Social Knowledge Creation/Knowledge Construction and Constriction

Group Dynamics & Public SpaceEdit

An area of scholarly interest focuses on understanding how groups organize themselves and work together on large, social, digital projects that span levels of experience (i.e. undergraduate students, graduate students, academic faculty etc.) and disciplines -- both within the university (i.e. between departments) and beyond the university (i.e. libraries, cultural heritage institutions, government organizations etc.). While collaboration is cited as a foundational value in digital humanities, it is often executed only in principle and not in practice. Facilitating genuine and collaborative relationships and creating cohesive group structures requires that scholars be honest and critical about the invisible - and visible - limitations of public space. Scholars must scrutinize the barriers of social hierarchies to work towards transcending them.


Below is a list of resources that explore the rhetoric of public space and group dynamics. Some of the publications focus on the theory of public space and provide an important foundation. Others look specifically at DH by critiquing the imbalanced representation of gender, race, and ability in the discipline. These resources will be added to an annotated bibliography on social knowledge creation.

  • Bailey, Moya Z. 2011. “All the Digital Humanists Are White, All the Nerds Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave.” Journal of Digital Humanities 1, no. 1 (Winter 2011): n.p.,
  • Burdick, Anne, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp. 2012. “The Social Life of the Digital Humanities.” In Digital_Humanities, edited by Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp, 73-99. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Edwards, Charlie. 2012. “The Digital Humanities and Its Users.” Debates in the Digital Humanities edited by Matthew K. Gold. Minnesota: U Minnesota Press.
  • Flanders, Julia. 2012. “Time, Labor, and “Alternative Careers” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew Gold, 292-308. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press.
  • Fraser, Nancy. 1990. “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy.” Social Text no. 25/26 (n.d.): 56-80, doi: 10.2307/466240
  • Freeman, Jo. 1972. “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.” The Second Wave 2, no. 1 (n.d.): n.p.,
  • Habermas, Jürgen. 1991. “Introduction: Preliminary Demarcation of a Type of Bourgeois Public Sphere.” The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. translated by Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • McPherson, Tara. 2012. “Why Are the Digital Humanities So White? or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation.” Debates in the Digital Humanities edited by Matthew K. Gold. Minnesota: U Minnesota Press.
  • Nowviskie, Bethany. 2012. “Evaluating Collaborative Digital Scholarship (or, Where Credit is Due).” Journal of Digital Humanities 1, no. 4 (Fall 2012): n.p.,
  • Siemens, Lynne. 2009. “It’s a Team if You Use ‘Reply All’: an Exploration of Research Teams in Digital Humanities Environments.” Literary and Linguistic Computing 24, no. 2 (April 13, 2009): 225-233, doi: 10.1093/llc/fqp009
  • Williams, George. 2012. “Disability, Universal Design, and the Digital Humanities.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew Gold, 202-212. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P.

Public HumanitiesEdit

The Public Humanities section focuses on problem-based scholarship where members of the university and the community address relevant problems and work on practical solutions. There has been a steady shift in public humanities towards occupying a more central position in institutional practices in response to the persistent request for universities to be more engaged with community life and enhancement. The public sphere has expressed perennial criticism towards institutions for indulging in isolated, highly specialized, and discipline-specific areas at the cost of civic engagement while still relying on public funding. Many scholars find the humanities especially suited to engage the suggested behavioral change because of the field’s disposition to critically discern complex problems. This category addresses the shift towards a more publicly engaged scholarship and the role that the humanities could occupy in the public sphere. It provides models to overcome current limitations in university policy while integrating an appropriate infrastructure for career growth.


  • Anderson, A. A. 2005. The Community Builder’s Approach to Theory of Change: A Practical Guide Development. New York: The Aspen Institute.
  • Avila, M. 2010. “Community Organizing Practices in Academia: A Model, and Stories of partnerships.” Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement 14.2: 37-63.
  • Bendet, T. 1993. Intellect and Public Life. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Boyte, H.C. 2004. Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Boyte, H.C., and E. Fretz. 2010. “Civic Professionalism.” Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement 14.2: 67-90.
  • Ellison, J. 2008. “The Humanities and the Public Soul .” Antipode 40.3 (June): 463-471.
  • Brown, David. 1995. “The Public/Academic Disconnect.” Higher Education Exchange, January: 8-42
  • Cooper, David. 2014. Learning in the Plural: Essays on the Humanities and Public Life. Michigan State University Press.
  • Ellison, J. and T. J. Eatman. 2008. Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation and Tenure Policy in the Engaged University. Ann Arbor, MI: Imagining America.
  • Farland, Maria. 1996. “Academic Professionalism and the New Public Mindedness.” Higher Education Exchange 1996: 51-57
  • Fischer, F. 2000. Citizens, Experts and the Environment: The Politics of Local Knowledge. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Foucault, Michel. 1980. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interview and Other Writings, 1972-1977. Ed. C. Gordon. Brighton: Harvester Press.
  • Frow, John. 2005. “The Public Humanities.” The Modern Language Review. 269-280.
  • Garlick, S. and Langworthy, A. 2006. “Assessing University Engagement: Discussion Paper Prepared for the AUCEA Benchmarking Project.” Commonwealth of Australia: AUCEA.
  • Haft, J. 2012. Publicly Engaged Scholarship in the Humanities, Arts, and Design.
  • McDowell, G. R. (2003) “Engaged Universities: lessons from the land-grant universities and extension.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 585, 31-50.
  • Jay, G. 2012. “The Engaged Humanities: Principles and Practices for Public Scholarship and Teaching.” Journal Community Engagement and Scholarship 3.1:51-63.
  • McDowell, G. R. (2003) “Engaged Universities: Lessons from the Land-grant Universities and Extension.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 585, 31-50.
  • Veninga, James F., and Noelle McAfee, eds. 1997. Standing with the Public: The Humanities and Democratic Practice. Dayton, OH: Kettering Foundation Press.
  • Warner, M. 2005. Public and Counterpublics. New York: Zone Books.

Innovation and Constriction in the Networked Information EconomyEdit

Accessibility, governance, and collaborative construction of digital content are key issues facing the diffusion of electronic information. The three readings by Anne Balsamo, Yochai Benkler, and Nadia Caidi and Anthony Ross offer perspective on each of these issues. The framing piece by Balsamo argues that innovation has become a defining factor of the twenty-first century, and both culture and technology are essential elements in the development of new media. The value of open-access content in the creative process is explored in Benkler’s article within the context of information governance and the information economy. The final reading by Caidi and Ross offers a case study of the reactionary legislation of information access and intellectual freedoms after the events of September 11, 2001.

In "Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work," Anne Balsamo’s introductory essay, “Taking Culture Seriously in the Age of Innovation,” explores the essential link between culture and technological innovation, using specific projects as illustrative examples. While technological innovation is not always paired with cultural advancement, she posits that continuing to decouple them limits imaginative creation and production. Balsamo offers a definition of “technoculture” in the space of innovation as “a complex process of meaning-making whereby both technology and culture are created anew” (p. 7).

As an intricate assemblage of activities, innovation involves the creative process as well as collaborative social relations, and transformative educational reform is essential to inspire cultural imaginations. Engagement with digital humanities encourages interdisciplinary collaboration and offers fresh insights into technoculture. Balsamo puts forth ten lessons about technoculture, beginning with the proposal that innovation is often a response to key historical moments. Another lessons focuses on the role of designers as creative agents who are performing cultural work by negotiating collaborative workspaces. In her lessons, innovation is also characterized as an assemblage of social, technical, and cultural elements rather than a physical object that combines existing and new elements in novel contexts. But one of the key lessons Balsamo offers is “Lesson #10: Failure is Productive.” In the space of innovation, embracing failure is part of an instructive process in the struggle and contestation of everyday culture.

The value of innovation is further explored by Yochai Benkler in his article “Freedom in the Commons: Towards a Political Economy of Information,” in which he proposes that the improvement of liberal society is the catalyst that will encourage greater innovation and creativity for increased productivity and growth. He unpacks the idea of the information economy, including the economic, social, and political aspects, and defines the “networked information society” as “an economy of information, knowledge, and culture that flows through society over a ubiquitous, decentralized network” (p. 1246). Markedly different from the industrial information economy, this economy is characterized by nonmarket production and the decentralization of production and distribution. The networked information economy will not entirely replace traditional models but will instead coexist and open new means of pursuing the political morality that shapes liberal society.

Benkler argues that society is at a technological, economic, and organizational juncture, challenging us to reimagine freedom, justice, and production in the new networked information economy. The Internet has begun to shift away from commercialized production and information exchange and presents a transformative possibility of decentralized distribution. Nonmarket and nonproprietary distribution play a key role in the decentralization of information production systems. Some examples of nonmarket enterprise include National Public Radio, nonprofit research and public libraries, and interest groups or fan clubs organized by individuals. Decentralization is epitomized by the value of information available online compiled from individual contributions. Benkler also adds “commons-based peer production” to this category of informational and cultural decentralization and offers the creation of free software as a noteworthy instance.

Cultural institutions contain value in the intersection of both nonprofit enterprise and decentralization. Nonprofit organizations are leading the way on user-engagement initiatives, like crowdsourcing, to solicit input from multiple users in the creation of new informational resources. These exist alongside authoritative web resources developed by cultural institutions that are typically available freely to users, as in keeping with the terms of institutional grant funding. Cultural institutions also readily adopt peer-produced software, such as Benkler’s example of the Apache web server, but also other open-source content management systems, web tools, and databases. Benkler proposes that individuals are driven to contribute to digital communities of production, such as crowdsourcing projects and software development, because it offers greater control over their workflow and productive relationships. In turn, the increase of cultural productions and information basis exceeds what industrial-based proprietary models could produce.

Employing libraries in the United States and Canada as case studies, Nadia Caidi and Anthony Ross explore issues concerning accessibility to resources, privacy of patron’s records, and the freedom of information in their article “Action and Reaction: Libraries in the Post 9/11 Environment.” The authors review the legislative policies passed in the United States and Canada following 9/11 and explore how engagement in the current political climate and recent governmental policies affect libraries. The essential role of libraries in society comes into question, along with broader ethical issues at the core of the profession in the wake of national security legislation.

The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (USA PATRIOT Act) and Canada’s Lawful Access proposal are both addressed by Caidi and Ross as examples of restrictive legislation for information handling and accessibility. While the laws address national security concerns, they also bring into question the infringement upon civil liberties and the government’s increased latitude in gathering and investigating personal information. Within libraries, the USA PATRIOT Act allows for the review of library usage records, computer search logs, patron information, and book purchases. In response to the erosion of library values, the American Library Association upholds the Library Bill of Rights as an assertion of the organizational values and a reaction against the invasive measures of post-9/11 legislation. Although this policy is in place, it inadequately addresses new technological advances and the intensified political oversight of libraries. Caidi and Ross call for a clearer philosophy to maintain both the integrity of patron services and a philosophy of librarians that sustains personal and professional ethics within the evolving role of libraries and their services.

Exemplary Instances and ResourcesEdit


  • Balsamo, Anne. “Taking Culture Seriously in the Age of Innovation.” Introduction. Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work. By Balsamo. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011. p. 2–25. Print. Preview available on Google Books at
  • Benkler, Yochai. “Freedom in the Commons: Towards a Political Economy of Information.” Duke Law Journal 52.6 (2003): 1245-76. Available at
  • Caidi, Nadia, and Anthony Ross. “Action and Reaction: Libraries in the Post 9-11 Environment.” Library and Information Science Research 27.1 (2005): 97-114.

Ideologies of Social Knowledge Construction and ConstrictionEdit

Although Western culture is heavily influenced by ideologies—religion, science, progress, democracy—some of the most frequently overlooked ideologies are literature and computer networks. Often viewed as a form of disseminating, rather than producing, content, literature and computer networks are responsible for both reinforcing and restricting many Western values and behaviors. These mediums limit behavior by forcing individuals to understand culture as a series of binaries—able/disabled, rich/poor, man/woman, strong/weak. As such, they both construct and constrict social knowledge in ways that discourage individuals from challenging and/or overthrowing the status quo.

For example, Terry Eagleton’s “The Rise of English” asserts that English literature provided a new framework for understanding culture. As the aristocracy lost power in nineteenth century England, literature served as a “social cement […] by which a socially turbulent class-society can be welded together” (17). Literature is particularly effective in uniting the upper and middle classes because it emphasizes large-scale universal human values rather than the present and limited concerns of a particular group (17). As a result, Eagleton asserts that literature has the power to fortify the values of the upper classes and to prevent an uprising of the middle and lower classes.

These traits, however, only prove true of a specific subset of literature. As Eagleton notes, the primary authors studied in university-level English literature programs were “Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jonson, the Jacobeans and Metaphysicals, Bunyan, Pope, Samuel Johnson, Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, Austen, George Eliot, Hopkins, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot and D.H. Lawrence […thus] ‘English’ included two and a half women, counting Emily Bronte as a marginal case [and] almost all of its authors were conservatives” (23). By limiting literature to a series of authors who reinforced national values, English programs “conveniently packaged version of their [Britain’s] own cultural treasures [so] the servants of British imperialism could sally forth overseas secure in a sense of their national identity and [be] able to display that cultural superiority to their envying colonial peoples” (qtd in Eagleton 21).

As a buttress for colonialism and imperialism, English literature became a way to demonstrate English cultural superiority in comparison to other nations. Eagleton specifically mentions England’s belief in its moral superiority over Germany during both world wars; however, literature has enabled and excused much of England’s harmful behavior towards peoples and cultures in other nations throughout history. By presenting a specific cultural narrative of England, English literature indoctrinated citizens in values benefiting the state.

Computers similarly limit individuals' view of culture by forcing them to interact with the technology in specific and culturally approved ways. Alan Liu describes this in his book The Laws of Cool, stating that computing networks determine user’s understanding of culture by making all users access programs through a graphical user interface (GUI). He notes that “[T]he user-friendly interface is symptomatic of a whole way of relating to culture […] we may say that it is now corporate culture (epitomized in contemporary media by, among others, the global Disney entity itself) that attempts create a single, continuous interface of social experience stretching from the desktop to Tomorrowland” (qtd in Liu 16). In other words, Liu believes that GUIs create a homogenous computing experience that strips users of their individuality and constricts their behavior to a limited set of processes.

Graphical user interfaces are most noticeably present in the workplace. Liu observes that “[l]ife at work is now thick with existential screen savers everywhere—interfaces that cushion the rough corners of work within a fiction of ease” (164). He defines “ease of use” as “being able to keep multiple programs open simultaneously and to shift modelessly from activity to activity” (165). Although this may simplify the user’s computing experience, it also “looks uncannily like controlled use” that forces users to engage with computer functions in a specific and limited way (166).

The problem with GUIs is that they influence the way that individuals network. Instead of individual users engaging with computers and networks in a myriad of ways, “‘culture’ will now be figured as a networked world of corporate subjects become pure, distributable objects—teamworkers who have no legitimate identity and emotion except when wired like animated paperclips into the network” (172). Thus, modern networking practices turn users into machines who only function as cogs of production.

Donna Haraway recognizes the inherent connection between humans and technology, stating that “we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs” (150). Unlike Liu, however, Haraway sees the cyborg as a beneficial development in Western culture. Instead of viewing humans as separable from machines, she sees them as inextricably linked and, in doing so, Haraway proposes “cyborg feminism,” an ideology refutes many of the binaries undergirding Western culture—“self/other, mind/body, culture/nature, male/female, civilized/primitive, reality/appearance, whole/part, agent/resource, maker/made, active/passive, right/wrong, truth/illusion, total/partial, God/man” (178). In doing so, she challenges Western ideologies, including literature and computer networks, by suggesting that they are dependent upon false binaries.

While Haraway is not the only person to critique binary thinking, her philosophy is unique in its celebration of humanity’s “joint kinship with animals and machines [and its embrace of…] partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (154). By embracing the messiness of human knowledge and behavior, Haraway presents an alternative to many of the restrictive ideologies supported by Western thinkers. Though it is both elaborate and incomplete, her work demonstrates the dangers of binary, restrictive, and controlled thinking and suggests the benefits of heterarchical and non-binary thinking. As such, it presents one possible escape from controlled forms of social knowledge.

Exemplary Instances and ResourcesEdit

  • Donna Haraway, "From Cyborgs to Companion Species: Dogs, People, and Technoculture"
  • Martin Pistorius, "How My Mind Came Back to Life--And No One Knew."


  • Eagleton, Terry. "The Rise of English." Literary Theory: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. 15-46.
  • Haraway, Donna. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century." Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. 149-82.
  • Liu, Alan. "Networking." The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. 141-173.

Cultures of Invisibility and Identity in ComputingEdit

In the early years of the World Wide Web, people often understood new computational technologies through metaphors of Western capitalism. The Internet and the World Wide Web were frequently conceptualized as “the embodiment of the free market” (Streeter 9)—an unregulated environment of exchange centred around the supremacy of the individual (Streeter 3). These conceptual foundations easily stretched to incorporate more libertarian models of selfhood. According to Thomas Streeter, the early 1990s saw a rise in cultural thought that positioned the Internet as an ecosystem where “individuals were imagined as if their ethnic, gender, or class status did not matter” (12). In this case, Streeter is specifically reflecting on the role of the self in online communication environments, but this view also speaks to the ways that people conceptualize digital experience more broadly as a version of reality that is disconnected from their material, situated, and embodied experiences.

Recent work by scholars such as Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Lisa Nakamura, and Tara McPherson has challenged the neutralizing and erasure of identity in digital spaces. Chun’s “On Software, or the Persistence of Visual Knowledge” engages with this notion of online selfhood by linking it to what she sees as the paradoxical centrality of visual knowledge in computation. She argues that software functions analogously to ideology; code is omnipresent and yet it operates invisibly behind the scenes of everyday digital experiences (27). Moreover, because Western cultures tend to privilege visual knowledge, this invisibility facilitates a common misconception that software enhances people’s transparent access to information (Chun 27). Importantly, Chun also notes that, although the field of computation has direct historical links to traditionally female-coded labour (33), our contemporary understandings of programming “stem from a gendered system of command and control”(27). Common digital systems and infrastructures operate on complex and simultaneous levels, mediating social, cultural, and political structures through quotidian and often invisible experiences with computational media.

Similarly, Lisa Nakamura counters the racist “color blindness” (3) inherent to previously-accepted libertarian models of online selfhood by exploring the unique forms of collaborative visual culture afforded by the internet and Web 2.0. She argues that these visual cultures provide many marginalized peoples access to “representational power” through agentic creation, “revision, modification, distribution, and interaction” (35). These online acts allow for shifts in power dynamics that reposition the object and subject of the digital user’s view (35). By focusing on Web 2.0 dynamics and “visual capital” (15) Nakamura repositions the web as a site for the negotiation of plural and fluid identities—not through obfuscation, erasure, and play but through a self-conscious and networked processes of envisioning and re-envisioning.

Where Chun adopts a material and gendered approach to the analysis of computational history, and Nakamura focuses on networks of information and communication concerning race on the web, Tara McPherson’s work in digital media studies provides valuable insight into some potential futures for addressing cultures of invisibility in computing. In the introduction to “Media Studies and the Digital Humanities,” McPherson writes that “with a few exceptions, we remain content to comment about technology and media, rather than to participate more actively in constructing knowledge in and through our objects of study” (120). By encouraging engaged participation in both the material and visual cultures of computation, digital futures can become diverse, intersectional, and more attuned to (and critical of) the ideological nuances inherent to our everyday technologies.

This section has provided a brief overview of key voices relating to the mediation of identity through computation and the web. It is not meant to be comprehensive, and notably, has yet to discuss the complex power relations that dictate who can gain access to digital infrastructures. The simple problem of access is influenced by many intersecting factors including class, economic status, ability, gender, ethnicity, and race. Nevertheless, this section is a modest attempt to bring to light some of the material, social, and experimental modes of identity formation that can be negotiated through computational media, while pointing to some possible future directions for undoing the prevailing discourses of online "neutrality."   

Exemplary Instances and Open-Source ToolsEdit

  • FemTechNet,
    • FemTechNet is an international network of scholars, activists, students, and artists who study technology and computation from an intersectional feminist perspective. It was founded by Anne Balsamo and Alexandra Juhasz in 2012. The network is well-known for their “Wikistorming” events which aim to correct the gender imbalance of Wikipedia articles. They also developed and host the Centre for Solutions to Online Violence.
  • “Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Pedagogy Workbook.” FemTechNet,
    • This workbook was developed collaboratively by the Situated Critical Race and Media Committee of FemTechNet. It aims to provide a practical resource and reference guide for people seeking to engage in research and teaching in the intersections of race and ethnicity studies, feminist studies, media studies, and the digital humanities. The workbook contains a helpful list of “Out of Network Projects” for open consultation.
  • Vee, Annette. “Coding Values.” Enculturation: A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture, 2012,
    • Coding and software development are traditionally male-dominated disciplines. Annette Vee, however, argues that code is dependent on context, and that it should be written by a variety of engaged publics. “Coding Values” is a short blog-style article that proposes a more diverse, accessible, and inquiry-driven approach to writing code.
  • Buranyi, Stephen. “Rise of the Racist Robots: How AI is learning all our worst impulses.” The Guardian, 8 August 2017,
    • This short news piece details some the problems that have arisen because of a lack of diversity in software development. It nicely demonstrates how ideologies function invisibly at the level of code. This article was written in 2017 by Stephen Buranyi as part of The Guardian’s Inequality Project.


  • Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. “On Software, or the Persistence of Visual Knowledge.” Grey Room, vol. 19, 2005, pp. 27–51.
  • Nakamura, Lisa. “Introduction: Digital Racial Formations and Networked Images of the Body.” Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet, University of Minnesota Press, 2008, pp. 1–36.
    • Access: Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet is available as a ProQuest ebook.
  •  McPherson, Tara. Introduction. “Media Studies and the Digital Humanities.” Cinema Journal, vol. 48, issue 2, 2009, pp. 119–123.
    • Access: “Media Studies and the Digital Humanities” and full issues of Cinema Studies can be accessed through most institutional library accounts on databases such as ProQuest.
  • Streeter, Thomas. Introduction. The Net Effect: Romanticism, Capitalism, and the Internet, New York University Press, pp. 1–17.
    • Access: The Net Effect: Romanticism, Capitalism, and the Internet is available as a ProQuest ebook. For readers who do not have access to an institutional library account, portions of Streeter’s monograph can also be read on Google Books.

Political Ideologies and Search EnginesEdit

This section explores the connection between political ideologies and search engine tools and references the work of Astrid Mager, Elad Segev, and Lucas D. Introna and Helen Nissenbaum. Scholars who have studied search engines contend that these technologies reflect the ideologies of the societal structures out of which they were created, and they continue to adapt based on the changing collective needs of the peoples within those societies. For example, Mager contends that capitalist ideology is woven within the search algorithms that these tools, such as Google, use (770). Search engines have the ability to influence which information is "privileged" at the cost of others based on the order in which results are displayed, and some webpages become excluded by this process (sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally) as even the most prominent search engines do not reach the entirety of the web (Introna and Nissenbaum 180; Segev). However, similar to how societal ideologies are difficult to identify to those living within that system, many search engine users are unaware of how these tools work (Introna and Nissenbaum 176), and unaware of the biases and motives hidden within these algorithms.

The exploration of the history of the development of search engines is beyond the capability of this essay (however, if interested, Aaron Wall's "Search Engine History" and Richard T. Griffiths's "Search Engines" are detailed, easily accessible pieces). Instead, this section provides a brief overview on how many of the most prominent search engines, such as Google, MSN, and Yahoo!, find results and share them with their users. If search engines are considered a connector between the individual and the desired information, websites must focus on being ranked among the top ten or twenty results if they expect to be found (Introna and Nissenbaum 174). To improve their rank in search engine results, many websites have traditionally used techniques of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) (Mager 776), which includes things such as ensuring many related websites link to your site, a way in which search engines find prominent results (Introna and Nissenbaum 174). Keywords are also important, particularly near the top of the webpage (174). Further, some search engines also collect data about their users to give more personalized results, but this primarily concerns advertisement results (Mager 772); in Mager's "Algorithmic Ideology: How Capitalist Society Shapes Search Engines" (2012), one search engine scholar argued that Google is not primarily search, but rather advertising (776).

Concerning advertising, many search engines now allow websites to pay to improve their ranking in relevant search engine results (Introna and Nissenbaum 175; Mager 778). This is a potential issue that Segev discusses in "Search Engines and Power: A Politics of Online (Mis-) Information" (2008). Segev argues that search engines do not provide equal opportunities for everyone, but instead they have commercial interests that result in an inclusion, exclusion, and channelling of some information, but not all. Further, Segev suggests "that together with their important role in organizing the Web, search engines reinforce certain inequalities and understandings of the world" through these algorithms.

In "Shaping the Web: Why the Politics of Search Engines Matter" (2000), Introna and Nissenbaum argue that what makes the politics of search engines so important is that the Web (in general) is often perceived both as public space and public good (179). The Web has allowed for digital spaces that bring individuals together, and search engines maintain a position that connects individuals to knowledge; however, as these tools have become a prominent daily use on a global scale, these tools wield a lot of power, having the ability to decide, through their respective algorithms, what knowledge is included and what knowledge is excluded, and what knowledge is privileged (180). The problem that many scholars identify is that users do not understand how the knowledge they receive is manipulated and presented to them. For example, Mager cites estimations that more than 60 per cent of prominent search engine users cannot distinguish between the sponsored and unsponsored results (Fallows qtd. in Mager 778).

Exemplary Instances and Open-Source ToolsEdit

This sub-section is divided into three parts: The first section, "early exemplary instances," includes some of the first search engine tools; the second section, "alternative exemplary instances," includes examples of modern search engine tools that each do something different (in regards to the most popular tools); the third section, "current popular exemplary instances," includes some of today's search engines that have infiltrated daily life on a global scale.

  • Early exemplary instances:
    • Archie Query Form:
      • Archie was created by Alan Emtage and Bill Heelan, and was made public in 1990. It is credited as being the first search engine. Archie was a searchable database of files that worked through public anonymous File Transfer Protocol (FTP) archives, and downloaded the directory listings of the files through a script created by Emtage and Heelan.
    • Gopher:
      • Gopher was released in 1991, and was a protocol that was designed for searching and retrieving documents between computers over the Internet. This was an early instance of users being able to move from the tool to the file they were seeking, without having to do so themselves. As this example is no longer available, Richard T. Griffiths, a scholar at Leiden University), has an online chapter titled "Search Engines" that details how Gopher worked.
    • WebCrawler:
      • WebCrawler was released in 1994 and was the first search engine to provide a full text search to users. It was an early instance of a "crawler" engine, which is the method through which its database was built. However, WebCrawler has since been modified and now is a search engine that pulls results from other search engines.
  • Alternative exemplary instances:
    • Dogpile:
      • Dogpile (referenced in Segev's essay) is a search engine that pulls together results from other search engines, such as Google and Yahoo!. This method of search is called a "metasearch."
    • Engineering360 by GlobalSpec:
      • GlobalSpec's Engineering360 (referenced in Segev's essay) is an example of a search engine that includes content from the "deep web," or areas of the internet that prominent search engines do not find or include in their results. This search engine specifically includes information relevant to engineers (or those interested in engineering content).
  • Current popular exemplary instances:
    • Google:
      • Google was made public in 1998 and is one of the most prominent search tools used today. The site has become so much a part of regular discourse, that "google" and the act of "googling" is now listed in the Oxford English Dictionary. As of 2007, the engine has 500 million unique users on a monthly basis (Comscore qtd. in Seveg). Google now has a number of secondary search engines, including Google Scholar and Google News.
    • MSN:
      • MSN, made public in 1995, is the second most-used search engine as of 2015 (comScore).
    • Yahoo! Search:
      • Yahoo!, made public in 1995, is the third most-used search engine as of 2015 (comScore).


  • Introna, Lucas D., and Helen Nissenbaum. "Shaping the Web: Why the Politics of Search Engines Matters." The Information Society, vol. 16, no. 3, 2000, pp. 169-185.
  • Mager, Astrid. "Algorithmic Ideology: How Capitalist Society Shapes Search Engines." Information, Communication & Society, vol. 15, no. 5, 2012, pp. 769-787.
  • Segev, Elad. "Search Engines and Power: A Politics of Online (Mis-) Information." Webology, vol. 5, no. 2, June 2008.

Cultural Studies and the Politics of KnowledgeEdit

The period between 1999 and 2011 encompasses massive cultural shifts and, with them, changes in academic practice and thought. Questions of knowledge curation and pedagogy are certainly not new, but the tectonic changes society has undergone, and continues to undergo, in the past few decades have affected the conversation. Three essays by Ien Ang, which span that particular time period, concern what has been termed “cultural studies.” This refers, most generally, to an awareness of how all the different variables which intersect within the knowledge production of academia are affected by, and have an affect on, the world outside of the classroom. Through these essays, a contentious facet of academic practice is interrogated and a radical new direction, which champions interdisciplinary, accessible, and politically concerned methods of knowledge curation.

Ang’s first essay, “Who Needs Cultural Research,” was written and published several times in the early 2000s and provides a foundation to the definitions of culture and cultural studies as they have evolved and continue to change. Ang believes that the increasing popularity of a cultural studies approach in other disciplines, is a response to a “cultural crises”: “the falling away of a consensus over what counts as “progress” or of universal value, the deepening of cultural divisions along lines of class, race, gender, region, religion, and so on, the real and perceived proliferation of all forms of violence, the wild growth of the Internet, the growing uncertainty about the shape of the new world disorder in the twenty-first century as the authority of the West is challenged by rising non-western nations, and so on.”

This essay also addresses the issues of funding, what Ang sees as the corporatization of knowledge production, a model which emphasises utility above all else (the qualitative analysis of knowledge through the lens of utility is one familiar to anyone who has told a parent that they are pursuing a humanities degree). Ang sees this as detrimental, not only because of the ties it creates between institutions and knowledge production, where academia may feel itself beholden to certain kinds of education, but to the social attitude towards knowledge as a whole. The paper concludes with a suggestion that there is nothing more valuable, more “practical,” than the “very process of meaning production.”

In the next essay, “From Cultural Studies to Cultural Research: Engaged Scholarship in the Twenty-first Century,” published in 2006, the politics of cultural studies, and of academic knowledge in general, are at the forefront. To term something as political has widespread ramifications, and a variety of different meanings. What does it mean to say that learning is political, that knowledge is political, that any act which takes place within the relative safety of the university institution is political? The political act, to Ang, lies in the transmission and accessibility of knowledge. Knowledge can no longer be the sole property of academia, and it is the responsibility of those in cultural studies, and in academia at large, to connect the knowledge that is being produced to those it will benefit, rather than to repeat the cycle of peer review and journal publication that restricts both access and input. Ang’s fear is that this necessary shift is being impeded by the necessity for funding, and that way that creates dependency upon both the university as a bureaucratic institution, and the government as well.

Ang’s solution to this problem lies in a shift of ideological focus from cultural studies to cultural research. This move would disrupt cultural studies from settling into traditional modes of academia, where she sees it has “institutionalised itself as a discipline of sorts, complete with its own ‘founding fathers’, canonical texts, peculiar modes of questioning and reasoning, styles of writing and distinct object and value preferences (e.g. ‘popular’ rather than ‘high’ culture; hybridity rather than purity; heterogeneity rather than homogeneity; the marginal rather than the mainstream; the new rather than the old), not to mention its own journals, conferences and professional associations.” The shift in emphasis from studies to research relies upon collaboration and engagement: collaboration resists the typical modes of scholarship which adhere to the binaries of disciplines, moving academia towards a more interdisciplinary, or transdisciplinary model, and engagement shifts the focus from theoretical projects to practical ones. “The problems these projects addressed ranged from the impact of backpacker tourists on residential areas such as Bondi Beach, formulating new strategies for dealing with the urban water crisis, to how hospitals can respond more adequately to an increasingly diverse range of clients, or how to develop tools for regional cultural planning using digital technologies.”

In the final essay published in 2011, “Cultural Studies Matters (Does It?): Engaging Inter/disciplinarity,” there is a distinct tension between the radical roots of cultural studies ideology and the more academic reality of its current state. Ang concedes that the institutionalization of cultural studies has not been without its benefits, including financial and professional security for academics like herself. However, this process of institutionalization has not only been detrimental to the concept as whole, it is almost antithetical to its nature: “here, 'quality' is defined in purely academic terms, expressed in the most conventional academic criteria (e.g. refereed journal articles), and what matters most is academic 'excellence,' as defined by academics. I readily accept that in today’s higher education regime playing the game imposed by this audit culture is necessary, even imperative, if only to remain part of the game. But its lateral effect is that it entrenches a more ivory-tower attitude to intellectual work— precisely the opposite of cultural studies’ original aspirations.”

One school of thought on the matter is for cultural studies to solidify into a more substantial discipline, with a more clearly defined purview and methodology. However, Ang disagrees, arguing that “defining cultural studies as a discipline by delineating its purported categorical difference from other disciplines is always going to fail, precisely because cultural studies is at its best when it acts as an integrative inter-discipline, as simultaneously like and not like sociology, anthropology, literary studies, history, human geography, and so on.” Ang champions, as she has throughout these essays, those political concepts of collaboration and engagement. To focus on these goals is not only to resist the pressures of funding but to fundamentally shift the locus and the impetus of knowledge production and curation. It is only then that academia will begin to truly reflect, and enrich, the world in which we now live. “…this is reflected in a persistent, mostly male, Anglo-dominance in the upper echelons of the disciplinary community of cultural studies …—so at odds with the much more diverse and heterogeneous society we live in, even among our students. ... it is important to challenge the social and cultural homogeneity of cultural studies because it has intellectual consequences: it perpetuates an unthinking Eurocentrism (or even more narrowly, an Anglocentrism) and inhibits a truly cosmopolitan engagement with the vast diversity of the world around us.”


Ang, Ien. "Who Needs Research?" Cultural Studies and Practical Politics: Theory, Coalition Building and Social Activism, edited by Pepi Lestina, Blackwell, 2005, p. 477-483.

Ang, Ien. "From Cultural Studies to Cultural Research: Engaged Scholarship in the Twenty-first Century." Cultural Studies Review, vol. 12, no. 2, 2006, pp. 183-197.

Ang, Ien. "Cultural Studies Matters (Does It?): Engaging Inter/disciplinarity." Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol. 14, no. 3, 2011, pp 432-437.

Cultural Studies ResourcesEdit

The Australian Research Council's Linkage Project

Cultural Studies Association