6 February 2010

Scots Netnography (2010)

I once suggested, not quite seriously, that Joan McAlpine had constructed an anthropology of the Scottish blogosphere in one of her Times articles. In fact, it was primarily an exculpatory piece on cybernattery, with its shades of opinion. However, such an anthropology could be written. Indeed, there is a new research agenda emerging and concrete explorations of ‘new media cultures’ ongoing. For example, I recently encountered a methodological text by Robert Kozinets, entitled Netnography – being an exposition of the issues of method engaged by conducting enthnographic research online. Concrete explorations include - however unlikely this might seem to some of you – Digital Culture, Play and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader (2008). For the uninitiated, World of Warcraft is a vast, online fantasy game, usually styled a MMOG - or massively multiplayer online game. Vast really means vast. Of January 2008, subscribers numbered more than 10 million, perhaps slightly less than doubling the whole population of Scotland and strapping them in front of a computer and sternly instructing them to play an elf witch.

If you were after something which ties the phenomenon of blogging in within a social theoretical but (I’d say) broadly accessible form, you probably can’t do better at the moment than Jill Walker Rettberg’s (2008) Blogging. She interrogates bloggers’ self-perceptions as ‘citizen journalists’ and how ideas of community, culture and networks might assist in making the common sense, internally unreflective process of blogging less common and more amenable to critical reflection on its place in our public life and discourse. On the Scottish front, however, we probably ought not to get too far ahead of ourselves. Understanding won’t spring fully armoured from the mind of Zeus. Moments make the year, of course, and these things take time, effort. Effort of the very sort put in of late by Duncan Stephen and finding expression in the inaugural Scotsblogs Awards.

While a flattering wheeze, from my perspective, the most interesting aspect of the scheme has been its attempt to map, and implicitly ethnographise a Scottish digital community. Although Duncan might decry the thought, this centredness around Scottish self-identification tells us something interesting about the social centre of gravity and suggests some sort of organising, nationalist principle – albeit with a small ‘n’. Indeed, rather than simply reflecting the existing sense of the Scottish blogosphere as a unit – albeit with interstices, cracks and feathered edges – we might actually see the Scotblogs Awards as doing and forming that unity. Literally, being a nationalist project, again albeit with an unpartisan ‘n’. For myself, the great joy of the Awards has been the glimpses they have afforded into people’s work which I’ve previously and unaccountably missed. It is all too easy to fall under the limited governance of your existing blog feeds and tread familiar ways. I must say, I’m also tickled to have been voted best newcomer of 2009, a wheezy 4th of the independence-leaners, 5th of the political cohort and a handsome 6th place in the overall century. Mostly, I’m rather surprised. Perhaps Scotland’s appetite for idiosyncratic and prolix contributions to our political life has been understated! My thanks to Duncan Stephen et al. for their efforts and to all those who saw fit to vote for yours truly.


  1. As one who voted for you, I look forward to a cyber dram!

    You've summed it up well in your usual style and each award is well deserved.

  2. Obviously, it'll have to be a cyberdram with a heavy peaty flavour - in my limited knowledge of the stuff, I suspect we may have to traipse to Islay for an appropriately smoky Lagavulin or digital Laphroaig.

    Thanks again for you kind remarks, bigrab.