims that we are moving to a “virtual society” need to be tempered by a reassessment of connections between what counts as “real” and “virtual”.

This book will appeal to students and researchers in a very wide range of disciplines, both within and beyond the social sciences and management, and to all practitioners struggling with the realities of the new virtual technologies.


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