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Science and Technology
Technology issues - anthropology, fieldwork, cyberspace, virtual communities
Cyber-ethnography, defined as the study of online interaction, will pioneer new methods and theories as more and more human activites are conducted in cyberspace.
Summary Analysis:
Anthropologists have traditionally conducted fieldwork by living in distant cultures, conducting interviews, and observing participants. As people conduct more and more activities online and leave digital tracks (pictures, blogs, emails, and such), anthropologists have begun to study human behaviour in cyberspace. Cyber-ethnographers participate in and observe blogs, Web sites, and chat rooms. They analyse how people form social networks or groups online and establish cultural identity. Visual anthropologists, media and cultural studies scholars, ludologists (who study video games from social science/humanities perspective), and science and technology scholars are among those who are building cyberethnography. See for an example of the wide range of emerging cyberanthropologists.

Cyber-ethnography is part of the move to reconceptualize the traditional notion of 'the field'. In cyberspace, the boundaries of the observed field are both virtual and embedded in place, discursive and geographical. New methods for understanding the nature of virtual experiences and environments will explode as the variety and frequency of cyber-experiences grow.


  • Increasing need for anthropologists to learn new skills to explore a new domain -- online personal media -- by transforming traditional methods such as participant observation and traditional tools such as firsthand contextual information about place

Early Indicators:

  • Estimate as of May 2005 by Nielsen/NetRatings that there are 455 million inhabitants of the 'digital universe' who spend roughly 26.5 hours per month of their time at home connected to the Internet
  • Employment of cyber-ethnographic techniques by anthropologists at elite universities that have cultural/social anthropology programs such as University of Michigan and Harvard University
  • Recent research by anthropologists analyzing culture and power through blogs
  • Establishment at Cambridge University of a program that looks at the social implications of technology (broadband and nanotechnology)

What to Watch:

  • Cyber-ethnography becomes increasingly accepted as an anthropological specialisation at universities worldwide.


  • Development of new anthropological methodologies to help product design and usability engineers


  • Increase in number of Internet users globally.
  • Increase in the average time spent online across the globe and the subsequent formation of virtual communities


  • University of Michigan
  • Cambridge University
  • Rice University
  • University of San Francisco
  • University of Hull
  • Yonsei University (Korea) [link]
  • University of Glasgow [link]
  • University of York [link]
  • UCL [link]
  • Oxford Internet Institute [link]
  • World Internet Project [link]
  • ESRC e-Society project [link]


  • Kuntsman, Adi. 2004. "Cyber-ethnography as home-work." Anthropology Matters Journal 6(2).
  • Gajjala, Radhika. 2000. "Cyberethnography." [link]
  • Interview with Jan English Lueck, Professor of anthropology, San Jose State University
  • "Time Diary Studies 1998-2001." University of Maryland. 11 April 2003. 20 July 2005 [link].
  • "Global Index." Nielsen/NetRatings. 20 July 2005 [link].
  • Robin Mansell and Brian Collins, Trust and Crime in Information Societies, Edward Elgar 2005, ISBN 1-84542-177-9
  • Yair Amichi-Hamburger, The Social Net: Human Behaviour in Cyberspace, 2005, OUP ISBN 0-19-857876-0
  • Zhu Chenwei, In Code We Trust [link]
  • Anna Tripp et al, A picture of New Zealand community and cultural identity in cyberspace [link]

At A Glance:
3–10 years
How Fast:

Related Outlooks:

About this outlook: An outlook is an internally consistent, plausible view of the future based on the best expertise available. It is not a prediction of the future. The AT-A-GLANCE ratings suggest the scope, scale, and uncertainty associated with this outlook. Each outlook is also a working document, with contributors adding comments and edits to improve the forecast over time. Please see the revision history for earlier versions.

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