Entre trivialité et culture : une histoire de l’Internet vernaculaire : Emergence et médiations d’un folklore de réseau

Abstract : From Cybercultural studies to new Web science, Media and Communication theory engage in analyzing scientific models of the Internet that are mostly homogeneous : models built on the faith in the universal language of networked information and tending to creating norms and/or rules for network communication. There are new cultural, economical and even political institutions appearing that rely on a vehicular model that is widely accepted, although criticized.In my thesis I come back to the sources of this criticism by opening a vernacular perspective, which is a concept borrowed from socio-linguistics and reinterpreted under the light of network culture. It allows to think about the relation between values (the vulgar, the popular, the trivial) and media practices of groups manifested as Internet folklore. From the point of view of a local theory (Jacques Perriault), the vernacular perspective opens a field of analysis understood as composite (Joëlle Le Marec), that is a complex of unstable relations between discourse and matter, technologies and their uses, practices, representations and norms. Folklore, by definition formalist and traditional, transforms itself within network culture to become a media process based on appropriation and commentary, two of the most crucial characteristics of the Internet thought of as meta-medium (Philip Agre). Folklore and vernacular provide important elements to sketch a cultural theory of information and communication in terms of « triviality »‘ (Yves Jeanneret) – a culture defined by is mediations and transformations. This thesis, by investigating archeologically the archives of Internet’s micro-history to dig out its folklore, analyzes dynamically contexts that have allowed the social information of contemporary network culture.Studying two periods of network history that are defined partly by the tools of access to the Internet (Usenet in the 80’s and early 90’s and the Web 1.0 in the 90’s and the 2000’s), my research takes a close look at how Internet folklore is invented, experiment, produced and reproduced interacting with content-management media (emailing and newsgroups, homepages, blogs). These apparatuses are seen as « architexts » (following French semiology in media interfaces), which content cannot be understood without an analysis of their system and forms (their « metaforms ») and the process of computer and cultural codes that defined their context of production.A first series of case studies dig out the roots of Internet folklore, its emergence within the first large-scale virtual community : Usenet – and in particular the alt. newsgroup hierarchy. From ASCII Art to Flame Wars and through the pantheon of Net.legends, I show how the leisure and experimental use of communication and information processing rules allow the users to confront the difficulties and dead-ends of collective regulation. The Usenet public, celebrating and participating in network folklore, is testing instruments that give power in writing and expressing opinions. These situations are named « metatexts » : they develop commentaries and folkloric theories on the complex problem of « metarules ». From an Internet micro-historical point of view, they are the basis of a sub-culture that reinvented public discourse within a network context : commenting, conversing, evaluating and filtering, all through the computer media.A second series of case studies approaches network folklore from another angle. Through and experience of participant-observation, I borrow the outlook of two generations of Internet artists on Web popular creativity. The first generation, net.art, considered as pioneer in art happening on the Web in the mid-90’s, starts a process of valuing and mediating amateur creativity in the homepages. The second generation, the surfclubs, recipient to the net.art heritage in the context of Web 2.0, give a new understanding and context to network cultural practices within collective blog networks inspired from image forums, the new territories of emergence for network folklore. The eye of Net art channels the observation of a specific evolution of network vernacular : conflicts about the value and the legitimation of this cultural « popular » matter seem to resolve in the new mainstream tendencies of the social Web. New leisure figures appear, between amateur and professional network practices, inspired by the aesthetic and the informational value of Internet folklore. This issue opens up new discussion on the socio-economics of network culture. The vernacular perspective updates the conflictual relations between, technology, society and culture that have built the Internet and marked its history. Its shows that they are dialogic articulations between users’ creativity and institutional norms that structure the network environment. It uncovers little known archives that reveal the voices of the actors of this cultural micro-history. it signals epistemological problems about material and methods for network culture analysis by suggesting that this should be handled from the bottom up, accompanying the emergence of media practice in the cultural economy of today’s Web.
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Camille Paloque-Bergès. Entre trivialité et culture : une histoire de l’Internet vernaculaire : Emergence et médiations d’un folklore de réseau. Sciences de l'information et de la communication. Université Paris VIII Vincennes-Saint Denis, 2011. Français. ⟨tel-01245491⟩



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