Electronic Communication

Political, Social and Educational uses

by Sami Zlitni (Volume editor) Fabien Liénard (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 204 Pages

Table Of Content


Electronic Communication in Digital Societies

Following the line of the previous collective publications (Liénard and Zlitni, on 2011, 2012; Zlitni and Liénard, on 2012, 2013), this volume deals with what we consider to be an object of multidisciplinary research: electronic communication. Patrick Charaudeau finely illustrates the idea of multidisciplinarity, meanwhile, his views engender a brief reflection that we intend to bring forward:

I would like to avoid the fault of pretending to be a specialist of all these disciplines […], and even though, for the sake of the idea of interdisciplinarity which I advocate, I read, as much as possible, the works of historians, philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists and the specialists of other disciplines, I cannot claim that the degree of my knowledge is sufficient for me to discuss everything (2012 : 172).

We thus read, as much as possible, the works of the researchers of different disciplines dealing with the same object of scientific interest: electronic communication. But we agree with Patrick Charaudeau that this experience cannot turn us into specialists of these disciplines. It is thus essential to apply to the researchers specializing in sciences of information and communication, as well as in language sciences (linguists, sociolinguists, psycholinguists or didacticiens, etc.), in sciences of education, political sciences, behavioral sciences, social sciences, sciences of management, etc. We mean that the complexity of the scientific object enhances the importance of interdisciplinarity and accounts for the multidisciplinary logic of this work.

Numerous authors discussed interdisciplinarity, multidisciplinarity, and even transdisciplinarity, polydisciplinarity. Among them there is Claudine Blanchard-Laville (2000), Yves Le Noir and Lucie Sauvé (1998), Bernard Valade (1999), Dominique Vink (2000) or, evidently, Edgar Morin (1994, 1999). First of all, we shall refer to the ideas of the latter, namely, to his reminding us of the fact that a discipline is: ← 7 | 8 →

An organizational category within the scientific knowledge [which] establishes the division and the specialization of work and corresponds to the diversity of the domains covering the sciences […]. A discipline has a natural tendency towards autonomy by means of demarcating its boundaries, establishing its vocabulary, creating or applying its techniques and, possibly, by developing its own theories (1994)1.

But in the same article, he specifies the fact that the history of disciplines is made out of

[…] breaks in the disciplinary boundaries, the encroachments of a problem of one discipline upon another, the circulations of concepts, the emergence of hybrid disciplines which will end up becoming autonomous.

Without pushing the reasoning up to this paroxysm, we can admit that the peculiarities of even electronic communication make the sciences (human, social, as well as technical) collaborate in order to observe (and better identify) the plurality of the practices and the uses of electronic communication. This fact makes us consider the multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary cases to be likely to articulate the cooperations when the research object is common. Indeed, considering what Alain Glykos says (1999) allows us to admit that multidisciplinarity is “An association of disciplines which contributes to a common achievement, but without which every discipline has to modify its own vision of things and its own methods” (in Claverie, on 2009: 14). The limits of this approach are obvious and particularly explicit in the situations with a low degree of sharing information because the researchers of every discipline “return” to the principles of their respective sciences as soon as they have finished the study requiring a disciplinary link: the multidisciplinarity. But, finally, it is does not refer to interdisciplinarity either, because, as Pamela Mitchell explains, this phenomenon results in regrouping “the researchers working together, each of them working on their disciplinary groundwork in order to solve the common problem” (2005: 333). The great difference, according to Edouard Kleinpeter (2011), lies in the fact that in the latter case “the scientists would not work anymore in parallel [like in multidisciplinary situations], but would rather communicate with each other on a regular basis”. We, undoubtedly, put this suggestion in the highlight of the actual work (it also having been the guiding line of our scientific research since 2011): we offer texts refering to particular sciences ← 8 | 9 → in a multidisciplinary logic, in the same way as the chapters of this book contribute to the scientific decompartmentalization from an interdisciplinary standpoint. In other words, we participate in the transverse exchanges between researchers, who, by means of their specific concepts and methods, suggest observing, studying the same uses and the same practices of electronic communication.

As a matter of fact, every day electronic communication becomes a little bigger integral part of everyday life of billions of human beings. One of the explanations lies in the technical and technological quality of equipment (structural and personal), regardless of our geographical location. The mediating tools are based on more and more technologies while getting much simpler to use. They also turn out to be highly complementary. The complementarity and the convergence prove to be two assets, two forces, which undeniably participate in their development and allow them to attract a large number of users. Speaking about complementarity implies admitting the fact that, even if the competition between various economic agents of ICT (manufacturers, developers, distributors, etc.) is fierce, the acquisition of a computer and an intelligent telephone (or a smartphone), for example, makes it possible to cross the uses without facing real problems of compatibility or configuration. This technological complementarity thus goes hand in hand with an increasing convergence: the uses become more diversified (the users can perform more and more operations with the same ICT), there are new practices being developed and converging toward the communication modes that just not long ago required the employment of a specific ICT. Nowadays it is possible and very simple to browse the Internet, to consult one’s e-mails or a Facebook profile, to send SMS or to publish a video from a computer or from a mobile phone. The programmes and the communication interfaces are logically accomplished to stimulate this convergence and to encourage the users to employ ICT constantly. Thus, the notion of connected presence, highlighted by Christian Licoppe reveals all its dimension, all its sense:

the relationship between friends and relatives becomes a dense, seamless tissue, made by means of continuous interlacing of face-to-face interactions and of popularizing through the media acts of communication, the proliferation of the contacts being a guarantor for the link. This connected presence blurs the borderline between presence and absence, because due to linking up the participants are always a little bit present in others (on 2009: 30). ← 9 | 10 →

The relationship between the individuals is continuous, it being prolonged from face-to-face communication to the exchanges via ICT. The frequency of contacts and digital exchanges increase meanwhile the time of interaction, of speaking, decreases. Christian Licoppe gives an example of phone calls which become more frequent and shorter means of communication, but we can also point out the success of SMS to illustrate the idea. The explanation is simple: the use of ICT takes root in our everyday life and integrates into daily human activities for (and to the point of) perpetuating the face-to-face relationship without time limit. There is no more pressure, no necessity of exchange and finally ICT prolong physical relationship in time, being no more attribute of something exceptional or important but an element of everyday routine and mundanity. Christian Licoppe specifies the idea by indicating that

the interpersonal technologies of communication (a landline phone, a mobile phone, voice and electronic mails, SMS, handwritten correspondence, etc.) build up the resources for establishing contacts, in the same way as face-to-face means of communication do. They are like numerous threads which, all together, weave the relational tapestry (ibidem: 32).

This relational tapestry, made out of a tangle of electronic messages, provides structurizing more or less stable discourse spheres (i.e., regularly frequented by interagents) according to the convenience of the (virtual) place, the theme, the exchanges or the leaders. It means that we consider the alleged discourse spheres to be virtual communities, that are a set of social entities connected with each other through social and verbal digital interactions carried out and maintained with a precise purpose, being shared by all the users, all the members of the network concerned. As soon as the theme, the purpose is identified, an exchange “programme” gets more or less explicitly developed and interaction rites are worked out. They vary a lot in nature and in the quality of the exchanges in focus, which is likely to depend on the parameters mentioned above: the quality of the place, the exchanges and the leaders. To specify this idea, we resort to the works of Anita Blanchard who actually explains: “Virtual behavior settings are created through the shared interactions of members and a developing sense of space or ‘place’ in CMC” (2004: 2). Inspired by the ← 10 | 11 → works of Jones (1997)2, she compares the functioning of a social network (thus representing a digital discourse sphere) with that of a café. Indeed, the social structure of such an establishment is pyramidal with the chief manager at its summit, that is the café owner who is the coordinator of the place and, above all, a decision-maker, the fact accounting for his hyperactivity. He requires actions from his staff (waiters and other employees) who can also have coordination responsibilities to satisfy the needs of the individuals constituting the third level: the customers. Anita Blanchard distinguishes between several types of customers. The “true” customers are the soul of the place: they make it live and identify themselves with it to various extents, all of them expecting a lot of hierarchical levels in return, according to their loyalty (their attachment to the establishment). Occasional customers and passers-by (the ultimate level) do not have the same expectations. The representatives of the first category look for the satisfaction of their primary needs (finding a shelter, having something to eat or getting relief). The others are eager to discover an environment, an ordinary discourse space. All these members interact socially and verbally more or less intensively, the most involved ones (at Levels 1, 2 and 3) participating undoubtedly more (in terms of frequency, but also in terms of intensity). So Anita Blanchard attracts the readers’ attention to the virtual communities which she researches more specifically. She explains that: “Participants in virtual behavior settings can be characterized by activity level, ranging from leaders to lurkers” (2004: 13). To specify her point of view Anita Blanchard has created the table reproduced by us bellow: ← 11 | 12 →

CategoryParticipant typeDefinition
LeaderTechnical leaderSees that program that supports CMC forms runs. Also known as moderator (asynchronous) and wizard (synchronous).
Information leaderMajor provider of expertise and knowledge about a topic.
Social leaderMajor provider of social support among members.
ParticipantParticipantContributes along a continuous range of communication.
LurkerPrivate communicatorCommunicates to other participants through private email.
Never communicatesNever communicates to other participants or to community.

The table illustrates how much the tapestry, referring to Christian Licoppe’s metaphor, is elaborated and even complicated. It can be accounted for the fact that the spheres, the virtual communities overlap, intercross and become entangled thanks to the users who change their communication environment and whose electronic discourse participates in the construction of digital identities at the same time.

Fanny Georges is one of the French specialists of digital identities. According to her, in a situation of electronic communication (no matter if the user of ICT is sending an e-mail or is having a discussion in a social network) there are three identity levels which we are going to present in brief. At first, the user has a declarative identity which he voluntarily demonstrates in the digital environments: it is what he gives for the others to see. Then the user takes an active identity when he is going to take the tool and to develop communication practices in order to produce some particular effects: it is what he gives to see willingly or unwillingly while performing some concrete actions which contribute to delimiting the outlines of what he represents on the Web. Finally, the user establishes a calculated identity when he tends to develop the actions or a discourse that will enable him to create a particular image: it is what the user wishes the others to see of him… These three identities work successively, as well as simultaneously, to finally establish the user’s personal representation and digital identity (Georges, 2009). Dominique Cardon (2008), Julie Denouël (2011) and Louise Merzeau ← 12 | 13 → (2009) are among the other researchers dealing with the digital identity. Besides, the latter prefers speaking about the digital presence, thus, approaching the position of Christian Licoppe. In fact, Louise Merzeau explains that nowadays the digital identity can be characterized through the analysis of the digital traces that the ICT user is sure to leave alongside, throughout all his electronic practices. Above all, it can be characterized thanks to the accomplished uses, the frequency, the digital presence. So,

“The digital identity thus acquires, by itself, a market value: it can be bought and sold in the form of behavioural advertisements and business files” (on 2009: 3). She also adds: “For the user the attraction of blogs, sharing information platforms and social networks consists of putting his or her individual characteristics on the common ground (centers of interest, preferences, comments, statuses, etc.)” (ibidem).

And if the user recognizes himself so much in the discourse sphere frequented by him assiduously, it is because this sphere also integrates the traces incorporated there beforehand (thus at the level of the active identity revealed by Fanny Georges). Actually,

The user indeed learns to interpret the evaluation of his identity in terms of influence or reputation and adjusts his signals to stick to the compatibility model valued by the social Web (ibidem).

Such statements encourage Louise Merzeau to put forward the idea of a digital double because finally the digital identity, if it can be modified or even fantasized about, is in most cases the true expression of what the user is fundamentally. The explanation is simple: “the digital environment is a memory ‘by default’ ” (ibidem: 10). The following chapters integrate this dimension and the parameters that we have just touched on. They result from the works of the researchers specializing in the fields of electronic communication and studying, from different points of view, the questions of ICT, the ensuing political, social and educational uses and the emerging practices. But we believe that the presentation of the crossed approaches and the points of view, which are sometimes divergent, ensures, first of all, a better awareness and understanding of electronic communication, its significance, stakes and the limits for the digital societies worldwide, on almost all the continents.

The work opens with Yves Winkin’s prolegomena entitled “Do we really need to fly from communicational utopia?” It is a text of a plenary conference presented by the professor at the international conference ← 13 | 14 → “Electronic communication, culture and identities” which took place at the Information-Communication Department of the IUT of Le Havre in June, 2014. Contrary to Breton Philippe, insisting in his key work on the necessity of going out of the utopia of communication, Yves Winkin wonders in his text if the utopia of communication, understood as pooling, does not deserve to be protected. The latter brings forward the argument that injecting the utopia of giving / receiving/ returning in the contemporary social life is probably not such a bad utopia.

So these prolegomena creates a link between the anthropology of communication and the uses of electronic communication. And it is for highlighting the richness of this question that we have constructed this work of two multidisciplinary parts. The first part is devoted to the uses and the practices of ICT in the political domain. The reader will find the chapters dealing with the use of social networks at elections and those revealing the use of ICT as tools of mobilization and social structuring. Besides the political domain, the electronic communication can play an important role in some learning processes developed by or for the learners. Thus, the use of ICT in the field of education and in the construction of identities is tackled in the second part of this work.

ICT and political communication

The increase of ICT stimulated the development of electronic communication in the political domain. It does not matter who the actor of communication is: a citizen or a candidate for elections, various electronic means of communication allow each of them to have access to new platforms of expression and to be more visible in the public space, providing everyone with independence by comparison with the traditional media. The first chapter is devoted to the use of social networks during the Indian general elections of 2014. In fact, Pitabas Pradhan (“Social Media Impact on Election Campaign: A Study of the Indian General Elections 2014”) states that the growing influence of social media has forced the mainstream political parties to reframe their media plans. Social media tools are used along with the old media forms, which used to play a key role in political ← 14 | 15 → communication for long. The social media based political communication efforts have not only changed the modes of message delivery but also perceptibly changed the nature of political discourse in the country. The social media platforms have given the citizens access to new public forums to convey ideas and carry political actions to the convenience of the masses at a far faster speed. These tools present better opportunities for politicians to have more visibility in the public sphere and propagate alternative political agenda. The new ICT tools provide unrestricted opportunities to the citizens to express themselves, unlike the mainstream media where the gate keeping theory still exists. The impact is so huge that the social media political discourses are shaping the mainstream media stories to a greater extent. Against this backdrop, Pitabas Pradhan attempts to explore the strategic use of social media by mainstream political parties during the Delhi Assembly elections 2013 and the general elections 2014. This study was conducted in the backdrop of the growing perception that a one-year old party claimed a sensational victory over the mainstream parties on the strength of its social media strategy. The author builds this study on media content analysis, social survey of the citizens, and in-depth interview of experts to explore the role and impacts of social media in election campaigns and its outcome.

Chapter 2 by Zhe Deng and Richard Balme (“Chinese Micro-Bloggers’ Behaviors towards Twiplomacy. Text Analysis of British PM David Cameron’s Micro-blogs”) is devoted to exploring the communication and interaction mechanism of Twitplomacy on micro-blog, the Chinese version of Twitter. By text analysis of 200 pieces of comments on each of Cameron’s twelve micro-blogs, and investigation on the micro-bloggers’ characteristics, the objective of the authors is to categorize Chinese netizens’ behaviors of using micro-blog, so as to show what kinds of information that the citizens actually want to know, to express or even to diffuse. Also they analyze the correlation between micro-bloggers’ backgrounds or characteristics and their online behaviors, thus the result could to some extent be guidance for the governments and political leaders of their ICTs usage and regulation in view of different network environment and communication situation. For Zhe Deng and Richard Balme, China’s micro-blog provides a basic public energy field for Chinese engagement, referring to its information service to common people and allowance of all micro-bloggers’ participation. However, the difference between China’s micro-blog and ← 15 | 16 → real public energy field is still obvious from the attitudes and behaviors of Chinese micro-bloggers.

As for Aysun Akan (“Making Sense of Gezi Park Protests: Gezi Park Protests as a Defence of Lifestyles”), she expresses her interest in the use of social networks as tool of protest and social mobilization by studying the case of the the Gezi Park protest movement. Indeed, protests in Istanbul, and fifty other cities in Turkey, in May and June 2013 reflected a deep ideological polarisation in Turkish society, between conservatives (read Islamic) and modern (read Western), liberal Turks. One of the dominant themes in the protests was the criticism targeting, then the Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdoğan’s, the leader of the JDP’s, Justice and Development Party, (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP), interference in life styles different than an Islamic life style. The fear of Islamisation of society seats deep in the minds of secular Turks. From the beginning of the modern Turkish Republic (1923), throughout the first half of the twenty century, political, military and state elite prevented political or civil activities with Islamic leaning. Popularity and the electorate success of the JDP and the increasing authoritarian tendency of Mr. Erdoğan and his intolerance towards diverse life styles triggered the fear of Islamisation of society. The Gezi Park protests, among other things, reflected this battle of identities in the widely circulated slogans, messages and images through the social media.

Within the frames of the epistemological field of research, Abhay vir Singh Kanwar’s article (“Theorizing Cyber activism: Drawing from Durkheimiam lenses”) deals with the problem of cyber activism. The paper attempts to delve into intricacies of cyber space and expostulate how it is not only mapping, gauging and molding the various strata’s of society but also cutting across different type of diversity of people across globe. In this chapter, Abhay vir Singh Kanwar explores how cyberspace reproduces the attributes of “social fact”, one of the eminent conceptions of Durkheim. Collective conscience which ensues into social integration which establishes primacy of society over individuals is also one of his prepositions. Also, the study focuses on the impact of cyber grid on society’s collective conscience. ← 16 | 17 →

Education, identity and electronic communication

The development of ICT and their integration in the educational methods have changed the way the learners get knowledge and have modified considerably the organization of teaching. So the primary objective of the second part of the work is to highlight the uses and practices of ICT by learners and teachers. It also reveals the way the ICT contribute, in a voluntary or unconscious way, to the construction of new identities.

The first chapter of the second part deals with a case of American students. Indeed, Alain-Philippe Durand and Elyse Petit (“The Teaching of French and Digital Humanities”) analyze the electronic uses and the interactive collaboration between the students and Jean-Philippe Toussaint, known as a novelist, a film-maker and a Belgian photographer. Indeed, between 2000 and 2010 at the University of Rhode Island and since 2010 at the University of Arizona, Toussaint participated in several activities in Durand’s seminars on the contemporary novel and film: dialogues with students on the Internet, blogs, on Skype, or face to face during transatlantic visits. Encouraged by these experiences, Toussaint invited Durand to partner with him on what could be a unique project in contemporary literature: to coordinate and maintain in an interactive way, along with his students, the American page of the Jean-Philippe Toussaint web site (jptoussaint.com). This chapter recounts and presents examples of this collaboration between Toussaint, Durand, and his students.

Another case study, Greek and Finnish this time, enabled Marianna Vivitsou et Kirsi Viitanen (“The pedagogies of the future: through young people’s eyes in storytelling experiences with the digital in Finland and Greece”) to tackle the issue of changes in teaching methods as a result of the use of electronic communication. In this way, by allowing a different ‘language’ to come up through image-based practices for movement and change, social media seem to create a new pedagogical space. When social media are used for pedagogy and learning with image-based practices, it is in that new space where pedagogy can transform. Marianna Vivitsou et Kirsi Viitanen hold the position that pedagogies with the digital, or without it, cannot be transformative unless the focus shifts so that, in addition to the (digital) pedagogue, it includes the youth as decision makers and as curriculum planners. In the pedagogies of the future the young people are leaders, partners, and architects of their own learning. In this paper the ← 17 | 18 → authors argue, by discussing storytelling experiences with the digital of young adolescents from Finland and Greece, that such shift is feasible. To support their case, they examine how these young people developed initiative and action as storytellers and filmmakers in collaborative physical and virtual spaces.

Besides, these uses of ICT, getting more and more numerous, lead to particular electronic practices and can transform the scriptural practices of young people. It is in this sense that Olga Volckaert-Legrier, Josie Bernicot, Antonine Goumi, and Alain Bert-Erboul (“Text Messages: Enemy or Ally in the Spelling Learning Process? A Longitudinal Study of 11–12-Year-Old Junior High School Students”) dealt in their chapter with the question of “textism” in schoolchildren’s SMS messages. The authors analyzed a corpus of 4,524 text messages produced in daily life situations by 19 junior high school students, all of whom were 12 years of age. The participants had never owned or used a mobile phone before beginning the study, and their text messages were collected each month over the course of one year. To characterize the text messages, the density of textisms was used, defined as the number of changes in a word’s spelling form as compared to traditional spelling divided by the total number of words in the text message. One addition was made to the existing research: the distinction between textisms that were consistent with the traditional code and textisms that broke with that code – in other words, those that were the most typical of text-message language. The analysis of the results showed that the only existing link between the level of spelling and the density of textisms was with regard to textisms breaking with traditional code during the first trimester of text-message use. Contrary to widespread fears, students with a strong level of spelling were the ones who made numerous textisms breaking with traditional code, and conversely. This study showed that traditional writing and text-message writing are dependent upon the same symbolic cognitive abilities. Furthermore, this study arrived at the conclusion that text messages are not a threat to the level of spelling at school, but instead constitute a new and additional opportunity for writing practice.

Sara Minucci and Marta Severo (“Strategies for building online identities in academia. An exploration of digital communication of researchers in social sciences and humanities”) are interested in the digital communication of researchers in social sciences. They focused especially on the ← 18 | 19 → three facets of the use of the web in academia: how researchers use the web and social platforms to promote their personal and professional image; how researchers use the web and social platforms to build their online identities; and which relationship does exist between the image that the researcher intends to build and the image that factually appears on the web. The empirical analysis has been developed in three phases. Firstly, an online questionnaire has been administered to OMERA subscribers to understand which is the relation between researchers and digital tools both for professional and personal communication, and which strategies researchers adopt for building their online identity. Secondly, the factual online image of the respondents has been analysed through an ethnography of the internet. Thirdly, the hypothesis that the different behaviours of researchers for building their online identity can be reduced to three main strategies has been tested through in-depth interviews to a sample of users that answered to the OMERA questionnaire.

In light of the unresolved debates surrounding data usage and protection, Danielle Masterton (“Identity in the Era of Big Data: An Embodied Approach”) proposes an embodied approach as an alternative framework for conceptualising identity, and its value, in the context of big data. Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology will be used to inform a model of embodiment that can be leveraged against disembodied visions of data and capitalist ideology perpetuated by industry and standard-setting institutions. The World Economic Forum (WEF) conceptualises data as an asset, relying on the alienation of data from its producer in order to attain a conceptualisation whereby data circulates freely as a commodity. The World Economic Forum’s proposal will be juxtaposed with an embodied approach, inspired by the European Commission’s perspective in which personal data is considered as part of the self. Staging an encounter between these opposing perspectives will bring to light the contradictions at the core of assumptions about big data. The complexity of the relationship between data, the body, identity and commodity capitalism is not addressed by industry discourses and therefore merits further investigation.

We thank all the researchers who contributed to this work and thus participated in a better understanding of political, social and educational uses of electronic communication, no matter that some authors spoke about numerical communication or about digital communication or about virtual communication. ← 19 | 20 →


Blanchard, Anita, 2004, “Virtual Behavior Settings: An Application of Behavior Setting Theories to Virtual Communities”, in Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 9(2). Retrieved from <http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol9/issue2/blanchard.html>.

Blanchard-Laville, Claudine, 2000, “De la co-disciplinarité en sciences de l’éducation”, in Revue française de pédagogie, n° 132.

Cardon, Dominique, 2008, “Le design de la visibilité : essai de cartographie du web 2.0”, in Réseaux, n° 152.

Charaudeau, Patrick, 2012, “Pour une interdisciplinarité “focalisée”. Réponses aux réactions”, in Questions de Communication, n° 21, Nancy, PUN.

Claverie, Bernard, 2009, “La transdiciplinarité : à travers les réseaux du savoir”. Retrieved from <http://documents.irevues.inist.fr/bitstream/handle/2042/28893/SurlatransdisciplinariéA9.pdf>.

Denouël, Julie, 2011, “Identité”, in Communication, n° 88, Paris, Seuil.

Georges, Fanny, 2011, “L’identité numérique sous emprise culturelle. De l’expression de soi à sa standardisation”, in Les cahiers du numérique, n° 7 (1).

Glykos, Allain, 1999, Approche communicationnelle du dialogue artiste/scientifique, Note de synthèse pour la HDR. Université Paris 7.

Kleinpeter, Edouard, “Pour une définition de l’interdisciplinarité”, communication tenue à l’occasion d’une Journée de l’interdisciplinarité organisée par l’Institut des Sciences de la Communication du CNRS (ISCC), 29 juin 2011, Paris.

Le Noir, Yves et Sauvé, Lucie, 1998, “De l’interdisciplinarité scolaire à l’interdisciplinarité dans la formation à l’enseignement : un état de la question”, in Revue Française de pédagogie, n° 124.

Licoppe, Christian, 2009, L’évolution des cultures numériques, Paris, Edition Fyp.

Liénard, Fabien & Zlitni, Sami, 2011 (dir.), La communication électronique : enjeux de langues, Limoges, Editions Lambert-Lucas.

Liénard, Fabien & Zlitni, Sami, 2013 (coord.), Traces numériques : de la présence à l’oubli, in NETCOM (Networks and Communication Studies), n° 26, 1/2, Retrieved from <http://www.netcom-journal.com/>. ← 20 | 21 →

Merzeau, Louise, 2009, “Présence numérique : les médiations de l’identité”, in Les Enjeux de l’information et de la communication. Retrieved from <http://w3.u-grenoble3.fr/les_enjeux>.

Mitchell, Pamela H., 2005, “What’s in a name? Multidisciplinarity, Interdisciplinarity, and Transdisciplinarity”, in Journal of Professional Nursing, n° 21 (6).

Moatti, Alexandre, 2012, “Le numérique : adjectif substantivé”, in Débat, n° 170, Paris, Gallimard.

Morin, Edgar, 1999, “Relier les connaissances : le défi du XXIe siècle”, Paris, Editions du Seuil.

Morin, Edgar, 1994, “Sur l’interdisciplinarité”, in Bulletin interactif du Centre international de recherches et études transdisciplinaires, n° 2.

Valade, Bernard, 1999, “Le ‘sujet’ de l’interdisciplinarité”, in Sociologie et sociétés, vol. XXXI, n° 1. Retrieved from <http://www.erudit.org/erudit/socsoc/v31n01/valade/valade.htm>.

Vinck, Dominique, 2000, Pratiques de l’interdisciplinarité. Mutations des sciences, de l’industrie et de l’enseignement, Grenoble, PUG.

Vygotski, Lev S., 1985, Pensée et langage (3ème édition en 1997), Paris, La Dispute.

Zlitni, Sami et Liénard, Fabien, 2012 (dir.), La communication électronique dans la “ société de l’information ”. Quels usages ? Quelles pratiques ?, Mont Saint-Aignan, Editions Klog.

Zlitni, Sami et Liénard, Fabien, 2013a, “La communication électronique comme élément de la trace numérique”, in NETCOM (Networks and Communication Studies), n° 26, 1/2, Retrieved from <http://www.netcom-journal.com/>.

Zlitni, Sami et Liénard, Fabien, 2013b (ed.), La communication électronique en questions, Berne, Peter Lang. ← 21 | 22 →

← 22 | 23 →


  1  This article by Edgar Morin, consulted in Octobre 2014, is available at the following address : <http://perso.club-internet.fr/nicol/ciret/bulletin/b2c2.htm>.

  2  Jones develops a “cyber-archaeological” approach and explains that an archaeologist observing the vestiges of a village will identify the obvious traces of the Man’s existence, the human activity which will be informative in terms of the interrelations carried out and, thus, indicating the possible interactions between the members of this group, of this community. Applied to digital social networks, the approach seems to be interesting.


Prolegomena. “Do we really need to fly from communicational utopia?”1


Good morning everyone, and thank you for your kind hospitality. Fabien Liénard thanked me (profusely) for coming over, but that should be the other way round. I should thank you all for bearing with me the time of a whole keynote address while I am not a member of your community of experts on “electronic communication”. As you may know, I am on the “interpersonal” side of communication. I called it years ago the “anthropology of communication” in order to carve a niche for myself in the field. And I have always been uncomfortable with “mediated” communication, “liquid medias”, “cyberculture”, and the like. So when Fabien Liénard asked me to come over, I delivered a rather obfuscated title and an even more abstruse abstract, in order to let myself provisionally off the hook. But my idea was the following: one way or another, the anthropology of communication as I suggested it has to deal with electronic communication; it cannot just walk away from it. Either a dialogue, a partnership, a joint ground is established with you, as experts in the field, or the anthropology of communication is going to die out pretty soon, just like many other conceptual dinosaurs which didn’t keep up with evolution (I am willing to accept, by the way, that many such conceptual dinosaurs died out of the stinch of their farts, as the kids’ joke goes).

So my program is the following.

I am first going to offer you a personal history of the anthropology of communication, and tell you about my shy attempts at dealing with the usages of Internet in the late 90’s. ← 23 | 24 →

I am then going to suggest a bridge between the anthropology of communication and the development of “commons” in recent years. After all, “communication” is still a term of many surprises.

And finally I will unravel the mysteries of my title and abstract. I wouldn’t like you to be too frustrated when you rush for coffee at 10:30.

A personal history of the anthropology of communication

1967: the inaugural paper

In 1967, the anthropologist and linguist Dell Hymes, published a paper titled “The Anthropology of Communication” in a book edited by Frank Dance under the title Human Communication Theory: Original Essays.2

Those were the days when communication was much discussed as a central concept for the social sciences. Shannon and Weaver’s mathematical theory of communication (1949) had quickly become the dominant paradigm of the 50’s and 60’s. It was embraced in many disciplines, from linguistics (Jakobson) to anthropology (Lévi-Straus)–and, sure enough, in Communication, as soon as it emerged as an academic discipline.

But there were alternative views, expressed by people like Ruesch and Bateson3; Pittenger, Hockett and Danehy4; Birdwhistell and Scheflen5. Those various scholars, who came from linguistics, anthropology, but also, quite remarquably, from psychiatry, argued that communication could not be seen as an intentional transmission of verbal messages between two persons but as a much broader phenomenon in which all members of a given society participated throughout their life. A summary slogan was: “one cannot not communicate”. Their patron saint was the Edward Sapir of the “Communication” entry of the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences ← 24 | 25 → (1931): “every cultural pattern and every single act of social behavior involves communication in either an explicit or an implicit sense”. One of their allies was the Margaret Mead of Continuities in Cultural Evolution (1964), for whom there were communicative acts as short as an interaction and as long as a generation. But overall, those scholars were still voices in the desert; their vision of communication was counter-intuitive, and thus hard to grasp. Shannon and Weaver’s model was so visually vivid; it fitted so well with the popular representation of mass media, especially television, that it was difficult not to have it take over about every textbook in the country.

Now comes Dell Hymes’s paper, which is a call for a new discipline, under the aegis of anthropology. In a very astute way, he is going to reject both the technical model of communication (Shannon and Weaver) and the all-encompassing model (Bateson): “From too narrow a conception of communication, the pendulum may swing to too broad a one” (p. 17). His criticism against the definition of communication as the whole culture is based on a maxim attributed to Birdwhistell: “Nothing never happens”. For Hymes, the maxim reflects the point of an external observer, but not the point of view of a participant within a culture, for whom it may well be that nothing happens in a given situation6.

Against too narrow a perspective on communication, Hymes is going to argue in favor of intrapersonal communication, like prayers, dreams, and visions, so long as they are publicly reported afterwards. This is quite a bold step against a strictly intentionalistic definition of communication7.

But Hymes is going to go one step further, as he is going to consider “attributed intentionality” in the communicative process, ie the sender may not be “human”: he may be a god, a dead person, an animal sending messages to the receiver, who attributes an intention to communicate to the sender. Hymes uses a well known example, offered by Hallowell in ← 25 | 26 → “Ojibwa ontology” (1963)8. In the traditional Ojibwa’s “communicative economy”, to use a term Hymes coined in another paper, gods speak to humans through thunder. It is just perfectly normal, “natural”. Any anthropology of Ojibwa communication would include thunder as a communicative device. Hymes concluded:

The scope of “communication” in anthropology must thus depend upon the scope of communication in the individual cultures, or communities, on whose ethnographic study anthropological fact and theory rest. In any given culture or community, behavior, and objects as the products (by makeup and location) of behavior, are selectively organized, used, attended to, and interpreted as communicative (p. 25).

Hymes’ anthropology of communication was based on the “emic” perspective that any ethnographer must adopt as his raison d’être. If the members of a community consider that cats and dogs talk to them, then cats and dogs are communicative partners, and must be studied as such by the anthropologist. Hymes opened up the realm of communication to extents not even considered by Bateson, Birdwhistell and the other champions of an all-encompassing view of communication. It was a bold, imaginative and “exciting” approach to communication. But it was not received as such, so far I was able to figure out. The paper is barely known, and even less mentioned.

Ten Years Later

In 1976, I was admitted in the Master’s program of the Annenberg School of Communication. As an undergraduate student in Communication at the ← 26 | 27 → University of Liège, I conducted interviews with book publishers in order to write a memoir on book publishing in the French-speaking community of Belgium. I was struck by their “impression management” strategies. I became so fascinated by Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, that I decided to come to Penn for graduate work.

I was going to discover a rather extraordinary intellectual environment (well described by Leeds-Hurwitz and Sigman, 2010) of which Goffman was an element, but certainly not the only “star”. I took Dell Hymes’ course on the “ethnography of speaking”. He was not, pedagogically speaking, a captivating professor, but his ideas were pure gems to me. The well balanced combination of pedagogical and intellectual brilliance was offered by Ray Birdwhistell. Birdwhistell was a tall, seductive man, with a deep voice and a huge smile. He would pace in front of the audience with odd questions like: “Yves, tell me how you start cleaning up under the shower? “ I still remember my embarrassment in front of my schoolmates, who were just too happy to have been spared the same question. Birdwhistell’s idea was to lead to the notions of embodied knowledge, cultural embodiment, etc. Balinese Character, Mead and Bateson’s masterpiece (1942) was one of the required readings. We would have to read several books among the monuments of the field. No recent literature. But through that combination of readings and personal anecdotes about the giants of the field he used to know quite intimately like Mead, Bateson, Warner, we would acquire a sense of the history of the field, and a sense we were part of that history: we were going to write the next chapter of it.

Birdwhistell barely ever told us about kinesics, the linguistically based approach to body motion communication he created in the 50’s, but he had us read his papers on “multi-channeled communication”. We all learned “We don’t communicate; we participate to communication”; “There is no more ‘s’ at ‘communication’ than there is at ‘gravitation’ ” – and “nothing never happens”, sure enough. He supervised my MA thesis on the dynamics of intercultural communication at the International House of Philadelphia, and he corrected line after line of the manuscript, always asking me to be more precise in my descriptions: “Dim light is Winkin’s” was one his remarks that I remember to this day. He was above all an acute observer of “small behaviors”, fascinated by their choreography, like in his famous paper on “ The Cigarette Scene”9. ← 27 | 28 →

La Nouvelle Communication

When I returned to Belgium in 1978 to become a fellow of the Belgian National Science Foundation, I was decided to produce a book around Birdwhistell’s ideas on communication. I didn’t know anybody in Belgium or France who may be interested, except for… Julia Kristeva, who had briefly written about kinesics in a linguistics journal (Langages). So I wrote to her–and she responded, to my amazement. She refered me to François Wahl, an editor at her publishing house, Les Editions du Seuil. When I called to make an appointment, Wahl was not available, and I was referred to his young assistant, Jean-Luc Giribone. I am telling the anecdote to show you how happenstantial a career may be. Giribone was about my age, and he was just back from a two-year teaching bout at Yale, as a graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure. He was in charge of introducing the so called “Palo Alto School” to the French public through translations of Bateson’s, Watzlawick’s and others. He had not edited many books yet. He definitely wanted to impress his boss, François Wahl, who was the editor, I discovered later, of Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault and other French luminaries. My project fitted Giribone’s plans, so long as I agreed to include the Palo Alto School next to the “Philadelphia School”, as I called it (Birdwhistell, Scheflen, and a representative of the next generation, Stuart Sigman). And I had to deliver the manuscript before Christmas 1980. I had about a year.

I managed to deliver it on time (everyone at home was involved in the frantic typing of the manuscript). And it got published in May 1981 under the title “La Nouvelle Communication”, I have to admit that the election of François Mitterrand as President of the French Republic that month overshadowed the event. But to my surprise, sales started to pick up in the Fall. Sales haven’t stopped since. ← 28 | 29 →

Anthropologie de la communication: de la théorie au terrain

For years I wanted to write a sequel to La Nouvelle Communication, which would explain how to go about doing research within the theoretical frame provided by the “orchestral perspective”. For reasons which are probably close to the “second book syndrome” developed by many authors whose first book is too successful, it took me 15 years (1996) to finally publish a provisional book titled Anthropology of Communication: from theory to the field. A definite version was published in 2001 by Le Seuil in a pocket version.

What I basically developed was a call for ethnographic inquiries based on Bateson’s and Birdwhistell’s wide open definitions of communication. But I stressed that Hymes’ “attributed intentionality” was a crucial addition to the “platform”, while Goffman’s work, no matter what he said about communication, was to be injected as well, because it fitted quite nicely. In the background, there were references to Sapir, but also to Ward Goodenough, whose definition of culture was perfect for my project :

“As I see it, a society’s culture consists of whatever it is one has to know or believe in order to operate in a manner acceptable to its members, and to do so in any role that they accept for any one of themselves” (1956).

I defined communication as “the performance of culture”, both in reference to Goodenough and to Goffman, whose Presentation of Self was still quite seminal to me. And so it went. The second part of the book was devoted to fieldwork methodology, and the third part to five brief pieces of fieldwork I had conducted in different contexts: as a student at the International House of Philadelphia, as a tourist in Marocco, as a visiting scholar at an American university. The message was aimed at students: you can do it as well; you don’t need a two-year immersion in a farfetched place like aspiring anthropologists had to do. Ethnography needs not be a gruelling rite of passage. It can be fun – so long as you have a good conceptual frame to help you avoid turning into a mere story-teller.

The anthropology of communication as I conceived it was not focused on specific objets of inquiry. I saw it as an “analytic frame” ready to give shape to inquiries in many domains. Rather than an anthropology of communication, which seems to imply that “communication” is the object of inquiry, I suggested that an “anthropology through communication” (or “from communication”) was in order (in French you can play with the “de” as in “depuis”–with a reference to the Latin ab). In that respect, I was ← 29 | 30 → departing from Hymes’s paper but I was still under the spell of his master, Edward Sapir, who wrote in 1927:

“Strange as it may seem at first blush, there is no hard and fast line of division as to class of behavior between a given style of breathing, provided that it be socially interpreted, and a religious doctrine or a form of political administration.”10

In other words, I believed and I still believe that communication must remain a theory-grounded interpretation, not a collection of objects, and certainly not of technology-based objects.

Let’s sum up.

If Sapir, Mead, Bateson can be considered as the first generation of scholars related to an anthropology of communication, Hymes, Birdwhistell, Goffman would the second generation. Sigman, Leeds-Hurwitz and myself would the third, while Emmanuelle Lallement, Véronique Servais, Filareti Kotsi (to name three scholars in their 40’s who worked under my supervision) would be the fourth. And now comes the fifth generation, constituted by digital natives, who are going to challenge the physically situated interactions of the former generations. So let me address the question that must tackled for a future to be at all.

Anthropology of communication and “liquid media”

Let me start with my own experience. In a book titled Comment l’informatique vient aux enfants. Pour une approche anthropologique des usages de l’ordinateur à l’école (2006), Eric Barchechath, Rossella Magli and myself report on a study we conducted in the mid 90’s in different European countries to observe how 5th graders learn to use computers. We focused on their interactions with the teacher, with the machines, among themselves and with their peers from other schools, as they contacted them through e-mails. The book had one major flaw and two good leads.

The major flaw had to do with “misplaced concreteness”. To paraphrase Katerine Wahl-Jorgensen, it was “classroom-centric”, since ethnographers love well-bounded situations. After all, anthropology was born on islands (Trobriands, etc). The real challenge for an anthropology of communication is to deal with the “liquidity” of Internet and the new ← 30 | 31 → media. In other words, the anthropology of communication has to integrate “digital ethnography” or “net ethnography”11 in its methodological tool kit.

Let me make a brief detour through a paper by Joel Sherzer, one of Dell Hymes’s early students. In 1978, Joel Sherzer critically assessed Hymes’ efforts to get an “emic” sociolinguistics off the ground12. One of his suggestions was to train young natives to study their own community as local participant observers (p. 52–53). I would suggest that those young natives are already at work as far as cybercultures are concerned. Young communication scholars of the “fifth generation” are “digital natives”; they are immersed in cybercultures since they were born. A reflexive auto-ethnographic attitude could lead them to produce thick descriptions of the practices of their digital community or communities. Immersion in a virtual field is a most difficult operation for an anthropologist (of communication or not) who had no previous first-hand experience with ICT’s. But for those young anthropologists who lived for the entire length of their life in intimate contact with them, immersion is not a problem. Look at the way Michael Wesch and his students entered YouTube as “digital ethnographers” in 2007. They were among the first to show how YouTube was questioning old-established notions of public space, presentation of self or social identity. Sure Wesh could not escape some clichés about the “loss of community” and “people connecting very deeply “, but he was exploring. Michael Strangelove13 and others came just after him.

So the challenges presented by Internet and the digital media to the anthropology of communication are not so much methodological than conceptual. Is the conceptual platform of the anthropology of communication, derived from the work of scholars who certainly were no digital natives, obsolete? Sure, I am going to say no for two reasons:

First, when one peruses through a up to date book like The New Media and Cybercultures Anthology edited by Pramod K. Nayar (2010), one ← 31 | 32 → can certainly see that most authors cited are not digital natives. When you think about it, if authors have to be of the same age as their objects, we are going to be in trouble in philosophy and quite a few other disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences.

The second reason to say no is more substantial. Let me return to my study of children discovering Internet.

The project involved collecting a long story built by several classes of different Italian schools of Emily-Romagna involved in a ring, so to speak. Each class added a chapter. The story had to do with kids sucked into the computer at the moment of closure. They got trapped in a big cavern, inside the computer, and they were chased by creatures called “Sbirulis”, who lived inside the computer. They were the “bugs” their teachers had told them so much about (remember, we are in the mid-90’s, and there were plenty of bugs in those days). The kids finally escaped when someone opened the computer again. What we found fascinating was the kids’ capacity to believe and not believe at the same time the story they created. That’s what I call “enchantment”: a capacity to willingly suspend rational judgment, a capacity to “live elsewhere” for a while.

Enchantment again

A few of you who know my work may now be thinking: “here he goes again”. Yes, I dare suggest here that anthropology of communication addressing Internet cultures should consider the notion of enchantment as a analytical tool. Let me explain. For many years, I have been trying to explore social situations in which the famous Coleridge’s formula “the willing suspension of disbelief” applies. I have been arguing that in many social worlds (trips abroad, PR events, residential conferences, group dynamics seminars, carnivals, cruises – and of course Disneylands and other theme parks), a collusion between “enchantment engineers” and participants lead to a temporary “suspension of disbelief”, provided that participants keep denying the reality around them with a mantra like “I know, but”).

The general hypothesis I would like to offer is that Internet offers, not only to schoolchildren, but to users of all ages, the possibility of an enchantment, ie the possibility to willingly suspend disbelief while you momentarily dwelve into a fantasy world. Take the “society of friends” that ← 32 | 33 → Facebook invites you to believe in; take “Second Life” and Groland; take Twitter and the pseudo-egalitarian sharing of bits of news and comments.

I know: I am here on Sherry Turkle’s turf. You know her brilliant books: The Second Self (1984), Life on the Screen (1995) or the most recent Alone Together (2011). While she doesn’t speak of enchantment, she comes close when she describes how students got involved in Weizenbaum’s ELIZA, “a program that engaged in dialogue in the style of a psychotherapist” (Turkle, 2011: 23):

Yes, I thought, they (the students) engaged in personal personal conversations with ELIZA but in a spirit of “as if”. They spoke as if someone were listening but knew they were their own audience. They knew all about ELIZA’s limitations, but they were eager to “fill in the blanks”. I came to think of this human complicity in a digital fantasy as the “Eliza effect” (p. 24).

Turkle is going to explore the many facets of the “ELIZA effect” through the book: how we deal with machines “as if”; we know they are only machines – but. Although the ELIZA effect is not the exact equivalent of “my” enchantment, there are overlaps and there is room for further ethnographic – and conceptual – exploration. What I am suggesting is that “enchantement”is a “sensitizing concept”, as Herbert Blumer14 put it: it is like a magnet, it attracts data and helps figuring patterns. But it is not an explanatory concept yet. It needs further elaboration.

E-mails as gifts to be received and returned

Let me return one last time to my study of schoolkids exploring the possibilities of Internet. We also discovered that kids had to be told and reminded several times to respond to the messages they had received. Instead of framing that lack of responsiveness in psychological or technical terms (eg. the kids are not too comfortable with the keyboard, they don’t know what to say, they are uncertain of the spelling, etc), we used a sociological explanation: kids have to be socialized in terms of “giving, receiving and reciprocating”. Like all the generations before and after, children have to be trained to deal with gifts, following Marcel Mauss. It is a most fundamental aspect of social life. They have to learn how to say “thank you”, ← 33 | 34 → they have to learn to reciprocate (not too fast, not too slowly), they have to learn to offer. For the current generation, e-mailing is one of the major ways to learn those rules. Kids learn that gifts (mails) have to be returned to their senders within an appropriate lapse if they wish to be considered as good partners in life.

What I am saying here is that old (but sound) sociological ideas like gift-giving can give a profound dimension to data collected about the uses of digital media. They can recast cybercultures within the history of processes of socialization from one generation to the next. Reversely, data on new media can give a fresh life to old concepts. I am thinking here of “community” which is certainly returned to active service since Howard Rheingold’s Virtual Community (1993). I am also thinking of “interconnectedness”, which was already used by Lloyd Warner in the 40’s, and recast by one of his students, Ray Birdwhistell, to define “communication as a processual point of view on interconnectedness”15. And finally “communication” itself can both refuel the analysis of virtual spaces and be refueled by it.

The anthropology of communication and the emergence of commons

As we all know, communication and communion were synonyms for many centuries. It is not until the 17th cy, that communication became a synonym of transmission. But the old meaning of sharing is still embedded in the term: munus (com-munus) was used in Latin for the “public show” that recently elected public officials would give to their voters. Munus is both a present and an obligation. Marcel Mauss again. At the heart of communication, there is the mana of the gift…

It is actually a line of approach used by observers of commons, who assemble within the same social category the age-old collective maintenance of water systems in traditional societies, like 2010 Nobel Prize of Economics Elinor Ostrom studied, and “creative commons” like Wikipedia, ← 34 | 35 → Blender movies or “crowd” initiatives16. What I find pretty fascinating is that the very term commoner can be translated by the old French term communier, still available in the Littré dictionary. A “communier” is a farmer who share his piece of land with other farmers, like today commoners are sharing platforms for creative purposes. What I find pretty fascinating is that a link is reinstalled between medieval practices and “avant-garde” practices. As if Margaret Mead’s suggestion about communicative acts which takes many generations to get accomplished was fully demonstrated. As if the definition of communication as “performance of culture” was taking a new meaning: not so much a performance of culture in the interactional here-and-now ( “the punctiform present”, as Birdwhistell used to say) but a performance of culture in a much more elongated time frame, stretching over several generations. In other words, I have a hunch that an anthropology of communication may be useful to study commons as they keep mushrooming all over the world today.

The title finally

In 1992, the French sociologist Philippe Breton published a very short and sharp book, titled L’utopie de la communication.17 He was trying to answer the question: how come “communication” has become so popular is so many domains? His suggestion was that communication had become the ultimate utopia. But he warned against the perverse effects of such an utopia. His argument was that the origins of modern communication was to be found in Norbert Wiener’s book, Cybernetics and Society. The Human Use of Human Beings (1948). But, according to Breton, Wiener was dreaming of a transparent society that would never be able to produce again a Holocaust. Holocaust was only possible because of the capacity of a society for deep secrets. The utopia of communication is thus a transparent society, says Breton, but it is also a potentially totalitarian society: ← 35 | 36 →

Avec la communication a resurgi le mythe d’un thème vital unique, qui traverserait toutes les activités humaines en les englobant. Le présupposé majeur de ce nouveau paradigme est le lieu commun selon lequel “tout est communication” ou, sous une forme plus acceptable, qu’ “il y a de la communication partout”. Il suffirait dès lors de trouver les lois générales de fonctionnement de la communication pour bâtir une conception unitaire du monde et, surtout, disposer des moyens de le maîtriser.18 (p. 120)

So do we necessarily have to fly away from communicational utopia? Breton would like us to stay away from the utopia of communication he analyzed. But I would argue that we may stay close to the new communicational utopias offered by the current “commons”. Not only they offer grist for our mill as social scientists, but they offer some glee in these times of morosity. Commons enact in new ways the old meaning embedded in the term “communication”: gift/counter-gift, sharing, trust. Both as a social scientist and a citizen, I feel like there is some kind of a renaissance looming ahead. There is still a future for the anthropology of communication, and there is still a future for my son. That’s pretty comforting. Thank you. ← 36 | 37 →


  1  It is a text of a plenary conference presented by the professor at the international conference “Electronic communication, culture and identities” which took place at the Information-Communication Department of the IUT of Le Havre in June, 2014.

  2  Frank E. X. Dance, 1967, ed., Human Communication Theory : Original Essays, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, pp. 1–39.

  3  Communication : the Social Matrix of Psychiatry (1951).

  4  The First Five Minutes (1960).

  5  Their ideas were expressed in various papers published in the 60’s and offered in books in the early 70’s (Kinesics and Context, 1970 ; Communication Structure : Analysis of a Psychotherapy Transaction, 1973).

  6  “To an external observer, what goes on in an interval not considered communicative by its participants may be communicative indeed, but he constitutes it so within a system one degree more complex than that which it is the business of ethnography, in the first instance, to disclose” (p. 20).

  7  “Most intrapersonal communication will not be directly accessible to the ethnographer, but reports of much of it will be. Here, of course, personal experience, including spiritual encounters and dreams, shade into public communicative events sich as myth recitals. Cultural stylisations of accounts of private communications, and cultural criteria for accepting such individual reports as valid, are of the greatest importance for study” (p. 23).

  8  “An informant told me that many years before he was sitting in a tent one summer afternoon during a storm, together with an old man and his wife. There was one clap of thunder after another. Suddenly the old man turned to his wife and asked, ‘Did you hear what was said ?’ ‘No’, she replied, ‘I didn’t catch it’. My informant, an acculturated Indian, told me he did not at first know what the old man and his wife referred to. It was, of course, the thunder. The old man thought that one of the Thunder Birds had said something to him. He was reacting to this sound in the same way as he would respond to a human being, whose words he did not understand. The casualness of the remark and even the trivial character of the anecdote, demonstrates the psychological depth of the ‘social relations’ with other-than-human beings that becomes explicit in the behavior of the Ojibwa as a consequence of the cognitive set induced by their culture” (pp. 24–25).

  9  Sapir’s well known sentence about gestures was his primary source of inspiration: “Gestures are hard to clarify and it is difficult to make a conscious separation between that in gesture which is of merely individual origin and that which is referable to the habits of the group as a whole. In spite of these difficulties of conscious analysis, we respond to gestures with an extreme alertness and, one might almost say, in accordance with an elaborate and secret code that is written nowhere, known by none, and understood by all” (p. 556, italics are mine).

10  Sapir, Edward, 1927, “The Unconscious Patterning of Behavior in Society”, in Dummer, E.S., ed., The Unconscious : A Symposium, New York, Knopf, pp. 114–142.

11  Wittel, Andreas, 2000, “Ethnography on the Move: From Field to Net to Internet [23 paragraphs]”, in Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 1(1), Art. 21. Retrieved from <http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0001213>.

12  Sherzer, Joël, 1978, “The Ethnography of Speaking : A Critical Appraisal”, in Saville-Troike, M., ed., Linguistics and Anthropology. Georgetown U. Round Table on Languages and Linguistics 1977, Washington, D.C., Georgetown University Press, pp. 43–57.

13  Strangelove, Michael, 2010, Watching YouTube, Toronto, University of Toronto Press.

14  Blumer, Herbert, 1954, “What is Wrong With Social Theory?”, in American Sociological Review, Vol. 18, pp. 3–10.

15  Birdwhistell, Ray, 1970, Kinesics and Context, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 251.

16  I am using here David Bollier’s book, La Renaissance des communs, Paris, Charles Leopold Meyer Editions, 2014, as prefaced by Hervé Le Crosnier.

17  Breton, Philippe, 1992, L’Utopie de la communication, Paris, La Découverte.

18  Philippe Breton, op.cit., p. 120.

ICT and political communication

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Social Media Impact on Election Campaign: A Study of the Indian General Elections 2014


Although various election studies have suggested that media do not change voter’s choice and merely reinforce the existing attitudes and believes, political parties leave no medium unturned to influence voters during election campaigns. Impression prevails that leaders rise to great heights through image created by media. The outcome of the Indian general elections 2014 has formed the impression that pro-active campaign strategy has overpowered core factors of voting behavior such as casteism, regionalism, religion, money, ideology, opinion leaders etc. in influencing voters. Election has virtually becoming a communication contest, political parties employ various communication tools to mobilize the voters.

With growing internet penetration in India social media has become an important tool in election campaign. The emergence of interactive Web 2.0 applications such as blogs, micro blogs, social networks, and photo and video sharing sites have resulted in a paradigm shift in political communication. The social media tools have opened up new avenues for self-expression and information sharing that can bring alternative voices into the public sphere.

The new tools enable anyone to research, create and disseminate content, extending news publishing to the street. By promoting online discussions, it has been strengthening a conversational democracy, where ‘‘citizens and political leaders interact in new and exciting ways’’. The rapid expansion of mobile networks in developing economies like India has taken the Internet to the palms of the people in the remotest of the countryside and made the impacts far more visible.

Despite political communication being influenced by the established socio-cultural values, ICTs are innovatively used to carry the political ← 39 | 40 → messages across to the people in one-to-many and many-to-many modes catching the imagination of the common man. ICT based political communication campaigns in India have altered the dominant political alignments giving way to new political identities and larger than life images of certain politicians. The Delhi Assembly elections 2013, and the national elections 2014 were testimony to the growing influence of ICTs in political communication in the country. The unparalleled rise of Narendra Modi, and AAP chief Aravind Kejriwal speak lot about the role of social media.

The attempts to organize crash courses on use of social media by major political parties, and the Election Commission of India’s guidelines on the use of social media during elections might be based on the perception that in the present age of online communication, election campaign cannot afford to ignore social media. The result is the politicians and parties are taking to Facebook and Twitter in a big way. In Delhi, an urban state with a literacy rate of over 86 per cent, and a per-capita income of three times that of the national average, social media is expected to have a bigger role. The situations in other metro cities were not much different. The rural areas with low literacy, connectivity and per-capita income are expected to have limited social media influence.

Against this backdrop, the present study seeks to explore the role of social media in the Delhi assembly elections 2013 and the Indian general elections 2014. The two consecutive elections have been included within the purview of the study because much of the campaigns started concurrently. The specific questions this study attempts to answer are:

How important was social media in the overall media plan of the mainstream political parties?

To what extent the parties made use of social media components?

How the mainstream parties integrated social media elements into their election campaigning strategies?

Have the social media tools influenced the impacts of political communication?

Have social media influenced voters and hence electoral outcomes? ← 40 | 41 →

Conceptual Framework of the study

The Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines social media “as the forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and micro blogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos)”1. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content. At the core of social media is the social interaction among people in which they create, share or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks. There is a wide variety of social media, ranging from social sharing sites such as YouTube and Flickr through social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Social media differ from traditional in many ways, including quality, reach, frequency, usability, immediacy, and permanence. For content contributors, the benefits of participating in social media have gone beyond simply social sharing to building reputation and bringing in career opportunities and monetary income (Tang, Gu, and Whinston, 2012).

Social media has some unique user-friendly features, which may be attributed to their spectacular popularity.

First, social media operate through an individual’s social network. Information flow through social media networks vis. friends and friends of friends.

Second, the social media networks function at very low cost to the user-cost of digital service and access to the network.

Third, social media networks have multiple channels of access- can be accessed on cell phone, computers, laptops, or any other digital device available in multitude of forms today.

Fourth, social media networks are easy to use- they require no specialised technical knowledge beyond basic computer literacy and feature platforms that can be mastered in minutes. ← 41 | 42 →

Advent of social media and its impact

As the information communication technology (ICT) advances presented new tools to enable anyone to research, create and disseminate content, the job of publishing extended from the newsroom to the street. Publishing became possible from anywhere beyond the confines of institutionalised media newsrooms. The growing smartness among the social media designers, made it more focused and personalised through tagging, lists, and other filters enabling meaningful communication and instant participation. It empowered the individual who had a story to tell with the tools to proclaim their news to the world.

The traditional media audience moved away and found a new home in their preferred social networking space, where they met like-minded individuals and formed communities (Friedrichsen, 2013)1. Based on the quality of the contents they produced, people began to gain followers through peer group recommendations. As these networks expanded, bloggers and social networks emerged.

These content producers are individuals who wrote and broadcast with authority, not because they were paid to do so, but because they had knowledge and passion that they wanted to share with the world. Gradually, networks began to be built; experts linking their skills and sharing information. For many, social media is a central part of the news gathering, news production and news distribution strategy. The content they produce contains audience inputs which the audience thrusts and, because it discusses issues that concern them, they comment, add value and share.

Impact on traditional media

Alert traditional media organisations formulated social media strategy taking note of changing audience behavior. As was evident from the Delhi gang rape case of Dec 2012, traditional media have been adapting to the social media. The social media flash of the news, forced the traditional media to further narrow down the event-telecast time, many of the norms that had guided old media were discarded. Unmediated broadcasting of ← 42 | 43 → viewpoints straight from the ground in real time got a boost (Philiphose, 2013:20).


ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2015 (June)
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 204 pp., 5 b/w ill., 1 coloured ill., 21 tables

Biographical notes

Sami Zlitni (Volume editor) Fabien Liénard (Volume editor)

Sami Zlitni has a PhD in Information and Communication Sciences and is associate professor in the same discipline at IUT of Le Havre. Fabien Liénard has a PhD in Language Sciences and is associate professor (HDR) in Information and Communication Sciences in the same establishment. They have long been working on electronic communication in the laboratory IDEES Le Havre, UMR CNRS 6266 and have published several books on the topic.


Title: Electronic Communication