Keith Hart: An anthropology of the Internet
Is an anthropology of the internet possible? If so, what would it look like? I will attempt a provisional answer here, building on my book about the consequences of the digital revolution for the forms of money and exchange. People, machines and money matter in this world, in that order. Most intellectuals know very little about any of them, being preoccupied with their own production of cultural ideas. Anthropologists have made some progress towards understanding people, but they are often in denial when it comes to the other two; and their methods for studying people have been trapped for too long in the 20th-century paradigm of fieldwork-based ethnography. I do not advocate a wholesale rejection of the ethnographic tradition, but rather would extend its premises towards a more inclusive anthropological project, better suited to studying world society, of which the internet is perhaps the most striking expression. For sure, we need to find out what real people do and think by joining them where they live. But we also need a global perspective on humanity as a whole if we wish to understand our moment in history. This will expose the limitations of the modern experiment in the social sciences — their addiction to impersonal abstractions and repression of individual subjectivity.