Monday, February 15, 2016

Brown argus butterfly: First Dissertation Committee Invitation for me with a Doctoral Student in Cambridge, Massachusetts :), Possible conceptual contributions that I could make in relation to your doctoral committee

I won't post Tracy's letter at this time, but her dissertation is on cyber-harassment among millennials ...

Hi Tracy (and Janet), 

I'd be happy to, but please note that I haven't been in such a role before, and would very much be the junior member on your committee, and seek to learn from Drs. Jan Wall and Susan Patterson. That said, what is/are the (very) tentative title(s) of your dissertation? And what is/are its/their main argument (if you're at a place that you can begin to formulate this)? 

I think I can contribute in a few ways to your project. I'm a (Manuel) Castellian (who wrote "The Rise of the Network Society" trilogy among many other books including "The Internet Galaxy") in many ways, and have taught a course on the "Network Society, Information Technology (and Global University)"- - including about the internet's history, about hacking and also touching on Turkle's work among other aspects you examine in your paper. I'm also an ethnographer, anthropologist, sociologist and social scientist, with a focus on the information age and virtual worlds and am about to publish a book, an actual-virtual ethnography of Harbin Hot Springs - - in northern California, which looks at some of the generative aspects of the internet including how making an ethnographic field site for actual-virtual comparison might help researchers and re what I'm calling ethno-wiki-virtual-world-graphy. My book has a chapter in it focusing explicitly much on "griefing" in SL which very much could be considered a kind of harassment. (As an anthropologist, I could also seek to bring in a cross-cultural and inter-lingual comparative perspective re harassment in our doctoral dissertation conversation, but this might be too much possibly).

I'm also interested in how Internet harassers, if egregious enough (e.g. threatening potential or carrying out real life violence), even could be helped re online psychotherapy, and re World University and School - - so re psychology and psychiatry. WUaS has open wiki subjects about many of the academic subjects I've mentioned in this email, with some MIT OpenCourseWare on these wiki pages as well. 

So while my time is very focused on developing all-languages' World University and School and related online universities (~204) - and WUaS is deeply in need of financial support - and beginning a second virtual Harbin book, what would be the next steps to explore becoming a part of your dissertation committee?   

Best wishes, and sincerely, 

Hi Tracy (apologies for misspelling your name yesterday) and Janet,

What I think I could further contribute to this conversation as a committee member is also a focus on the information technologies themselves, in terms of, for example, what I.T./technologies (eg I'm a fan of Google +Profiles) might be brought to bear to prevent online harassment, what this says about defining harassment, and especially in rigorous measurable social scientific ways such as what Lee Rainie at the Pew Center studies, e.g. see

While agnostic here re technological determinism, a technology focus re harassment seems to offer many interesting approaches for you as one possible avenue as your dissertation unfolds, while leaving open the study of the human side as well.

As an anthropologist, I also find the ethos, discourse or culture, for example, of G+ Profiles (or significant here.

Hopefully some of what I've emailed will be possibly helpful.


Here are just a few further possible conceptual contributions that I could make in relation to your doctoral committee, Tracy, about what you both recently wrote.

Concerning Castells, I think his emphasis on communication power (he also wrote a book of this name) re the distributed internet as information technology with societal implications could be significant in your work. But he focuses on political economic questions (e.g. alternative economic cultures), and the closest he gets to questions of harassment has to do with an analysis of global crime rings, for example, in which online harassment could obviously arise, but not necessarily readily among millennials in the US. Here's a UC Berkeley interview with him in video and text as a good overview of his thinking in general - But online communication processes in my analysis are how harassment would be mediated or co-constituted.

I did find a relevant chapter in "Society and the Internet: How Networks of Information and Communication are Changing Our Lives" (OUP 2014) edited by Oxford's Mark Graham and William H. Dutton, in which Castells writes its foreward. Chapter 4 on kids and the internet is by Vicky Nash, the director of the Oxford Internet Institute, whom I actually met in 2006 in Cambridge MA at a brunch at Harvard Law Professor Emeritus CN's house. The very last reference in this Chapter 4, "The Politics of Children s Internet Use," by Victoria Nash, is by Ybarra et al 2006 and on harassment. 

In terms of psychology, which is the department I think you are in at L.U. in Cambridge, MA, if I'm not mistaken Tracy, I'm in a sense a Jacques Lacanian, in terms of psychiatry/psychoanalytic thinking, and would read his symbolic register as significant in mediating harassment online, and much better than harassment in "reality" (especially leading to physical violence) re his "real register." In terms of theorizing sexual psychology, I'm influenced by John Money (Oxford 1988), - and sexuality, the internet and harassment probably have an academic literature that's sizable. And in terms of social media and avatars in 3D virtual worlds, and psychology, I would draw from the work of social psychologists (e.g. Milgram and Zimbardo). 

Re bullying and harassment, I would examine Palfrey and Gasser's book "Born Digital" - - especially for defining it and in the context of defining the technologies themselves. But it's particularly in the context of social media and virtual worlds with avatars that my expertise lies (and not how an experienced electrical engineer could harass someone else's computer on the hardware side of things, for example), and not in other kinds of digitally mediated harassment. 

The culture of forchan looks interesting, as does what has emerged from what happened to Anita Sarkeesian - and - and related technologies and dialogue. 

In a course I was teaching on Harvard's virtual island in SL in around 2008, griefer avatars, dressed as thugs, came into the middle of a class and started flashing very lewd prims (primitives - which are Second Life "building blocks") in the air which greatly offended (I think) one of the people in my course (who had gone to MIT as an undergrad), all of which may have had implications in the actual world beyond this episode, about which I can only surmise for I have no evidence, but this is one significant experience I've had with a kind of harassment online. And in one Harbin book chapter I touch extensively on the idea of griefing making actual-virtual comparisons, based on my experience in SL. 

How to help victims of cyber-harassment is a fascinating question, when harassment perpetrations get complex and very hurtful, Tracy. I look forward to learning further from you about this. 

I'll send my CV soon. 



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