Archive for November, 2013

What to study in Computer Science?   no comments

Posted at 12:33 pm in Uncategorized

After looking for a reasonable definition of Computer Science and whether it can be considered a discipline last week, I wanted to focus on the different approaches to study the field this week. Initially I tried to do this with the help of an introductory book to Computer Science: Computer Science. An overview by Brookshear. I found that Brookshear explains more the different aspects of computers that can be studied. Therefore, I also looked at two other texts. Still, approaches in Computer Science do not seem as commonly separated as in Psychology. However, in the end of this post I will look at some approaches.

Brookshear starts in his book with explaining that algorithms are the most fundamental aspect of Computer Science. He defines an algorithm as “a set of steps that defines how a task is performed.” Algorithms are represented in a program. Creating these programs, is called programming (Brookshear, 2007: p. 18). Brookshear explains later in his book that “programs for modern computers consist of sequences of instructions that are encoded as numeric digits (Brookshear, 2007: p. 268).

Fundamental knowledge to understanding problems in Computer Science is to see how data is stored in computers. Computers store data as 0s and 1s, which are called bits. The first represents false, while the latter represents true. According to Brookshear, this true/false values are named Boolean operations (Brookshear, 2007: p. 36). Computers do not just store data, they also manipulate it. The circuitry in the computer that does this, is called the central processing unit (Brookshear, 2007: p. 96). Next to manipulating, data can also be transferred from machine to machine. If computers are connected in that manner, networks, this can happen (Brookshear, 2007: p. 164). The Internet is a famous example of an enormous global network of interconnected computers.

Computer Science has several subfields that are seen as separate studies. An example of this is software engineering. Brookshear claims that it “is the branch of computer science that seeks principles to guide development of large, complex software systems”(Brookshear, 2007: p. 328).  Another example is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Brookshear explains that the field of AI tries to build autonomous machines that can execute complex tasks, without the intervention of a human being. These machines therefore have to “perceive and reason” (Brookshear, 2007: p. 452).

Tedre gives a couple of examples of other subfields in Computer Science, but does not say that those subfields are the only or even most important ones. He sums up complexity theory, usability, the psychology of programming, management information systems, virtual reality and architectural design. Tedre argues that there should be an overarching set of rules for research in these fields. However, later he also argues that computer scientists often need to use approaches and methods from different fields, because this is the only way in which they can deal with the amount of topics in Computer Science (Tedre, 2007: p. 107, 108). Computer scientists thus seem to deal with the difficult task of incorporating many different fields, but at the same time they need to learn how to use a similar set of rules to study these fields.

Denning et al. define the most clear set of subfields in Computer Science: algorithms and data structures, programming languages, architecture, numerical and symbolic computation, operating systems, software methodology and engineering, databases and information retrieval, artificial intelligence and robotics, and finally human-computer communication. They justify their selection, because every one of those subfields has “an underlying unity of subject matter, a substantial theoretical component, significant abstractions, and substantial design and implementation issues” (Denning et al., 1989: p. 16, 17).

Tedre argues, based upon the research of Denning et al., that there have been three ‘lucid’ traditions in Computer Science: the theoretical tradition, empirical tradition and engineering tradition. He argues that because of the adoption of these different traditions, the discipline of Computer Science might have ontological, epistemological and methodological confusion (Tedre, 2007: p. 107).

I can conclusively argue that it is not easy to present a concise image of Computer Science. After having difficulties last week in finding one proper definition for Computer Science, this week I had problems in finding comprehensive ways in which Computer Science is studied. Next time, I will look at how Psychology and Computer Science can be used to study online surveillance. Later, I will also look how the two disciplines overlap.


Brookshear, J. Glenn. Computer Science. An Overview. Ninth Edition. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2007.

Denning, P. et al. “Computing as a discipline”. Communications of the ACM 32(1), 1989: p. 9-23.

Tedre, Matti. “Know Your Discipline: Teaching the Philosophy of Computer Science”. Journal of Information Technology Education 6(1), 2007: p. 105-122.


Written by Gert Van Hardeveld on November 15th, 2013

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Web Doomsday: How Realistic Is It?   no comments

Posted at 8:30 pm in Uncategorized

Despite our modern-day dependency on services offered through the web, few of us have given thought into what the consequences to us would be if the web were to disappear. It might simply seem unlikely, and not worth planning for. However, there are many potential causes, intentional or not, for widespread loss of access to the web. I will outline some of these in this post and will argue that it is realistic and that we as a society should be prepared.

The size of the technical infrastructure required to deliver the web to our fingertips is huge. The larger a system, the more points of failure. Because the system is stretched over a large geographic area, where there are climate extremes, natural disaster is a large risk. Storms, earthquakes and erosion can easily break vital equipment. Such a large system also lead to scope for technical failures.  The Northeast United States blackout of 2003 left 55 million people without power, for many as long as two days. This was caused by a software bug.

Much of the internet infrastructure was designed before there was significant demand for the web. Technical limitations have already affected the performance of the web. We ran out of IPv4 addresses (which each person requires to connect to the internet) in 2011, and ISPs have been slow to adopt IPv6 to solve the problem. The technical infrastructure may also be prone to attack, whether it be through cyber warfare (e.g., military assault) or malicious intent (e.g., hacking commercial infrastructure).

There may be political and commercial motivations behind changing the way we can access the web. The Great Firewall of China prevents people in China from accessing a huge portion of the web. Commercial motivations include ISPs prioritising particular services (e.g., Comcast’s proposals to degrade high-bandwidth services such as NetFlix), or companies choosing to change of discontinue services (e.g., Google withdrawing Reader).

Whether it be storing our photos with a cloud service or becoming reliant on a social network for communicating with friends, depending solely on these presents a risk to ourselves, in that loss of the web or these services will potentially be detrimental to our lives. The next post will be a case study into the Northeast blackout of 2003, in which a huge power cut led to widespread panic, and will consider the societal and economic impact of the event.

Written by Peter West on November 13th, 2013

What is Anthropology Part 2: Theories and Fields   no comments

Posted at 6:24 pm in Sociology

Eriksen, T. H., 2004. What is Anthropology. London: Pluto Press.

“The raw material of anthropology – people, societies, cultures – is constituted differently from that of the natural and quantitative sciences, and can be formalised only with great difficulty…” (Eriksen, 2004, p 77). “[Anthropology’s approach] can be summed up as an insistence on regarding social and cultural life from within, a field method largely based on interpretation, and a belief (albeit variable) in comparison as a source of theoretical understanding” (Eriksen, 2004, p 81). Theory provides criteria by which to categorise data and to judge is significance. Anthropology applies theory to social and cultural data.

Fundamental questions

1. What is it that makes people do whatever they do?

2. How are societies or cultures integrated?

3 To what extent does thought vary from society to society, and how much is similar across cultures?

Anthropological theory is deeply tied to observation. Differences in approaches by region: US researchers favour linguistics and psychology and British favour sociological explanations (via politics, kinship and law).


There are 4 main theoretical underpinnings of Anthropological theory:

1. Structural-functionalism – A R Radcliffe-Brown: Demonstrating how societies are integrated. Person as social product. Ability of norms and social structure to regulate human interaction. Social structure defined as the sum of mutually defined statuses in a society.

2. Cultural-materialism – Ruth Benedict (1887-1948): Cultures and societies have ‘personality traits’.

Dionysian = extroverted, pleasure seeking, passionate and violent;

Apollonian = introverted, peaceful and puritanical;

Paranoid = members live in fear and suspicion of each other. Culture expressed seamlessly in different contexts – from institutional to personal levels.

Margaret Mead (1901 – 1978): sought to understand cultural variations in personality. Her highly influential work on child-rearing, Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) demonstrated that personality is shaped through socialisation.

3. Agency and society

Raymond Firth: Persons act according to their own will.

Pierre Bourdieu: Interested in the power differences in society distributed opportunities for choice unequally. Knowledge management: Doxa = what is self-evident and taken for granted within a particular society; Habitus = embodied knowledge, the habits and skills of the body which are taken for granted and hard to change; Opinion = everything that is actively discussed; Structuring structures = the systems of social relations within society which reduce individual freedom of choice. Important to understanding the causes that restrict free choice.

4. Structuralism – Theory of human cognitive processes.

Lévi-Strauss: the human mind functions and understands the world through contrasts in the form of extreme opposites with an intermediate stage (‘triads’). Cross-cultural studies of myth, food, art classification and religion. Based on Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s observation in La pensée sauvage: “…in order to study Man, one must learn to look from afar; one must first observe differences in order to to discover attributes”.  Post-structuralism more in favour today.

5. Primacy of the material – Strongly influenced by historical materialism (Marx). Gives primacy to material conditions of individuals above individual agency or how the mind works.

Two approaches within this area: those that favour economic conditions and those that give primacy to technological and ecological factors.

Julian Steward/Leslie White: Societies grow in complexity as a result of technological and economic change. Change happens in the ‘cultural core’ of technology, ecological adaption and property relations. The ‘rest of culture’ (e.g. religion, art, law etc) is more or less autonomous.

Gregory Bateson (Margaret Mead’s husband and one of the founders of cybernetics – i.e self-regulating systems) – all systems have properties in common: reaction to feedback (or lack of feedback) gives rise to repercussions which ensures the continuing re-imaging of the system.

6. Geertzian hermeneutics – interpretation of the world from the natives point of view.

Clifford Geertz: Thick description = a great deal of contextual description to elicit understanding of data. “…research primarily consists of penetrating, understanding and describing culture systematically the way it is experienced locally – not to explain it in terms of comparison…structuralist, materialist, or otherwise.”

Culture is expressed through shared, public symbols (communication) – so guessing the workings of the minds of those under scrutiny is unnecessary.

7. Eclecticism – a combined approach which recognises the complexity of the world and which attempts to “grasp both the acting individuals and the systemic properties constraining them”.


1. Reciprocity – the conduct of exchange, fundamental to sociality, crucial to human life.
a) Marcel Mauss – Gift-giving. The Gift (Essai sur le don, 1925). Three roles in gift-giving: obligation to give, obligation to receive and obligation to return the gift. Simplistic evolutionary view of society: i) Universal gift-giving fundamental to social integration (historical) ii) Institutions take on gift-giving role. iii) Marginal role for gift-giving in modern, alienating, capitalist societies. Exchange does not need to be economically profitable. “All economies have a local, moral, cultural element” (Eriksen, 2004, p 88). (Remnants of historical obligation are witnessed in round buying in pubs, dinner party invitations, circulation of second-hand children’s clothing among family and friends, voluntary community work, and Christmas. The potlatch institution (Boas) – where tribes seek to out-do each other in their extravagant wastefulness.

b) Karl Polanyi – Integration: reciprocity, redistribution and market principle. A radical critique of capitalism, directly relevant to ‘economic anthropology’. Rejects the view that people primarily strive to maximise utility (even if it happens at the expense of others). Psychological motivations are influenced by personal gain, consideration for others and the need to be socially acceptable. “Reciprocity is the ‘glue’ that keeps societies together” (Eriksen, 2004, p 91).

c) Marhsall Sahlins – 3 forms of reciprocity: balanced (e.g. tit-for-tat trade – close proximity ), generalised (gift-giving – family and friends), and negative (attempt to gain benefit without cost – strangers). Shows how “morality, economics and social integration are interwoven” (Eriksen, 2004, p 92).

d) Annette Weiner (Inalienable Possessions, 1992) – some things cannot be exchanged or given away as gifts, e.g. “…talismans, knowledges, [secret] rites which confirm deep-seated identities and their continuity through time” (Maurice Godlier, 1999). Cultural identity could be seen as an ‘inalienable possession’.

e) Daniel Miller (Theory of Shopping, 1998) – Sacrifice: women in buying at supermarkets purchase for others to form a relationship with them, and consider the views of others when buying for themselves.

f) Matt Ridley (The Origins of Virtue, 1996) – mathematical models show that cooperation ‘pays off’ in the long run.

2. Kinship – basis of social organisation. Not just family, but local community and work relations.

a) Lewis Henry Morgan – traditional societies thoroughly organised on kinship and descent.

b) Fortes and Evans-Pritchard – acephalous (‘headless) societies in Africa based on kinship-based social organisation. Segmentary system that expands and shrinks according to need – deeply influential in anthropology.

c) Lévi-Strauss – Alliance and reciprocity in kinship relations. Marriage in traditional societies is group-based and forms long-term reciprocity.

d) ‘Modern’ society – tension between family, kinship and personal freedom. Kinship is important in determining career opportunities

3. Nature

a) Inner nature – humans shaped by society and history, but with objective, universal human needs (Malinowski, Lévi-Strauss).

b) External nature – relationship between ecology and society, options are limited by environmental conditions, technology and population density.

c) Nature as a social construction – humans create representations of nature, which is often unspoken or not reflected upon – tacit knowledge.

d) Sociobiology – human actions cannot be be understood as pure adaption. “Research aims to establish valid generalisations about the mind as it has evolved biologically”.

4. Thought – people say what they think or express it through their acts, rituals or public performances.

a) Rationality – Evans-Pritchard’s 3 types of knowledge: i) mystical knowledge based on the belief in invisible and unverifiable forces; ii) commonsensical knowledge based on everyday experience; iii) scientific knowledge based on the tenets of logic and experimental method. Important, possibly unanswerable questions: i) is it possible to translate from one system of knowledge to another without distorting it with ‘alien’ concepts? ii) does a context-independent or neutral language exist to describe systems of knowledge? iii) do all humans reason in fundamentally the same way? Study of Technology and Science (STS) – science and technology as cultural products.

b) Classification and pollution – different people classify and subdivide them in different ways. Mary Douglas: classification of nature and the human body reflects society’s ideology about itself. What ‘pollution’, i.e. food prohibition, tells us about society.

c) Totemism – a form of classification whereby individuals or groups have special (often mythical) relationships to nature. Lévi-Strauss’ distinction between bricolage (associational, non-linear thought) and ‘engineering’ (logical thought).

d) Thought and technology

5. Identification a) The social b) Relational and situational identifications c) Imperative and chosen identities d) Degrees of identification e) Anomolies

Mind map:

Written by Tim O'Riordan on November 13th, 2013

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Basics of economics   no comments

Posted at 9:22 am in Uncategorized

Fundamentals of economics

Looking at some early work on the subject, Adam Smith (the man with the invisible hand fetish … ‘it wasn’t me, it was my invisible hand…’) famously defined economics as “an inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations” (1776), whilst Alfred Marshall painted an attractively casual picture of the “study of mankind in the ordinary business of life” (1890).  Robbins (1932) is credited with a classic definition:

“Economics is the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between given ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.”

This does seem to capture the fundamental economic preoccupations of ideas of wants, choice, and scarcity quite well, but leaves me feeling a bit depressed about everything. Nevermind … on to the fundamentals bit:

Economists place a fundamental assumption about human nature at the heart of their discipline: that human wants are unlimited, and that people are driven by the satisfaction of these wants. The fact that the world in which we live is characterised by a limited amount of resources on which humans can draw means that humanity must compete for resources in conditions of scarcity. Scarcity is defined as “the excess of human wants over what can actually be produced to fulfil these wants” (Sloman, 2009:5). The resources for which we can compete are termed the factors of production, and are divided into three forms: labour; land and raw materials; and capital.

Economics, then, is concerned with the distribution of goods and services in these circumstances. The level of wealth among individuals or groups inevitably varies, so economics may examine how or why wealth is distributed in certain ways, or even look at methods in which different distributions of wealth might be achieved.

The interplay of the forces of supply and demand play a major role in economic analyses, to the extent that they “lie at the very centre of economics” (Sloman, 2009:5). The constant tension between these forces is expressed (in free or market economies) via the price mechanism, which responds to changes in the relationship of supply and demand (as a result of choices made by individuals and groups in an economy). If shortages occur, prices tend to rise, whereas surpluses allow prices to fall.  In an idealised model of a market, an ‘equilibrium price’ can be reached in which the forces are balanced. Various signals and incentives help the operation of the price mechanism within and between markets.

The influence of shortages and surpluses on price affects consumers and producers in various ways, as the economic model of the circular flow of goods and incomes demonstrates. In this model, households (consumers of goods and services) buy goods and services from firms (producers), whilst firms buy labour, land or capital (the factors of production) from households, who might be compensated with wages, rent, or interest, for example. This ensures that incomes and goods continue to flow in the economy in the different markets which operate within it.

An important distinction in economics is between analysis of the overall processes and levels of activity of an entire economy on the one hand, and analysis of particular aspects of the economy on the other. The former is known as macroeconomics, whilst the latter is called microeconomics.  Macroeconomics focuses on overall or aggregate levels of supply (output), demand (spending), and levels of growth (whether positive or negative) in an economy.

Macroeconomics examines overall supply and demand levels in order to explain or predict changes in levels of inflation, balance of trade (relationships of imports/exports), or recessions (periods of negative growth). In contrast microeconomics might focus on specific areas of economic activity (the production of particular goods or services), production methods, and the characteristics of particular markets. Microeconomics also examines the relationships between particular choices and the costs associated with them. Important concepts in this respect include opportunity cost, and marginal costs and benefits. When a decision is made, the opportunity cost is viewed as the best alternative to the actual course of action taken – “the opportunity cost of any activity is the sacrifice made to do it” (Sloman, 2009:8). This is an important consideration as it helps to determine the implications of economic decisions which need to be made. Economists assume that individuals make choices according to rational self-interest – making a decision based on an evaluation of the costs and benefits. This involves attention to the marginal costs or benefits of a decision  – the advantages or disadvantages of increasing or decreasing levels of certain activities  (rather than just deciding to do or not do something – the total costs/benefits).

As human understanding of the complex nature of the world and our activities within it has increased, economists have been forced to broaden the scope of their analysis to include certain social and environmental consequences of economic decision-making. Decisions which satisfy rational self-interest for individuals, groups or firms may nevertheless lead to outcomes such as pollution or extreme inequality which themselves have wider consequences for society and the economy as a whole (whether nationally or globally). Indeed, Sloman (2009:24) states that “[u]nbridled market forces can result in severe problems for individuals, society and the environment”. Growing recognition of these potential problems may help explain contemporary concern with sustainability, the role of government regulation of industry, and the creation of the concept of ‘corporate social responsibility’. As such, economists are asked to take account of economic and social goals of a society (as expressed through their government), and therefore contribute to their knowledge to help policy makers work toward these goals.


Library of Economics and Liberty (2012) What is economics? Available from: [Accessed 10th November, 2013]

Sloman, J. (2009)  Economics. 7th ed. Harlow: Pearson

Sloman, J. (2007) Essentials of Economics. 4th ed. Harlow: Pearson

Whitehead, G. (1992) Economics. Oxford: Heinemann

Written by Steven White on November 13th, 2013

An Introduction & Initial Overview of Philosophy   no comments

Posted at 10:15 pm in Uncategorized

An Introduction & Initial Overview of Philosophy:

Philosophy is centrally a consideration of logical argument and reasoning offset in consideration of wider questions about every aspect of the universe. Philosophy is often misinterpreted as a loose collection of outlooks on life. Actually, it is about testing arguments to exhaustion in order to validate stances or viewpoints. An example of this is to consider the following statement that ‘murder is wrong’. Philosophy helps us to explore the notion of wrongness, considering why we define it as wrong and under, by counter critical argument, it could be right. It also asks us to consider alternative structures to the universe where, for example, murder may be considered right. Furthermore it asks us to consider about the idea of justifications- who is to say what is and is not right or wrong? Likewise can we apply the idea of universal principles to any situation and therefore form absolutes? As such you could say that Philosophy is the search for absolutes in unending open-ended questions- a search for specifics.

Socrates, Plato, Nietzsche, Hume, Descartes and Sartre are all Philosophers of noted mention; each contributes historical stances that have shaped schools of thought within the subject. Sartre, perhaps, is one of the less known key philosophers in his contributions to the field. A noted example is his branching of Philosophy and Literature, a good exemplification of the inter-disciplinary intrinsic nature of the subject that is a key underpinning process; the discipline is not so much a discipline, but a collection of different ways of thinking that consider a variety of options and inter-relate to one another.

Sartre’s novel ‘Nausea’ is a key example of an inter-disciplinary text; it explores philosophical stances of existentialism, questions about the nature of existence and our purpose within it, as well as a psychological literature that explores the barriers faced by individuals in a city-novel, which encapsulates and therefore enables relation to, for the reader, similar comparisons to their own lives. Through the novel Sartre offers a insight into how such influences create angst in the individual, the weight of the world gradually bearing down on them due to a variety of contextual factors unique to the city and individual. Through this he terms the idea of existential angst, opening up a range of existential themed emotions that relate to common fears and feelings about being fundamentally alone in a universe.

Such angst occurs from negative feelings and setbacks that are part of the experience of human freedom and responsibility. As a result such a novel demonstrates a more potentially reflective mirror to ourselves as it is read, considering how in the instance of the protagonist, their slip into depression, self-centred obsessed and eventual near-insanity enables us to draw reflections of our own barriers in everyday life that influence us to reflect negatively upon our existence. It also acts as a cautionary tale, shaping a consideration to how we should act and why. This is not so different to my initial example about how we define the notion of wrongness and murder- the justifications for our own decisions in life affecting what we consider to be acceptable or influencing our motivations, actions and responses as a result.

There are several key themes in Philosophy that are explored as a question of focus: God, Right and Wrong, The External World, Science, Mind, Art, Knowledge. All of these are more commonly integrated into specific schools of thought and summarised in a structured order that shapes the discipline itself; many, are in fact, interconnected and not singular subjects in their own right and each can be loosely affirmed into commonly related topics such as Reality, Value & Knowledge. In my next blog, I will consider more about the structure of Philosophy and arguments relevant to the topic explored for this report.


1. Sartre, J.P, (1964). Nausea. New York: New Directions.
2. Warburton, P., (2012): Philosophy-the basics. London: Routledge.

Written by Michael Day on November 11th, 2013

Are Physical Geographers concerned with the Digital Divide?   no comments

Posted at 6:13 pm in Uncategorized

For this weeks reading, I have focused on Physical Geography. I have attempted to learn about the key concerns and research angles Physical Geographers focus on, and identify mean that they might consider and possible approaches towards the Digital Divide. Initially this may sound bizarre, why would the Physical Geography be relevant for an essay on the Digital Divide. Hopefully by the end of this blog post, you will have a better understanding as to why I have selected this subject, and have a clearer picture for my focus towards this essay in terms of Physical Geography and the Digital Divide.

Physical Geographers are concerned with:

1) Understanding the world better; how processes have become how they are; testing and refining theories related to these processes (Example processes include tectonic activity, climate change and the biosphere).

2) Understanding the effect we (humans) have on the environment from living in it and drawing the natural resources from it.

3) Predicting future changes of the environmental change, as well as measuring and monitoring these changes

4) Understanding how to manage and cope with the Earth’s systems and its changes

Geographers study the Earth in two periods of time; Pleistocene and Holocene. The Holocene Period, 11700 years ago to the present, is a significant period of time where humans have colonised globally, forming and building upon new relationships with the environment, for example agriculture and deforestation. Humans have taken control of plants and animals (genetic engineering and domestication) and over the years farming communities have rapidly grown. Agriculture, particularly farming, has enabled technological innovation to take place. As the more farming communities developed, the more food they could produce and provide for other societies that have little/no food production and instead focus on technology development. However, this has enabled the ability for humans to shape and transform the planet further and has brought consequences including soil erosion and impoverishment.  Deforestation affects the eco system; it releases more Carbon Dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. CO2 is a significant factor for global warming, effecting the temperature of the Earth, and currently concentrations are higher. This Climate Change is a great concern and research aspect for many Physical Geographers. Studies demonstrate that humans are contributing greatly to the issue of global warming; for example burning fossil fuels and biomass interferes with the Global Carbon Cycle. This is evidenced by the global climate models used. They demonstrate that when anthropogenic production of greenhouse gases is included in the stats, signs of global warming then appear. Developing countries makes up 5/6ths of the human population and will keep on increasing in population. This will result in burning more fossil fuels. Even if the richer countries have stabilised and decreased dependency on them, it will not necessarily be enough for protecting the environment. However if renewable resources are used and pushed by the developing countries, this may have a better impact of development for the environment.

Physical Geographers believe the future depends on the social, political and economic development but predicting these impacts is difficult.

This research has left me pondering on the following points:

1) To improve the digital divide it is only going to encourage humans to carry out current processes that affect the environment such as further deforestation to create more urban areas, and further fossil fuel burning to be able to use the technologies and carry out functions that are all deemed to better living standards?

2) Do the physical geographers actually want the digital divide to vanish – or at least not until it is known that it can be bridged without affecting the environment severely? As shown by the new NIC’s India and China, they are currently globalising at such a rate and without consideration for their emissions which are greatly impacting the environment.

3) Can it only get worse regarding the impact on the environment, to enable it to get better in terms of the digital divide? But then will it be too late to save our planet?!

4) Will closing the Digital Divide enhance Poverty instead of improve? -will it be a vicious circle of developing countries trying to develop, urbanise and become more technology based, a necessity for living (food) will be a struggle due to lack of food production countries, and as the environment will also be affected, it will be difficult for those farming communities still in existence to still be able to farm, thus preventing everyone that benefits/relies upon food production from others, to actually not improve/maintain quality of life and increase poverty?

Written by Sophie Parsons on November 11th, 2013

How is gender equality represented on the web? A Psychological Introduction.   no comments

Posted at 11:29 pm in Psychology

This post will look at the definition of gender and the different types of interaction to try and better understand the different gender interactions on the web, to further understand how one would go about answering this question using psychology as a discipline.

In order to study gender equality from a psychological point of view, it is first important to define the notion of gender. Psychology defines two terms in relation to defining gender: “gender identity” and “sex typing”. Gender identity is where there is a clear separation between male and female, and a vast majority of cultures extend that biological difference into affording highly contrasting attributes and expectations of behaviour to each gender. Sexual typing is the instance of a person of a specific gender taking on the qualities and characteristics of that gender as expected of them by culture and society.

Another interesting psychological area to look at is interactions, after all to study this topic interactions between different genders on the web would have to be addressed.

Group Interactions: these are often ruled by social norms whereby a certain level of behaviour is deemed acceptable or even actively encouraged. Group interaction patterns have the potential to become ‘institutionalised’, meaning that people who occupy certain roles will take on subsequent behavioural actions based on them. These roles could be the traditional ‘boss/employee’ role, however this could equally be applied to the stereotypical gender roles. Perhaps females will fall into occupying sites that contain material that is deemed ‘stereotypically female’ such as cooking and baking sites; whereas men will involve themselves with aggressive war based sites/online games.

This arguably may not even be a representation of gender inequality, as perhaps people are just running with their personal interests; however this could easily be an example of them falling into their historical roles even with a modern invention such as the web. Following on from the last psychology post involving case studies and direct observation as two of the methods of conducting psychological research, if I were investigating this question using psychology I would look at case studies of gender usage of the web and do some direct observing of posts on forums/social networking sites etc. A case study called ‘Measuring the Gender Gap on the Internet’ which looks at different genders presence and use of the internet. One of it’s hypothesis based on the larger presence of males over females was that ‘the Internet may have “gendered” attributes that favour men in some way’. It also suggests that the internet might be preferable to males given (or because of?) the stereotype that males prefer technology to females.

There are also different varieties of individual interaction: reactive, evocative and proactive.

Reactive Interaction: different individuals will interpret, experience and react to the same situations in vastly different ways depending on their personality. For example an anxious person might react significantly worse to a potentially worrying situation (e.g getting shut in a lift) in a very different way to a calm unaffected person. Different people could interpret different remarks about gender or websites that play to a specific gender stereotype in different ways inciting potential situations of gender inequality, or at least unequal gender representation.

Evocative Interaction: different personalities evoke varied responses from different people. Different types of behaviour will encourage people to react to them differently. Perhaps someone who makes a comment that implies they do not see the genders equally (even in jest) will provoke certain people to angry reactions thus resulting in gender bashing on both sides and potentially setting up of groups/statements being made that don’t represent the genders equally.

Proactive Interaction: we select our environments as we get older, perhaps one gender over the other will elect to spend their time on the web in a certain way, or even just spend more of their time on the web than the other; leading back to the case study about the gender gap on the internet.

I think studying the different types of interaction can give insight into gender representation on the web, as part of it will certainly be how both genders actually interact with each other on the web. Other factors will be looking into internet usage by the different genders, and also what sites are frequented by what genders. Drilling down into these it’s also looking at the access both genders have to various sites; the comments made about them and how they are represented on individual sites.

In my next two blog posts I will be looking at what defines a gender equal web from the perspectives of both philosophy and psychology, to better yet ascertain how I would answer this research question (aka determing the representation of gender on the web) by measuring reality against a proposed ‘idealised equal’ gender web.

[1] B. L. Fredrickson, S Nolen-Hocksema, G. R. Loftus, and W. A. Wagenaar. Atkinson and Hilgards’s Introduction to Psychology. Cengage Learning EMEA, 2009, 15th edition, 2009.
[2] David G Myers. Exploring Psychology. Worth Publishers, 2009, 7th edition, 2008.
[3] D. Westen and R. M. Kowalski. Psychology, Study Guide. Wiley, 5th edition, 2009.
[4] Bruce Bimber. Measuring the gender gap on the internet. Social science quarterly, 81(3):868–876, 2000.

Written by Samantha Kanza on November 10th, 2013

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Economics 2 – Disciplinary Approach, the Big Theories   no comments

Posted at 3:27 pm in Uncategorized

Researcher: Jo Munson
Title: Can there ever be a “Cohesive Global Web”?
Disciplines: Economics, Ethnography (Cultural Anthropology)

John Maynard Keynes
John Maynard Keynes, revolutionary Economist and inventor of “Keynesian Economics”

Major Economic theories

Recall our second definition of Economics, that highlighted the concept of and importance of choice – where our desires may be infinite, but the availability of resources is finite:

[Economics is] the study of how people choose to use (scarce) resources.

This concept leads to one of the fundamental theories of Economics, also known as the “Economic Problem”. The Economic Problem arises precisely because there are finite resources in any economy. Choices therefore have to be made.

The problem with choosing any one course of action is that the benefits you could have received by taking an alternative action are forgone. This is known as the “opportunity cost” of an action. If you knew what the outcome of each possible action would be, it would be easy to minimise the “opportunity cost”, but this is rare in practice.

The challenge of any economy is to minimise the opportunity cost and make the best use of the scarce resources available to it. American Nobel Prize winning Economist Paul Samuelson suggested that an economy should seek the optimum answers to the following questions:

  • What to produce?
  • How to produce?
  • For whom to produce?

How economies approach these questions and how firms and individuals behave has been debated by Economists since the inception of the Discipline. Some of the key theories / theorists are outlined below:

  • Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand – In the 1770s, Adam Smith proposed the idea that economies function best when markets are left to make their own choices about how to allocate resources. This has come to be known as the ‘Free Market’. Smith argued that markets will naturally correct any imbalances (as if guided by an Invisible Hand) and supply will necessarily cater to demand. The Free Market Economy is in direct contrast with the concept of a ‘Command Economy’, where governments choose how resources are allocated with the marketplace.
  • Marxian Economics – Karl Marx was less optimistic about market’s ability to self-govern, believing that workers in a Free Market were not compensated for the labour and value of the goods they produced, but only for their labour. The surplus value would then be creamed off by the employer whilst the labourer is left with just enough to survive. Marx indicated that if a worker was forever trapped in this cycle it “would make him at once the lifelong slave of his employer”.
  • Keynesian Economics – John Maynard Keynes formulated his theories against the backdrop of the ‘Great Depression’ in the 1930s. He advocated the need for governments to intervene to lessen the duration and negative effects of economic cycles inevitable in a Free Market. Keynes believed governments should control their spending so that during periods of economic growth, taxes are increased, welfare spending is decreased and the cost of borrowing money (interest rates) increase so that when an economy enters recession, it has the ability to lower taxes and interest rates and increase welfare spending in order to stimulate a faster economic recovery. Keynesian ideas formed the basis of Macroeconomics.

There are numerous other schools of thought in Economics, but these three form a good basis from which to work. Next I will look at how these theories are applied in Economic research.

Next time (and beyond)…

I’ve had a quick reshuffle of the order, but broadly, I will be covering the following in the proceeding weeks:

  • Can there ever be a “cohesive global web”?
  • Ethnography 1 – Introduction & Definition
  • Ethnography 2 – Disciplinary Approach
  • Economics 1 – Introduction & Definition
  • Economics 2 – Disciplinary Approach, the Big Theories
  • Ethnography 3 – Methodologies & Analysis
  • Economics 3 – Models & Methodologies
  • Ethnographic Approach to the “Cohesive Global Web”
  • Economic Approach to the “Cohesive Global Web”
  • Ethno-Economic Approach to the “Cohesive Global Web”


Gillespie, A. 2007. Foundations of economics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wikipedia. 2013. Economics. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 31 Oct 2013].

Image retrieved from:

Written by Joanna Munson on November 10th, 2013

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Intertwingularity: Schools of Literary Theory   no comments

Posted at 5:15 pm in Uncategorized

Intertwingularity: Schools of Literary Theory

In short: “We all disagree”

Following on from my last post, here I outline some of the better-known schools of thought in Literary Theory – or more precisely Western Literary Theory. This is a diverse eco-system of different schools of thought, often created by rejection of contemporary views, or by dividing off within existing schools. As little in common exists outside the individual schools of thought, these discrete loci of theory provide the real ontology and epistemology of this discipline. It also shows why authors struggle to provide an overview of the discipline, given the fragmentation. In looking at schools of thought, notice that Literary Theory and Literary Criticism are deeply intertwined.

Romanticism (Late 18C to c.1850) and Aestheticism (19C – Romantic Period)

This movement represents both a revolt against the social and political norms of an aristocratically directed society and the emerging rationalist scientific approach towards Nature. The aesthetic experience was linked to strong emotion and valued spontaneity, looking to engage the power of imagination. Clearly liberalist in approach, unsurprisingly it was linked to political radicalism and nationalism, feeding into the unification movements of Europe at the time. Jumping forward to the present era there are some contemporary voices, such as Harold Bloom, echoing this movement by protesting against the modern mode of political and social ideologies being projected back onto literature and thus obscuring its aesthetics.

(American) Pragmatism (Late 19C)

Pragmatism emerged as a school of thought in the United States around 1870. For pragmatists, the thought is a functional method for achieving action, problem solving and prediction. Thus the meaning of an idea or a proposition lies in its observable practical consequences rather than in terms of representative accuracy.

Formalism, New Criticism, Russian Formalism (1930s-present)

Formalism looks at the structural purpose of a text, setting aside outside influences. It rejects, or sets aside during analysis, the notion of cultural and societal influences. It looks at the ‘literariness’ of the text, the verbal/linguistic strategies used to make it literature. It is in part a reaction to preceding Romanticism, seeking to take deliberately different viewpoint.

Russian Formalism started in St Petersburg in 1916 but almost immediately fell foul of the ideals of new Soviet Communism, although its ideas seeded later schools of thought.

Meanwhile in the United States, Anglo-American ‘New Criticism’, emphasised ‘close reading’ (sustained interpretation of brief texts) to see how literary items function an aesthetic objects. This process of close reading has since been inherited by many later schools of Literary Theory and Criticism.

Phenomenological Criticism (early 20C)

Whilst more closely linked to Literary Criticism than pure Theory, the Phenomenological approach has influenced later schools of thought. It avoids ontology and epistemology, concentrating on a meaning residing in the consciousness within which the work resides. This is to understand its experience rather than to explain its structure – an existential interpretation. Notable in this area are Martin Heidegger, John-Paul Satre and the study of existentialism.

Structuralism/Semiotics (1920s-present)

Structuralism’s roots lie in early 20C with the writings of Ferdinand de Saussure (who laid the foundations of semiotics) and the linguistic circles of Prague and Moscow at that time. However, it later gained momentum in the 1950-60s as an intellectual movement in France. It argues literature can be understood by means of a structure distinct from the ideas within the literature. It uses the language of semiotics (‘signs’) for this structured analysis of texts. Indeed, although Structuralism and Semiotics are different studies they are, to the general observer, close enough to consider as facets of the same thing. Both sit in counter-point to the Existential/Phenomenological approach.

Post-Structuralism/Deconstruction (1966-present)

As structuralism became more formalised, people found reason to distance themselves from it. One reason was that Structuralist works didn’t conform to the idea of structuralism. As theories interact with the things they describe, they maintain it is impossible to completely describe a complete semiotic system as the described subject is ever-changing.  Theorists such as Lacan, Barthes and Foucalt identify themselves as post-structuralists.

Deconstruction (1980s-present)

Deconstruction takes the latter further by decrying the Western social constructs surrounding much of extant theory. Even in description, it makes the concepts above look easy and approachable.  The best, accessible, short summary I’ve seen is in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “a theory used in the study of literature or philosophy which says that a piece of writing does not have just one meaning and that the meaning depends on the reader” [1]. Most descriptions are recursively obscure, though seemingly part of Deconstruction is to be inaccessible to the casual reader.

Reader-Response Criticism (1960s-present)

This school focuses on the reader of the work as focus of analysis. Within this context, some focus on the individual reader’s experience (‘individualists’), others assume a generality of response across all readers (‘uniformists’) and a third group prefer to abstract and look at defined sets of readers (‘experimenters’).

Psychoanalytic Criticism, Jungian Criticism(1930s-present)

A completely different angle of approach is to come at Literature from the perspective of Psychology, and the role of consciousnesses and the unconscious. In turn, this has let to derived schools like Archetypal theory and Jungian studies. In each case the school of thought clusters around a narrower focus of analysis and criticism within a Psychological viewpoint.

Politico/Social Schools of Thought

A different strand of schools of thought arose from situating the theory within a particular political or sociological context. The trajectory, as with other schools above is to keep re-partitioning. Feminist studies, lead to consideration of gender and in turn to the Gay community.  Then come race and colour, the role of colonialism, and further minority cultures. Following a consistent theme of rejection of the status quo, Darwinian study tries to distance itself from post-structural and post-modernist viewpoints and take into account the imperatives of evolutionary theory.  Eco-criticism reflects a new awareness of the interrelationship of humans with their habitat; what ‘Nature’ and an examination of ‘place’. Below are just some of these schools

  • Marxist Criticism (1930s-present)
  • Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)
  • Gender/Queer Studies (1970s-present)
  • New Historicism/Cultural Studies (1980s-present)
  • Post-Colonial Criticism (1990s-present)
  • Minority Discourse (!980s-present)
  • Darwinian study (1990s-present)
  • Eco-criticism (1990s-present)

…and so it goes on. No field can be too small, that the discipline doesn’t offer scope for even more tightly scoped study.

Is there consensus?

Whilst the list above shows a dizzying range of approaches to Literary Theory, and some derive from broader predecessors, it is plain that there is no consistent viewpoint between the differing schools of thought. In my next post I will attempt to summarise this in context of the overall topic – does Literary Theory have anything obvious to offer in improving the structure of hypertext.


  1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Deconstruction

Primary Sources:

  • Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Oxford : Blackwell, 1996.
  • Culler, Jonathan. Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1997
  • Hawthorn, Jeremy. A Concise Glossary of Contemporary Literary Theory. London: Arnold, 1997.
  • Webster, Roger. Studying Literary Theory: An introduction. London: Arnold, 1990. 2nd Edition 1996.

Further web references:



Written by Mark Anderson on November 9th, 2013

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A look into politics   no comments

Posted at 10:17 pm in Uncategorized

Authors note: the topic for this project has undergone slight change. After looking at several journal articles, wikis and online articles I would like to broaden the topic area from the Web being used for social change, to power relations on the Web. This will still look at social change on the Web but will also include how the government tries to control the Web.

These couple of weeks I started looking into the area of politics. How to study politics seemed to have some contentions between different authors resulting in a lot of different definitions. However, largely politics can be defined as the power relationships that occur daily in social life. More strictly the study of politics can be specifically applied to the effects that arise from governmental actors’ power of society.

Politics could be split into three large approaches, each which contained their own specific theories and methods of analysis.

Traditional scholarship
Traditional scholars generally studied a specific, traditional area of politics such as how a particular country was run, or a particular type of governmental system (democracy, totalitarianism, socialism etc). The scholar’s study these areas by “borrowing” methods from other disciplines, namely history and philosophers.

Social science
Social scientists look at politics from a sociological point of view, focusing on how political institutions affect society as a whole, and looking for ways to improve the future of society. The methods they use to do this stem from social science and therefore can be quantitative or qualitative. In a way, the social science is a practical method as it exists to alter the system in some way instead of just change it, though this is perhaps to a lesser extent than the third approach.

Radical Criticism
Radical critics are very interested in the power relations that evolve within politics and largely view politics in very negative ways. Two key theories of radical criticism include;

– Marxism
This looks at politics largely in class based terms, viewing the higher social classes as opposing the lower social classes, which Marxists view as a grave injustice.

– Feminism
This sees politics as being based on patriarchal, hierarchal assumptions which sees women being excluded and pushed into the home domain.

Politics can be useful to look at how the governmental institutions control the Web, for instance looking into issues such as online privacy (just think of the NSA), issues of copyright (recent news stories over the crackdown of download sites), and control over freedom of speech and what can be viewed online (areas such as Cameron’s pornwall and more worryingly perhaps China’s system). Areas such as Marxist politics might be more interested in changing the system and this might be specifically useful for social change online such as twitter mobs, darknets etc. These are areas that I will look into in more depth.

In the next blog entry I am going to look at how politics and philosophy can complement each other in the area of political philosophy.

Kelly, P. ‘The Politics Book’
Tansey, S. ‘Politics the Basics’
Heywood, A. ‘Politics’
Duverger, M. ‘The Study of Politics’
Marx, K. and Engels, F. ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’
Millett, K. ‘Sexual Politics’

Written by Laura Hyrjak on November 8th, 2013