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Localizing the Internet

Localizing the Internet: An Anthropological Account

John Postill
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 180
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  • Book Info
    Localizing the Internet
    Book Description:

    Internet activism is playing a crucial role in the democratic reform happening across many parts of Southeast Asia. Focusing on Subang Jaya, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, this study offers an in-depth examination of the workings of the Internet at the local level. In fact, Subang Jaya is regarded as Malaysia's electronic governance laboratory. The author explores its field of residential affairs, a digitally mediated social field in which residents, civil servants, politicians, online journalists and other social agents struggle over how the locality is to be governed at the dawn of the 'Information Era'. Drawing on the field theories of both Pierre Bourdieu and the Manchester School of political anthropology, this study challenges the unquestioned predominance of 'network' and 'community' as the two key sociation concepts in contemporary Internet studies. The analysis extends field theory in four new directions, namely the complex articulations between personal networking and social fields, the uneven diffusion and circulation of new field technologies and contents, intra- and inter-field political crises, and the emergence of new forms of residential sociality.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-198-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vi-vii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-x)
    John Postill
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Photo-Essay
    (pp. xv-xxii)
  7. Chronology
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  8. CHAPTER 1 An Internet Field
    (pp. 1-10)

    On the last day of February 2004, I drove with a group of Subang Jaya residents to Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, to present my preliminary findings at a research seminar. I was then halfway through fieldwork and this was a unique opportunity to discuss with key actors some of the questions I was struggling with at the time. It was also a chance, or so I hoped, to ‘give something back’ to the people who were kindly helping with my research.

    On entering the seminar room I realised that virtually the entire spectrum of...

  9. CHAPTER 2 Localizing the Internet
    (pp. 11-30)

    Until the mid-1990s the number of Internet users worldwide was small and most users could not help but communicate with others at great distances. But as the number of users and sites continue to grow at an explosive rate, so do the possibilities for connecting and interacting with people, firms and public institutions in our own locality via the Internet. In many respects, the Internet is becoming ‘more local’ (Davies and Crabtree 2004). The countless processes of Internet localization currently unfolding around the globe pose a set of logistical, methodological and conceptual challenges to researchers. Logistically, they demand of researchers...

  10. CHAPTER 3 Research Setting
    (pp. 31-50)

    Subang Jaya, 11 May 2003. We meet at the train station, as previously agreed over email. I recognise him from the Web: Jeff Ooi, the owner of the Subang Jaya e-Community Portal and since January a rising star among Malaysia’s political bloggers. We exchange informal greetings and walk up towards the nearby Carrefour shopping mall. Jeff asks me how long I have been in Malaysia. I tell him that on this occasion just over a week but that I have been in Peninsular Malaysia a number of times before. I also tell him about my eighteen months of fieldwork in...

  11. CHAPTER 4 Smarting Partners
    (pp. 51-68)

    In this chapter I start by telling the story of SJ2005, a top-down Internet project that sought to turn Subang Jaya into a ‘smart community’ by the year 2005. This local episode is part of the larger national story of governmental efforts to transform Malaysia into a technology-driven Knowledge Society by 2020. I then tell an overlapping story, only this time from a ground-up perspective: the story of how and why a local brand of Internet activism emerged in Subang Jaya in the late 1990s. This is an activism centred not on national or transnational affairs but rather on seemingly...

  12. CHAPTER 5 Personal Media
    (pp. 69-86)

    The proliferation of personal media (for example, email, homepages, personal blogs, online profiles, mobile phones, iPods and iPads) has attracted a great deal of journalistic and scholarly interest, most recently in connection to Barack Obama’s reported fondness for his BlackBerry.¹ A number of scholars have linked the diffusion of personal media to the rise of the Network Society, and more specifically to the rise of ‘networked individualism’ (Chapter 2) – the claim that social relationships are being reconfigured away from the place-based collectives that were dominant in previous eras (families, communities, associations) and towards a new pattern of sociality built...

  13. CHAPTER 6 Internet Dramas
    (pp. 87-100)

    In previous chapters I have outlined the formation and consolidation of a new Internet field: the field of residential affairs in Subang Jaya. Alongside such structuring processes, all social fields are subject to sudden crises, some of which may lead to significant changes. But how well equipped is field theory to handle these crises and changes?

    The received wisdom about Bourdieu’s field theory is that it neglects processes of change and overemphasizes social reproduction. One influential commentator, Richard Jenkins (2002: 95–96), follows Connell (1983) in pointing out that in Bourdieu’s field theory process is a ‘black box’. This assessment...

  14. CHAPTER 7 Residential Socialities
    (pp. 101-110)

    On 2 July 2004 I joined a group of regular e-Community forum participants (or ‘forumers’ as they are called) on their monthly get-together over ateh tarik, a tea beverage popular in Peninsular Malaysia. I was already at themamakcoffee shop when the others started to arrive as I had been interviewing a regular forumer, Patrick Tan, about the early days in Subang Jaya. With the others we joked about why PC Yeoh always arrives late. When PC finally turned up he told us a story about a VIP in Petaling Jaya who once arrived late at a meeting...

  15. 8. Conclusion
    (pp. 111-122)

    Looking back at the history of the field of residential affairs in Subang Jaya from 1992 to 2009 (see Chronology), four calendar years stand out as having been particularly significant: 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2008.

    In 1999 both continuity and change were in evidence in the field. On the one hand, Lee Hwa Beng who represented Malaysia’s ruling coalition was re-elected as state assemblyman for a second term. Meanwhile three initiatives that were to have a great impact on the field were born that year, namely the federal project SJ2005, Raymond Tan’s Neighbourhood Watch and Jeff Ooi’s e-Community Portal (

  16. FAQs
    (pp. 123-128)
  17. References
    (pp. 129-142)
  18. Index
    (pp. 143-150)