Online Ethnography

For an excellent example of an online ethnography, see Nancy Baym, "The Emergence of Community in Computer-Mediated Communication," in CyberSociety: Computer-Mediated Communication and Community, ed. Steven G. Jones (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1995): 138-163, and Nancy Baym, "Interpreting Soap Operas and Creating Community: Inside a Computer-Mediated Fan Club," in Journal of Folklore Research 30:2/3 (May-December, 1993): 143-176.

The Sokal Affair

In what is now commonly referred to as "The Sokal Affair," New York University physicist Alan Sokal tricked the cultural studies journal Social Text (46/47, Spring/Summer 1996) into publishing his essay "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," an out-of-control, jargon-laced parody of postmodern science critique. Unbeknownst to the journal's editors, Stanley Fish and Andrew Ross, the article was a hoax.

Shortly after publication of the article, Sokal spilled the beans in a separate article, entitled "A Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies," published in the May/June 1996 issue of Lingua Franca. Here, Sokal revealed his tactics:

Throughout the article, I employ scientific and mathematical concepts in ways that few scientists or mathematicians could possibly take seriously. For example, I suggest that the "morphogenetic field"—a bizarre New Age idea due to Rupert Sheldrake—constitutes a cutting-edge theory of quantum gravity. This connection is pure invention; even Sheldrake makes no such claim. I assert that Lacan's psychoanalytic speculations have been confirmed by recent work in quantum field theory. Even nonscientist readers might well wonder what in heavens' name quantum field theory has to do with psychoanalysis; certainly my article gives no reasoned argument to support such a link.
Although editors Fish and Ross did their best to defend their actions, Sokal's point was heard. For the original essay, along with a surprisingly comprehensive collection of articles, responses, and counter responses, see
Alan Sokal Articles on the Social Text Affair, a website maintained by Sokal.

Predictable Sources

As is unfortunately expected with scholars venturing into relatively new territories, Tornow too often regurgitates the same old literature regarding online communities. Thus, we come across Ray Oldenburg's The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You Through The Day (1991), Howard Rheingold's The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (1993), and Shoshana Zuboff's In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power (1988).

To Argue

The only argument or problem I have with this section is Tornow's tendency to write about what works at the expense of what didn't work or what didn't work so well. As more instructors seek ways to incorporate computers and the Net into their classrooms, perhaps what is needed most is a directory or list of what not to do.

George Landow

George Landow, a Professor of English and Art History at Brown University, has written extensively on the subject of hypertext. See, for example, George Landow, Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (1992) and George Landow, ed., Hyper/Text/Theory (1994).