Reading websites as places : two case studies of exploratory digital documents

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Reading websites as places : two case studies of exploratory digital documents


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Title: Reading websites as places : two case studies of exploratory digital documents
Author: Au, Judy Yu Ying
Date: 11-Feb-2009
Type: Doctoral thesis; Doktorgradsavhandling
Abstract: This thesis attempts to use the theoretical concept of “place” borrowed from the humanistic geographers to explore, firstly, the differences between traditional and digital place making and secondly, the nature of digital documents in connection to digital environments.

When employing “place” as a theoretical concept, I argue that place making in digital dimensions is comparable to that in traditional ones. As a kind of cultivated environment, digital environments also function as “places” for modern humans. This is crucial to our daily existence since modern humans apparently rely extensively on digital technology.

By seeing websites as “places”, the evolutionary nature of digital documents is reconfirmed. Instead of the paper-digital dichotomy, websites in this thesis are seen as an evolvement or a continuation of traditional documents. Also, digital environments open new possibilities for reading without replacing traditional modes of reading. The exploratory investigative mode of reading does not exclude preceding reading modes such as the isolated immersion mode. In addition, the two websites are examples of web documents and demonstrate the capability to connect with other documents via links and nodes. Navigational structures and also thematic and representational linkages make connections. By showing themselves as localities as well as part of interrelated networks, the two websites enable the flow between local and global. Last but not least, the relation between websites as “places” and the “imagined” communities is explored. I argue that the communities formed by these two non-interactive websites depend primarily on symbolic associations and the sharing of cultural meaning. This final observation brings us back to the findings on “place” and place making since the bonding between “place” and people is, as Yi-Fu Tuan has argued, fundamentally affective, associative and symbolic.

These two case studies have illustrated the possibility that websites may be read as “places” and reading them as such provides us with insights into place making in digital environments. Further investigation into other kinds of websites such as interactive websites will be necessary to establish the essential criteria for the distinction between websites as “places” and websites as “sites”. Reading websites as “places” will thereby enhance our comprehension of digital environments that is of growing significance for modern human existence.
Publisher: Universitetet i Tromsø; University of Tromsø

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