Overview Projects References
Domestication Approach
New Media and Society Methodologies

EMTEL work programme emerges from, and will contribute significantly to, an increasingly important body of social scientific work that has its starting point the need at address technological and media change as a social process. 

The society in which European now live is one impregnated by technologies, and especially those that we know as communication and information technologies.  These technologies and services are deeply embedded in the fabric of everyday life.  Digitalisation is having an increasingly significant impact on the conduct of everyday life, and our mediated and non-mediated relationships to each other are having, in their turn, significant consequences for the ways new information and communication technologies and services are being developed and used.

EMTEL research and training is grounded in this radical and interdisciplinary approach to innovation.  It recognises the significant shift in the centre of gravity in the process of innovation from production to consumption (Silverstone and Hirsch, 1994).  It also recognises that the inter-relationship between technological and social change requires new forms of analysis and theory, as well as more sensitive methodologies, if its full complexities are to be understood. 

Information and communication technologies have both material and symbolic significance.  They have functional and aesthetic characteristics.  They change the world in which they are introduced.  But they also changed by that world and by the ways in which users confront them.

We speak of domestication (Lie and Sorensen, 1996).  By that is meant the capacity of individuals, families, households and other institutions to bring new technologies and services into their own culture, to make them their own.  Domestication involves concerns with the learning of skills, practice, and the construction of meaning. It is a dialectical process, for these technologies and services change the way things are done in everyday life.

Evidence suggests that, rhetoric apart, the process of technological change runs neither in a smooth nor in a straight line.  Some products never reach market, or when they do, do not always succeed.  Users and consumers impose their own meanings and practices on those technologies and services that do reach market.  The home computer, the answerphone, e-mail, the mobile telephone have all had unpredictable careers as consumer goods.  The information and communication industry currently manifests many examples of the ways in which, as it converges both technologically and industrially, uncertainties prevail: the struggle over the portal and over integrated mobile communications are cases in point (Mansell and Silverstone, 1996).

The research on which this programme of work is based is interdisciplinary.  It recognises that the relationship between social and technological change in this area has political as well as economic implications, and cultural as well as social implications.  It draws on the appropriate and relevant social science disciplines.  It recognises that the particular character of European society requires a comparative approach, sensitive to differences across States but also rigorous enough to recognise similarities.  And it recognises the need to combine both qualitative and quantitative methodologies (Dutton, 1999).

Recent work from EMTEL researchers and others has involved the definition of a new field of research: new media and society.  This has been represented in the publication of new international journal with that title on whose editorial board a number of EMTEL members sit.  It addresses the implications of technological change, and especially the digitalisation of new media, from an interdisciplinary social scientific perspective.  Sociology, economics, political science and anthropology contribute to this research agenda whose aim it is to make sense, and to enable the guidance, of the innovation process.  This process involves convergence: of technologies, industries and patterns of use.  It also involves changing relationship between the global and the local as sites for social, economic and political activity, as well as the changing relationship between public and private spaces.  It involves, finally, changes not just in industrial structures but also in the structures that underpin everyday life: those of community and family, work and leisure.

The theory that drives this innovative work draws on, and extends, work undertaken in recent years in the social shaping of technology, in the anthropology of everyday life, in the study of the regulation of new media, and in the market analysis of new media industries and products.  The aim of the proposed EMTEL research is to build on this converging field of academic and policy oriented research.

This research is seen as urgent.  The rapid spread of access to the Internet within European households and institutions; the explosion in television, cable and satellite channel availability, the rapid advances in mobile telephony, are together changing the communicative infrastructure of Europe, with potentially profound but unknown consequences for everyday life.  The issues to be addressed, those of access to new media technologies and services, but also those of participation in economic and political life possibly transformed by those technologies and services, are of vital importance.  They have consequences for the European communication and information industry struggling to maintain or enhance its position in the global marketplace.  And they have consequences too for the governance of the Union.

The study of these issues requires a focus on the users of new media in a number of different contexts and from a number of different, but interrelated perspectives.  EMTEL research will therefore consider the user as an active participant in the innovation process.  It will consider the temporal and spatial co-ordinates of everyday life, and how those both constrain, and are affected by, the emergence of new media.  It will examine both inclusion in, and exclusion from, the Information Society and their cultural and social consequences.   It will examine the emergence of new forms of consumption and political action that are seen to be being facilitated by the new media.  It will investigate the relationship between supply and demand in the new world of e-commerce.  It will address how such technologically informed social changes affect the quality of life.

At this crucial point in the emergence of the Information Society it is essential that European social scientists achieve a firm grasp on the both the frame and the detail of the consequences of new media change for consumers and citizens in the Union (Ducatel, Webster and Hermann, 1999). It is EMTELís intention to provide an informed and critical analysis of these changes and to extend our understanding of the processes involved through new empirical research, developed theory and advanced methodologies.

Projects Top

The aim of the project is to provide policy makers and market managers, as well as the academic community, with empirically grounded evidence of the social dynamics of the emerging Information Society.

EMTEL will ask three crucial questions which technology driven programmes of research generally fail to address:

  • What does a user-friendly society mean?
  • What are the facilitators of, and the obstacles to, its realisation?
  • What are the consequences for markets and policy making? 
Through a series of carefully designed, interrelated and co-ordinated studies EMTEL  will investigate the individual and social dimensions of the emerging Information Society.  EMTEL will focus on the everyday life of the European citizen and consumer.  It will examine the realities of the new ways of living and working that are seen to be at the core of the Information Society.  It will explore the ways in which new technologies can be more effectively integrated into the social fabric of the Community, and the ways in which the citizens and consumers of the Community can be more effectively integrated into the Information Society.

7 research projects are organised into two substantive Thematic Projects.  Each Project is the responsibility of an individual team, as in the table below.  The overall project is the responsibility of the London team.  Each research project will result in a key report, relevant to its main research theme, produced in both on-line and off-line formats.  In addition, EMTEL II as whole will produce a series of horizontal, final reports which will provide synthetic overviews of the research as a whole.

Thematic Project 1: Living and Working in the Information Society
Youth and e-commerce: creating consumerism SMIT, Brussels
Ubiquitous computing IPTS, Seville
ICTs and the flexibility of everyday life NTNU, Trondheim
Bridging Project
The WWW and public communication COMTEC , Dublin
Thematic Project 2: Inclusion and Exclusion in the Information Society
ICTs and participation TNO/ASCOR Amsterdam
Minority Media Media@LSE , London
ICTs and the Less Abled in Everyday Life LENTIC, Liege

Such a project requires both an interdisciplinary and a multi-methodological approach.  The interrelationship of social and technological change, the need to understand the dynamics of those changes, and the need to address the social, cultural, economic and political implications of those changes, requires an integrated theoretical framework for the research and a flexible methodology which is sensitive both to the large scale and structural transformations as well as to the details of meaning and consequence in everyday life.

The methodologies adopted will therefore be informed by a theoretical approach defined principally by the idea of domestication.  Domestication involves:

  1. the argument that users are active in the innovation process and that such activity has material consequences for that process
  2. the argument that the acceptance of, as well as resistance to, new technologies and services is conditional on the contexts of use of old technologies and services as well as on the supply-side capacity for technological innovation and market creation
  3. the argument that social factors are pre-eminent in determining access and participation, and an understanding of the economic dimensions of socio-technological change in this field has to be supplemented and qualified by an understanding of cultural dimensions
  4. the argument that such an overall approach to innovation in this area requires the development of qualitative methodologies which can examine the details of meaning and value as well as the structural determinants of action, and that these methodologies need to be complemented and informed by quantitative assessments of trends and patterns of production and consumption.
Each partner is EMTEL has developed specific expertise based on academic, market related and policy research. These complementary skills will enable the network to address the complexity of issues that must be considered if progress is to be made in this field.

The methodology proposed will have the following five components:
  • qualitative studies of individual users and social uses, based on in depth interviewing with selected respondents
  • desk research monitoring and analysing socio-technological trends and market penetration
  • comparative research, focusing on differences and similarities in the take-up and use of new information and communication technologies and services across Europe
  • policy research at EU and national levels
  • iterative discussions with key players in relevant industries.
The research is interdisciplinary.  It is informed by theories and concepts that have their source in sociology, economics, political science, social psychology and anthropology.  It has close links to the emerging fields of media and cultural studies.  Indeed these latter fields provide an important intellectual context for the study of the social aspects of innovation in this area.

Such an approach presents a considerable challenge, since the field has so far failed to develop an integrated approach to these issues in a European context.  However it is a challenge which EMTEL is uniquely qualified to accept.  EMTEL researchers have worked with each other over a number of years, and have developed a strong sense of trust and mutual understanding, both of which are vital preconditions for effective partnership and demanding collaboration.  Too many European projects founder on their absence.

EMTEL intends to make a major and substantive contribution to the field through a final deliverable devoted to the methodological issues generated by the research.  This will report on the methodologies adopted in the research and the mechanisms of their integration.  It will reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches and advance recommendations on methodology appropriate to the development of research in this area.

References Top

Ducatel, K.J., Webster, J. and Herrmann, W. (eds.) (1999) The Information Society in Europe: Work and Life in an Age of Globalization, Rowman Littlefield, Boulder, CO.

Dutton, William H. (1999) Society on the Line: Information Politics in the Digital Age, Oxford, Oxford University Press

Mansell, R. and Silverstone R. (eds.) (1996) Communication by design: the politics of information and communication technologies, Oxford, Oxford University Press

Lie, Merete & Knut H. Sørensen, eds. (1996): Making technology our own? Domesticating technology in everyday life, Oslo: Scandinavian University Press

Silverstone, R. and Hirsch E. (eds.) (1992) Consuming Technologies: media and information in domestic spaces, London, Routledge