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Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details for Professor Mike Crang

book coverCrang, M. Virtual Life. In: del Casino, V., Thomas, M., Cloke, P. & Panelli, R. A Companion to Social Geography. Oxford Wiley-Blackwell; 2011:401-416.

Author(s) from Durham


The social geometries of digital connectivity.
At first glance a social geography of virtual connections seems an oxymoron. For many years, one of the claims behind Information and Communication Technologies (hereafter ICTs) and especially (new) media was to render geography less important. These technologies have long promised, and enabled, proximity without propinquity; they mean people in Birmingham and Bangalore can interact, exchange ideas and information as easily as those in the same city. At least in principle they might. It is clear that in practice there are a range of geographies – thus the scope of communication between Birmingham and Bangalore, even with video conferencing, may still be more restricted than face to face contacts within the cities. There is a consequent question of whether the nature of communication changes when mediated, or whether some kinds of social relations are more easily mediated than others. Secondly, Bangalore just happens to be the high tech capital of India and is globally well connected. A different empirical situation might prevail if our rhetorical example was Brazzaville in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The infrastructures, capacities (both hard, like fibre cables, and soft, like skills) and thus the scope of possibilities are (still) geographically uneven – at all scales from global, to national, to regional, to urban, by age, by class, by ethnicity. Third, this uneven geography produces uneven social effects that may compound existing inequalities. This then is a set of geographies around the so called digital divide(s). Fourth, the use of new media may transform and refract existing spatial behaviors, creating new hybrid spaces. Finally, these new media may afford new arenas of social interaction that have their own internal geographies – where ‘online worlds’ of varying types use spatial frameworks to operate. Throughout the chapter it will become clear that much public rhetoric has focused upon technologies causing social changes. At worst this takes the form of a technological determinism, but even when less stark very often depicts society and technology as independent and opposing ontological realms that seem to clash together. Instead this chapter works through a theoretical vocabulary that see technologies and societies co-constituting each other. Instead of seeing a logic of substitution, where ICTs replace ‘real world’ things, it will focus on logics of remediation where we see a layering of socio-technical forms of life – where new media adds to older media, where social action domesticates new technologies, makes it useful and develops it. The approach will ask whether we can have social geographies that are not technosocial geographies. In other words, a great deal of our social world is now enabled by, mediated by, invested in and bound to various communication technologies. It will conclude by noting developments in technology mean we may have to decenter the human within an internet of things that produce a technological form of life.


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