Virtual Society?

the social science of electronic technologies

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Silicon Alleys: networks of virtual objects

Principal Researcher

Professor Scott Lash
Centre for Cultural Studies
Goldsmiths College
New Cross
London SE14 6NW
+44 (0)171 919 7983


Professor Deirdre Boden
Copenhagen Business School

Dr Celia Lury
Goldsmiths College

Professor Dan Shapiro
Lancaster University

Dr Andreas Wittel
Nottingham Trent University

Research Period
2 March 1998 to
1 March 2000
Aims and Objectives
Project Design


This is a qualitative study of the multimedia sector in London. It asks to what extent media and culture are reconfigured in the virtual society. It examines the making and experience of multimedia in the context of the distinction made by practitioners between 'content' and 'technology'. This research addresses the dimensions of the virtual society that are perhaps least technological and most cultural. The study focuses on the 'virtual objects' that are made and used in multimedia. It traces the transformations and reconfigurations of these objects as they are worked on and experienced. An initial study examined the global movements of cultural products from Los Angeles and London to New York, Hamburg, Geneva, Milan and Sao Paolo. This project focuses on the local movement of these products (in London) as a microcosm of the global.

Aims and Objectives

This study aims further to develop our understanding of the interface between culture (or content) and technology. Earlier work looked at a number of cultural products or contents - Euro '96 football, Nike, Trainspotting, Young British Art, Swatch, Wallace & Gromit, Toy Story - in their capacity also as technologies. This project examines IT activity, practices that are primarily technological insofar as they are cultural or content based. The main aim is to obtain some in depth knowledge of the making and the experience of digital content. The project focuses on objects as they are made and used - in this case CD-ROM, computer games, web sites, electronic publishing, Web broadcasting, digital graphics and design.

Project Design

The project uses a method taken from actor-network theory, material culture analysis in anthropology, and object-oriented analysis in art and design. The approach is largely ethnographic, examining the movement and transformations of virtual objects, focusing on a few small and medium sized London multimedia firms. The ethnographic sites comprise people working in twos and threes in front of screens and running in and out of open plan offices to various sites. The project considers how the objects are reconfigured in networks, first in intra-firm networks - often and characteristically comprising individuals with disparate backgrounds in art/design, IT and advertising and then at inter-firm networks - especially those connecting firms to clients or 'accounts'. The project examines links to end users, that is, individuals experiencing the multimedia products, and uses targeted interviews with key informants. It features video and other visual methods to obtain and analyse data and in presentations.


A key upshot of the project is to examine to what extent the 'user' of multimedia is distinguished from the 'audience' of the classical media. To the extent that all the media - and hence culture - are becoming increasingly digitised, the project has implications for the making and experience of culture in general. The project will provide enough ethnographic and other data on a few small firms to give scholars, policy makers and private sector practitioners an in depth idea of how multimedia works.

Visit the project web site


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Contents current at 28th June 2001