Contextualizing Internet Studies: Beyond the Online/Offline Divide

Author(s) Jon Nordenson
Contact Jon Nordenson, University of Oslo, Postboks 1010 Blindern, 0315 Oslo, Norway. E-mail:
Issue CyberOrient, Vol. 10, Iss. 1, 2016, pp. 115-131
Published May 10, 2016
Type Comment
Abstract This essay discusses the issue of contextualization in studies of online platform usage and online material. It argues that a separation between online and offline cannot be sustained, as social media users relate to many different online and offline contexts simultaneously. Why protagonists make use of online platforms, which platforms they use, how they make use of them, who they seek to reach, and so on, is all dependent on the various geographical and social contexts within which they work. At the same time, these users are also part of and are influenced by different online contexts that may be based on topic, identity, or geography, and which may be local, national, regional or international. When we study online material – be it activism, language use, discourse, or something else - we must do so with all these relevant settings in mind. Throughout the essay, I seek to illustrate these complex relationships between different online and offline contexts through concrete examples from Egypt and Kuwait. I argue that the material shows that we cannot generalize and simply assume similar patterns of usage of online platforms producing similar outcomes across different contexts. Still, research so far has provided insights that are important both in their own right and, not least, as methodological and theoretical considerations for future studies, and I conclude by suggesting three principles that should guide our investigations of online material.
Keywords social media, internet, Egypt, digital divide, Kuwait