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This article uses two cyberspatial technologies, namely, the Internet (the global network of connected computers), and its close cousins, intranets (closed, private corporate telematic networks), to illustrate the ways in which geographers have engaged, and could engage, with studies of cyberspace. Virtual reality technologies are not discussed explicitly as, in the main, they are still at an exploratory and experimental stage. The article has three central aims: first, to introduce cyberspace and its implications to a wider geographical audience; secondly, to provide a critical review of current empirical and theoretical work relating to cyberspatial technologies by geographers; and, thirdly, to introduce geographers to the current debates and empirical research of scholars from other disciplines and suggest how geographers can build upon and advance these studies. An agenda for future research is outlined and an approach in which to ground future studies is forwarded. It is argued that spatiality is central to understanding cyberspace.
Towards geographies of cyberspace
Robert M. Kitchin
Department of Geography, National University of Ireland, Maynooth,
County Kildare, Ireland
Abstract: This article uses two cyberspatial technologies, namely, the Internet (the global network
of connected computers), and its close cousins, intranets (closed, private corporate telematic
networks), to illustrate the ways in which geographers have engaged, and could engage, with
studies of cyberspace. Virtual reality technologies are not discussed explicitly as, in the main, they
are still at an exploratory and experimental stage. The article has three central aims: first, to
introduce cyberspace and its implications to a wider geographical audience; secondly, to provide
a critical review of current empirical and theoretical work relating to cyberspatial technologies by
geographers; and, thirdly, to introduce geographers to the current debates and empirical research
of scholars from other disciplines and suggest how geographers can build upon and advance
these studies. An agenda for future research is outlined and an approach in which to ground
future studies is forwarded. It is argued that spatiality is central to understanding cyberspace.
Key words: space-time, urban-regional restructuring, culture, society, politics.
I Introduction
The term `cyberspace' is a recent creation and attributed to William Gibson, a science
fiction writer who first used the word in his 1984 novel Neuromancer.InNeuromancer
cyberspace is a `dataspace'; a vast `world in the wires' (Shields, 1996) known as `the
matrix' where transnational companies trade in information in a visual, Cartesian and
electronic space. Here, data reside in colourful architectural forms in a space the
imagination enters and interacts with. Cyberspace, as Gibson describes it, is a network
space connecting digital data stores which can be accessed and interacted with via a
computer connected to the network. Such spaces already exist. In this article, two of
these spaces (the Internet and intranets) are used to illustrate the ways in which
geographers have engaged, and could engage, with studies of cyberspace.
The Internet is a vast collection of computers linked to networks within larger
networks spanning the globe. All the computers and networks are linked through
common communication protocols (ways of exchanging information) creating `a new
network of virtual sites . . . superimposed on the world of places' (Shields, 1996: 1).
Anyone with a computer, a modem and a telephone can connect to a network and thus
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Progress in Human Geography 22,3 (1998) pp. 385±406
the whole Internet. At present, the Internet offers users a range of interactions, allowing
them to explore the world beyond their home. Users can browse information stored on
other computers, exchange electronic mail, participate in discussion groups on a variety
of topics, transfer files, search databases, take part in real-time conferences and games,
and run software on distant computers. It is estimated that over 35 million people
1
are
already connected to the Internet and, given that in advanced industrial societies nearly
every home has a telephone connection, and that personal computers are becoming ever
more ubiquitous, the growth in cyberspace users is likely to continue at a rapid pace
(some analysts estimate a growth of 20% per month (Stix, 1993; Batty and Barr, 1994) and
that 50% of all homes in the USA will have a modem by the year 2000 (Alter, 1995)).
Intranets are private, corporate networks that link the office, production and distribu-
tion sites of a company around the world. These are closed networks, using specific
communication links leased from telecommunication providers, with no, or very limited,
public access (Langdale, 1989). For example, most banks and financial institutions have
(inter)national, closed intranets which connect all their branches, offices and ATMs
(automatic teller machines) to central databased facilities which monitor financial trans-
actions. Other systems might monitor orders and bookings, allow email to be sent
between different sites and facilitate teleconferencing.
II Why geography matters
Analysts have developed three main theses to explain why cyberspatial developments
are significant, transformative technologies. First, cyberspatial communication is seen to
be challenging both our traditional ideas concerning mass communication and forms of
communication (combining words, images and sound into a metamedia). Secondly,
some analysts suggest cyberspatial interaction blurs modernistic dualisms, such as
virtuality with reality and technology with nature, thus illustrating the dawning of the
new postmodern era. Thirdly, and for geographers most importantly, it is argued that
cyberspace is transforming space-time relations and creating new social spaces that lack
the formal qualities of geographic spaces.
While cyberspace undoubtedly has geographical implications the nature and extent of
these are contested. Two main positions are forwarded. In the first position, it is argued
that spatial relations are being radically transformed ± geography is being reconfigured
and its importance lessened. For example, Harvey (1989) argues that there have been a
collapse of spatial and temporal boundaries leading to radical space-time compression.
He suggests that whereas innovations such as the railway reduced communication times
substantially, telecommunications makes them near instantaneous. Not only have the
effects of spatial separation been negated but also expenditure on delivery substantially
reduced in real terms. The increasing efficiency of communication is translating into
greater and more efficient productivity. The `wiring of the world' is leading to a
corporate decentralization and globalization. In addition, cyberspace is also seen to be
providing a new social space (Morley and Robins, 1995); a place where people can meet
and interact; a place with a new unchartered virtual geography which bears little
resemblance to geography outside the wires (Batty, 1996). For example, MUDs (online
adventure games), discussion lists and IRC (Internet relay chat) are online social spaces.
However, their rules of engagement differ from real-world spaces. Cyberspace provides
social spaces that are purportedly free of the constraints of the body; you are accepted on
386 Towards geographies of cyberspace
the basis of your written words, not what you look or sound like, or where you live ±
cyberspaces are `social spaces in which people still meet face-to-face, but under new
definitions of both ``meet'' and ``face'' ' (Stone, 1991). The collapse of space-time relations
and the development of new `spaceless, placeless' social spaces have led some com-
mentators, such as Benedikt (1991: 10), to question the `significance of geographical
location at all scales'. For Benedikt (1991: 10), `we are turned into nomads . . . who are
always in touch' with the `spatial dynamics of the whole world collaps[ing] to those of a
pinhead' (Robins and Hepworth, 1988) ± `geography and time are no longer boundaries'
(Hauben, 1995). As Mitchell (1995: 8±9, emphasis in original) states:
Cyberspace is profoundly antispatial . . . You cannot say where it is or describe its memorable shape and
proportions or tell a stranger how to get there. But you can find things in it without knowing where they are. The
Net is ambient ± nowhere in particular but everywhere at once. You do not go to it; you log in from wherever you
physically happen to be . . . the Net's despatialization of interaction destroys the geocode's key.
In contrast to this radical position, where the Internet and intranets are seen as space-
time destroyers, shrinking distance and time to zero, others suggest that while cyber-
space does have a significant influence concerning space-time relations, geography and
time continue to matter.
Space and time remain significant for three main reasons. First, cyberspatial connec-
tions and bandwidth (how fast a communication connection is) are unequally distributed
both within and between western countries, and in comparison to developing countries.
Globalization is not an egalitarian process aimed at creating an equitable distribution, it
is designed to reproduce capital most effectively. Secondly, whilst information on-line
might seem geographically dislocated, information is only as useful at the locale within
which the body resides. For example, a gay person who lives physically in an area of
homophobia or where homosexual practice is illegal will still be unable to act openly on
his or her desires, regardless of the information gathered on the Internet (Critical Art
Ensemble, 1995). Thirdly, cyberspace depends on real-world spatial fixity ± the points of
access, the physicality and materiality of wires. There is a world outside the wires in the
form of other infrastructures, and local and global markets. Location does not become
irrelevant because cyberspace does not annihilate all the other determinates of
commercial location, such as face-to-face social networks, a skilled workforce and
access to materials and markets. Paradoxically, globalization is thus exerting the simul-
taneous pressures of unity and fragmentation (Griswold, 1994). Far from eliminating
variances between places, cyberspatial technologies actually permit the exploitation of
differences between places by capitalizing on cheap wages, reduced standards of work
conditions, cheap sites, etc.
Castells (1996), for example, while acknowledging some of the decentralizing tend-
encies of informational technologies, argues that geography currently remains para-
mount. In many cases, information technologies reinforce centralizing tendencies as they
are tied to the telecommunication infrastructure and social milieu of large metropolitan
areas. Similarly, those services that can be decentralized have to locate in areas of suitable
skilled labour and conventional transport links. As such, the local is not insignificant.
Castells (1996) suggests that we are witnessing a division of spatial logic into two distinct
forms. A new `space of flows' is emerging to dominate the old `space of places'. The
`space of flows' is the fluid, rapid communicative space of managerial e
Â
lites and the
dominant interests in society. This `space of flows' overlies the `space of places'. As such,
real space is merely being overlain by a virtual space in a symbiotic fashion (Tomas,
1991), allowing organizations to be more flexible in relation to real-space geographies.
Robert M. Kitchin 387
The relationship between cyberspace and space is important and there is a real need to
understand, map
2
and deconstruct the complex spatiality of cyberspace. This article
discusses current, potential and possible geographies of cyberspace. The discussion is
divided into four sections. In the first and second sections, economic geographies and
social/cultural/political geographies are discussed respectively. In the third section, an
agenda for future research is outlined. Finally, an approach in which to ground future
studies of cyberspace is outlined.
III Economic geographies of cyberspace
In the main, geographic contributions to cyberspatial studies have concentrated upon the
emerging information economy and its effect upon employment patterns, economic
performance and urban-regional development. In particular, attention has focused upon
the intranet connections and telematic networks (computer-mediated telecommunica-
tions) of transnational companies that are significantly reshaping the economic and social
landscape, accelerating recent trends such as globalization, office automation, regional
and suburban back-offices and the slow rise in telework. It has been argued that these
trends have led to significant organizational and employment restructuring and urban-
regional reconfiguration as companies, cities and regions seek to gain competitive
advantage.
Support for the thesis of an emerging information economy, including endorsement
from geographic analysts (e.g. Langdale, 1989; Warf, 1995; Castells, 1988; 1996), has been
growing in strength. To some, knowledge and information are in the process of replacing
labour and capital as the central variables of the western economy: the processes of
production, consumption and management are becoming increasingly reliant on
knowledge generation, information exchanges and information handling. Cyberspatial
technologies are seen as fundamental `agents of change' in the restructuring of the
economic landscape with some commentators suggesting that the telematic infrastruc-
ture currently being created will be as important for today's economy as the railways
were for the age of industrialization, and automobiles in the postwar boom (Goddard
et al., 1985). The central, underlying bases for this changing economy are the spatial and
temporal fluidity afforded to sites of production and consumption, through the spatial
transformation of social relations gained through instantaneous communication networks
(Kitchin, 1997). It is argued that this fluidity is evident in a number of recent trends.
1 Globalization of trade
For many, since the 1970s the world has been involved in a vast restructuring process
of the capitalist base that underlies and constitutes much of the world's social system.
The emergence of new informational technologies is seen to be at the heart of this
restructuring, leading to a new mode of sociotechnical organization (Castells, 1988).
Accompanied by deregulatory changes, which introduced new competition, investment
and a desire to expand to capture a larger market share, cyberspatial technologies are
seen to be facilitating the internationalization of production (Langdale, 1989),
international networking, crosscultural contacts, the internationalization of financial
markets, and increased international co-operation, joint ventures, strategic alliances and
mergers (Robinson, 1991). Here, informational technologies are being used to increase
388 Towards geographies of cyberspace
the scale of production, as driven by the logic of accumulation, and to increase the scale
of consumption, as driven by the logic of commodification (Waters, 1995). Transnational
companies thus take on a new, greater power through the effective management of their
structure, using information transfer to gain competitive advantage over smaller
operations. Rather than a company having a series of largely autonomous sites/plants
serving a specific region, these operations can be effectively linked to form one giant
system incorporating R&D, marketing, finance, production and the co-ordination of
distribution. For example, IBM products are designed, marketed and sold on a world-
wide basis, relying on a comprehensive, integrated intranet system to integrate
information from several global sites (Langdale, 1989).
2 Oce automation and back-oces
Explicitly tied into this process of globalization is the trend towards office automation
and the shift to distributed back-office operations. Increasingly, manual office work is
being replaced by automated computer-processing operations. Such a process of auto-
mation, accompanied by the ability to transmit and receive digital information, has led to
the growth in back-office operations as companies use the Internet, and in particular
Intranets, to increase their global productivity. Here, documents and files are shipped
around the world to take advantage of a global 24-hour workforce. Teledefined
businesses such as consumer service centres, telephone operators, telemarketing and
market research, and teletransacted businesses, such as airline reservations, banking,
insurance and administration, have all been quick to explore the possibilities of
decentralization to back-offices (Graham and Marvin, 1996). For example, Ireland offers
highly skilled, English language data-processing for American and European firms who
send the files at the end of the day and then receive back the updated files when they
relog on the next morning. Lower-skilled clerical and data-entry work, involving the
processing and digitizing of vast amounts of documentation, is being farmed out to
offshore back-offices in places such as southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent and the
Caribbean. For example, British Airways bookings are processed in India, and American
Airlines in Barbados. The benefits to transnational companies can be significant. For
example, Graham and Marvin (1996) report that wages are typically 20% of those in the
west, staff turnover levels are extremely low at 1±2% per annum (turnover 35% in North
America), reducing training costs, and military-type discipline ensures high levels of
accuracy. Moreover, the world financial corporations are now using offshore banking
operations to maximize profits by exploiting the favourable tax laws in certain areas of
the world.
3 Teleworking, telecottages and teleports
In addition to back-offices, the potential decentralization associated with telecommuni-
cation and cyberspatial technologies has led many to explore the possibilities of wide-
spread teleworking. Teleworking refers to the home use of telecommunication services,
allowing employees the ability to conduct their everyday working practices from their
home, rather than having to commute to a place of work. Although figures are difficult
to predict accurately, estimates put the current number of teleworkers in the EU at
between 1.25 and 4.6 million (0.8±2.8% of the labour force) (Handy and Mokhtarian,
1996). In the main, telework has been forwarded as a positive outcome of the new
Robert M. Kitchin 389
`information society', allowing great flexibility to both the worker and company. How-
ever, several commentators have suggested that any positive effects are counterbalanced
by the negative effects of isolation, insecurity, the blurring of the site of leisure with site
of work, the break down of worker cohesion and the threat to trade unions. The positive
and negative effects associated with telework largely mirror the social divisions between
telework employees. Teleworkers can be divided into two groups. First, there are the well
educated professionals with satisfying and demanding jobs that frequently require
entrepreneurial and specialized skills. Secondly, there are less well educated workers
generally performing less rewarding roles in the form of low-level, menial tasks like
typing or data entry (Weijers et al., 1992).
A related idea to telework is the telecottage. These have been promoted as community
ventures to link (often isolated) communities to the `information superhighway', to
provide a training base for IT skills and a place from which to telework. In these ventures,
the cost of equipment can be shared along with expertise and advice. Telecottage projects
are growing in popularity, especially in rural unemployment blackspots where they are
seen as a potential way to boost the local economy. For example, in the UK telecottage
numbers have risen from 5 in 1989 to 140 in 1995, with nearly all these situated in rural
areas (Selby, 1995). A related concept, the electronic village hall (EVH), providing
community-based information and communication technologies to remote rural locations
and inner-city community groups, has also been developed (Ducatel and Halfpenny,
1993). EVHs were originally developed in Scandinavia and were seen as a potential way
to overcome problems of rural isolation. In inner-city areas, such as the scheme in
Manchester, UK, EVHs are seen as a way to develop and strengthen community ties. In
both cases, EVHs were seen as a way to promote cyberdemocracy at the same time as
trying to help modernize the local economy by providing a low-cost and low-risk means
of learning about and applying telematic technologies.
A more sophisticated urban equivalent to the telecottage, and one aimed more
towards small to medium-sized companies, is the teleport. The teleport is essentially a
high-tech office park offering advanced telecommunications links via satellite and fibre-
optic connections (Warf, 1995). By centralizing the facilities, teleports provide significant
scales of economy to small users who cannot afford private intranet connections.
Teleports are seen as the new `harbour depots' of the information age performing the
same role as harbours in the age of shipping. As such, they provide their users and the
host area with a competitive, economic advantage over other places. Teleport projects are
currently appearing in many countries, including some developing nations (e.g., Jamaica
and Nigeria) (Warf, 1995).
4 Organizational and employment restructuring
The combined trends of globalization, back-offices and telework have led to significant
effects upon organizational and employment structures. Clearly, the role of information
handling and exchange has grown significantly. For example, Johnston (1993) estimates
that 50% of all jobs in Europe are in information-based services and 80% of all new jobs
are in this sector. However, many analysts have noted that the relationship between
information/communication technologies and employment is complex, with arguments
concerning the quantity (automation reducing jobs) and the quality (automation leading
to the deskilling of workers/automation providing greater autonomy in decision-making
and the gaining of more generic skills) of jobs. It is clear that information technologies are
390 Towards geographies of cyberspace
feeding into the processes of corporate streamlining and large-scale redundancies.
However, whereas automation in the factories displaced the shopfloor workers, informa-
tion technology is aiding the wide-scale displacement of skilled clerical workers and
middle-level managers. Between 1980 and 1993, the 500 largest transnational corpora-
tions in the USA shed some 4.4 million jobs, many of which were professional and
technical posts (Davis, 1993). In only a few cases has labour restructuring within these
companies been offset by job creation caused by a higher demand for an improved,
cheaper service/product. Contrary to many people's fears, however, communication and
information technologies are having a negligible effect on aggregate levels of unemploy-
ment (Castells, 1988). Rather they are fostering productivity, economic growth and
expanding employment outside the high-tech information industries. As a result,
although there is some growth in high-skill professional, engineer and technician
employment, the overwhelming growth is in low-skill, low-paid, part-time casual and
menial employment. For example, Kumar (1995) reports that 13 million jobs were created
in the USA between 1973 and 1980, 70% of which were low-level posts in the service and
retail sector, predominantly part time or temporary and occupied by women. Conse-
quently, these technologies are helping to foster an increasingly skewed and polarized
occupational structure that is becoming common across western nations.
Within the remaining transnational workforce it is predicted that this wholesale
removal of one level of the corporate structure will be accompanied by one of two
scenarios. In the first instance, Robins and Webster (1989) foresee a Taylorist process of
automation, leading to white-collar deskilling. Here, professional and highly skilled
technicians, such as architects, bank managers and print typesetters, are having their
work `simplified' and made `easier' as computer programs undertake all the mental
calculations and even decide and implement the best course of action. This in turn will
lead to a company with a skewed, hour-glass-shaped workforce, with a few executives at
the top, no middle management and a wide base of clerks and operatives at the bottom
(Kumar, 1995).
In contrast to this position, some suggest that, with the growing amount of internal
and external information to be processed, traditional hierarchical structures will not be
able to cope. As a result, it is increasingly expected that staff across a company will
become more skilled, with powers to synthesize, to act upon new information and to
make low-level decisions rather than all decisions being channelled up the management-
hierarchical structure (Cronin, 1994). This, it is argued, will lead to power being more
evenly distributed across the workforce, as employees become more mobile and
companies take on adhocracy rather than hierarchical structures in an effort to speed up
`information metabolism' (Malone and Rockhart, 1991). However, such a situation is also
likely to lead to a polarization of office work, with relatively unskilled, low-educated
data-entry clerks at one end (being replaced by automation), and the remaining
workforce diversifying in skills and responsibilities (i.e., a football-shaped workforce).
For example, bank clerks are largely being replaced by ATMs and telebanking and those
remaining are being retrained to sell services, thus upgrading the skills of a smaller
number of employees (Castells, 1988). This employment restructuring has also led to
massive infrastructure changes. In particular, with the shift to automation and
telebanking, financial institutions have drastically reduced the number of high-street
banks, which has led to massive job losses. For example, First Direct (the telebanking
subsidiary of the UK's Midlands Bank) has directly led to 750 high-street bank closures
and job losses totalling 15 000 (Graham and Marvin, 1996).
Robert M. Kitchin 391
5 Urban-regional restructuring
There is little doubt among analysts that processes of globalization, and employment and
organizational restructuring, in part caused by information and communication tech-
nologies, are instrumental in the current restructuring of urban-regional fabric. Cities
were designed as places to overcome time with space, making communications easier.
However, the growth of telecommunications to certain extent nullifies this function by
making communications easier through the overcoming of space with time (Graham and
Marvin, 1996). As such, there is a juxtaposition between urban places and their electronic
counterparts which has led several commentators to speculate that these new electronic
spaces and flows will displace or substitute physical travel and physical urban functions,
and lead to the dematerialization of the city.
The lure of the benefits from dematerialization is strong with commentators suggest-
ing that the shift to an information economy could lead to immense savings in terms of
time, infrastructure costs and energy consumption and ultimately to the dissolution of
the city. For example, a recent report found that if 10±20% of transportation in the USA
could be transferred to telecommuting, teleworking, teleshopping, teleconferencing and
electronic document exchange, the daily drive for 6 million commuters, 3 billion
shopping trips, 13 million business trips and 600 million truck and airline delivery miles
per year could be eliminated (Boghani et al., 1991). The devastating effects this will have
upon local retail trade, transport industries and the people who rely on and work for
them is little considered.
At present, however, there is little evidence of a process of dematerialization and
dissolution of city life. To the contrary, information and communication technologies are
actually reinforcing city life and urban hierarchies through processes of restructuring. As
such, it is increasingly apparent that rather than the processes which underlie city
development being destroyed, electronic spaces are just altering patterns of urban
development, and changing a city's relationship with its surrounding region and other
cities (Graham and Marvin, 1996). This restructuring is taking place at different levels as
we witness the trade-offs between urban fixity and electronic mobility. At one level, far
from the Utopian visions of completely footloose industries, electronic cottages and the
death of the city, communication technologies are actually reinforcing, and in some cases
increasing, the role of major business centres (Castells, 1988). In fact, the world is only a
`smaller' place for those places that have attracted a disproportionate share of informa-
tion and communication services (Daniels, 1995). For example, Alles et al. (1994) report
that urban systems are increasingly being dominated by cities that have greater tele-
communication infrastructure. Rather than there being a lessening of the pronounced
differences between higher-order and lower-order cities, with a filtering down of
economic and social benefits, the differences between `core' and `peripheral' cities are
becoming more pronounced (Daniels, 1995). This centralization occurs because, if
corporations are to take advantage of the global reach of communication technologies,
they must locate their command and control centres in areas with a suitable infra-
structure, at affordable costs. As such, a recursive relationship has developed between
the communications industry and the information industries: the communications
industry is attracted to the information industries as a source of business, leading to
greater density and range of services; as a result, the information industries are, in turn,
attracted by the availability of cheap, efficient communication technologies. Moreover,
centralization is reinforced because many companies are reluctant to give up the close
392 Towards geographies of cyberspace
proximity that fosters social and business connections, supplying tacit information
considered vital in some industries, notably the finance sector.
Many cities have now taken a proactive role to `wire' themselves to try to gain a
competitive advantage in the global marketplace. This is leading to the formation of
`information' or `soft' cities based around a high-tech infrastructure of computer-based
networks (Hepworth, 1990). For example, Tokyo has become a telecommunications
nodal centre for the Pacific rim, with government initiatives deliberately encouraging the
development and integration of information technologies and telecommunications into
the urban fabric to gain telematic supremacy (Alles et al., 1994). In the USA, New York,
Boston, Atlanta and Los Angeles have taken the lead. In Europe, the UK with its early
deregulation of the marketplace has led the way. London quickly became the European
capital for financial, broadcasting, publishing, advertising and other information-rich
service industries. As a result, London has developed into a major telematic centre,
representing some 80% of the UK data communications market (Graham, 1993). To try to
keep its dominant edge, the redevelopment of the London Docklands saw the formation
of a teleport linking a range of telecommunication technologies. Similar telematic
developments are occurring in Manchester, Hamburg, Cologne, Barcelona, Amsterdam
and Rotterdam. Elsewhere, Singapore in particular has taken a proactive approach, led
by the government's National Computer Board and Telecommunications Authority, in
an effort to create an `intelligent island'. As a result, Singapore has an incredibly
sophisticated and dense telecommunication infrastructure incorporating leased circuits,
fibre-optic networks, household teleboxes and ubiquitous remote computer access, as it
tries to move from unskilled, low-wage manufacturing to value-added business services
and financial markets (Warf, 1995).
In contrast to this process of centralization, many office activities, business services
and production centres are decentralizing. This is because locating in the centre of a
major city carries considerable penalties in terms of high rent costs, high labour costs,
recruitment problems, congestion, poor environmental quality and overcrowding
(Daniels, 1995). Decentralization takes one of two forms. First, many companies are
decentralizing within and across regions to smaller cities and nonmetropolitan areas to
capitalize on lower workforce and operating costs. Secondly, decentralization is occur-
ring across the city to the suburbs to take advantage of lower worker turnover, worker
accessibility and a skilled, cheaper, suburban labour pool, without overly compromising
customer accessibility (Castells, 1988). Ironically, the decentralization of some corporate
sectors is actually reinforcing the need for the centralization of control and co-ordination
in the form of global command centres (Moss, 1987). That is, the greater the decentral-
ization of some sectors, the greater the centralization of others.
IV Social, cultural and political geographies of cyberspace
Geographers, while clearly contributing to the study of the economic and urban
implications of cyberspatial technologies, are only just turning their attention to the
social, cultural and political implications of cyberspace. The work of sociologists, cultural
theorists, anthropologists and political scientists has highlighted that cyberspace holds
many geographical questions relating to identity, community, democracy, ownership,
privacy and confidentiality, and access and exclusion. To these scholars, cyberspatial
Robert M. Kitchin 393
technologies represent a catalyst for a broad and extensive change in culture (Squire,
1996). As discussed, one of the main reasons that cyberspace is capturing the attention of
these researchers is because it provides a new social space of interaction, but a space that
is different in nature from conventional, Cartesian notions of space (Kitchin, 1997). Space
in cyberspace is wholly socially produced with no physical, objective counterpart.
1 Identity
There are two emerging theories concerning the relationship between cyberspace and
identity. Both theories centre around changing conceptualizations of the body. In the
first, cyberspace is seen as a disembodying experience with transcendental and liberating
effects. The second position conceptualizes interactions with cyberspace as aiding the
merging of nature with technology, as humans and computers coalesce through a
process of cyborging. Both theories draw on notions of Foucault's theory of `technologies
of the self' (see Martin et al., 1988). Within this theory, Foucault suggests that certain
technological devices change the social construction of personal identity. Poster (1995)
argues that cyberspace is such a technology. It promotes the individual as an unstable
identity, an individual bound within a continuous process of multiple identity formation.
Theories of disembodiment are of particular interest to geographers as identity moves
from the spatial to the spaceless.
Many of the contentions concerning disembodiment are extremely Utopian, centring on
post-human life and the migration into the machine. In this scenario, embodiment is often
represented as an unfortunate barrier to interactions; for serious cyberspace enthusiasts
`an organic body just gets in the way' (Morse, 1994: 157). Here, the body is often referred to
as `meat' (Lupton, 1995) or `data trash' (Kroker and Weinstein, 1994) and the `dream . . . is
to leave the ``meat'' behind and to become distilled in a clean, pure, uncontaminated
relationship with computer technology' (Lupton, 1995: 100). At a less Utopian level,
although still centring on the ideas of disembodiment, cyberspaces are seen to form
protective spaces free of the constraints of the body. Unlike real-world meetings,
individual representation in cyberspace is not based upon biology, birth, social circum-
stance or geography, but is a `highly manipulable, completely disembodied intellectual
fabrication' (Mitchell, 1995: 12). Cyberspatial interaction, it seems, provides an unrest-
ricted freedom of expression that is far less hierarchical and formal than real-world
interaction. In cyberspace, personality becomes fluid, ephemeral and empowering because
people can choose how they are represented, with anonymity creating opportunities to
invent alternative identities and to engage with untried forms of interaction (Baym, 1995).
Users literally become the authors of their lives. Further, identity becomes multiple and
decentred as different aspects of life on-line are disengaged and happen in different
worlds, sometimes at the same time. Further, cyberspace gives the user more time to
construct carefully his or her persona, delicately crafting emotions and appearances and
giving a control not experienced in face-to-face conversations (Correll, 1995). Here, rather
than the self being some permanent structure of the mind or fixed within some genetic
code, self is thought of as a discourse where identity is constructed through multiple
experiences. With the growth in information industries, and the opportunity to interact in
a number of different environments (including cyberspatial ones), commentators now
suggest that we cycle rapidly through different identities so that this process of
fragmenting and multiplicity multiplies. The self thus becomes a series of roles that can
be mixed and matched.
394 Towards geographies of cyberspace
As Pile and Thrift (1995) note in relation to `real' space, mapping identity, given its
fluid, multiple and fragmented nature, is fraught with difficulties. This is multiplied
when time-space itself becomes fluid as traditional relationships between power,
knowledge and people become unstable and reconfigured and the body in which
identity is grounded takes on less (no) importance. As such, untangling cyberspatial
identity is complex. Recent studies have highlighted the ways in which people are
constructing their cyberspatial identities. For example, there are a number of well
documented cases of people constructing multiple, fluid online lives based around
experiments with gender. In one example, a middle-aged male psychiatrist pretended to
be a compassionate, disabled older woman who tapped out her messages using a
headstick (Stone, 1991). Using this persona, the psychiatrist developed several deeply
personal relationships, mainly with women. Some of these women shared their deepest
troubles and he (Julia) gave advice.
Not all commentators are enamoured with an idea of life in a virtual world and
question some of the claims made regarding identity. For example, Robins (1995: 139)
argues while we might experiment with `new identities, mobile identities, exploratory
identities', they are invariably banal identities, and identities removed from the realities
of everyday life. For Robins, cyberspace is a space where the imagination is dead, where
old dreams are foisted upon new technology. In this context, cyberspace provides
nothing beyond a new space, a new medium. There is no denying that cyberspace makes
an interesting arena to study identity, but the medium does not fundamentally challenge
how self-identity is constructed ± we still use the same rules of engagement, the same
consensual protocols we use in everyday life. While identities are fluid, contested and
multiple, online identities are shallow and distract from life in the real world. Admittedly
given the nature of cyberspace it is easier to go through a journey of self-discovery, but it
is a journey removed or distant from where the self predominantly presides. Cyberspace
does provide a more protective space to `play' with our fantasies, our othernesses (e.g.,
gender), but it is only a protective space; we can `play' these fantasies by crossdressing,
by inhabiting the different social spaces that make up the social fabric of communities we
have to live in.
Further, while it is clear that we do construct online social spaces whose rules are built
not received it is also evident that the vast majority of social spaces on the Internet bear a
remarkable resemblance to real-world locales. As such, many online interactions are in
fact situated in real-world protocols undermining the potential liberating effects of being
on-line. In other words, online spaces are situated ± not only are they like real-world
spaces but they are also often in the image of real-world spaces. Foucault (1978; 1979)
constantly reminds us that it is practice and not belief which shapes our lives. The real
question therefore does not relate to disembodiment but rather to `what extent the
embodied spaces in real life become replicated on-line?' ± to what extent do the practices
and structures (organization and regulation of space, time, movement) which shape our
lives off-line, shape our lives on-line? Women, for example, are not finding cyberspace to
be free of sexual harassment, unwanted approaches and blatant sexism, and their lives
on-line are being shaped through the same practices that regulate their lives in real space.
In Foucaultian terms, online women (in general) still remain `docile bodies' ± bodies
which are regulated by, and subjected to, men. Clearly, the role of the body in interaction
on-line and off is different, but to what extent are our real bodies being metaphorically
re-created as virtual bodies in cyberspace? While Haraway (1991) has argued that `bodies
are maps of meaning and power' in real space, does the text simulate bodies in
Robert M. Kitchin 395
cyberspace so that the spaces become embodied? Is it a fallacy to suggest that we can
become disembodied when on-line? Evidence for the embodied nature of cyberspace
comes from studies which show that many people do not take the opportunity to play
with their identity on-line. The number of MUD users remains small and the majority of
news-list members remain `lurkers' (readers but not posters).
2 Community
For Utopianists, such as Rheingold (1994), computer-mediated communication repre-
sents the opportunity to recover the meanings and experiences of community that are
rapidly dissolving from our everyday lives. Rheingold argues that much of our public
space, and hence social fabric, is disappearing. The places we used to meet, talk and
swap information are being reclaimed for other purposes; the cafe
Â
is replaced by the
impersonal mall. Through the Internet, we will be able to form new forms of com-
munities based upon our interests and affinity, rather than coincidence of location
(Robins, 1995). Here, individuals will be able to shape their own community through real
choices in whom they interact with; `we will be able to forge our own places from among
the many that exist, not by creating new places but by simply choosing from the menu of
those available' (Jones, 1995: 11). Turkle (1995) suggests that online communities form an
attempt to retribalize in a new space. In this context, community is seen as a network of
social relations and not necessarily as a concept that is tied to place. In traditional
conceptions of community, place is considered of importance along with common ties
and social interaction (Correll, 1995). The community, however, is characterized by factors
such as personal intimacy, moral commitment and social cohesion. For commentators
such as Rheingold, cyberspace does allow the development of the community without the
locale; people can form into strong, cohesive and supportive groupings. Indeed, Rhein-
gold's grand vision is a `global civil society' with a shared consciousness: community
will no longer be local but global.
Rheingold's arguments seem in line with theorists such as Sennett (1978) and
Habermas (1989), who suggest that the notion of community is in transition as the public
arena merges with the private and personality over-rides opinion. Sennett, for example,
suggests that our notion of community has evolved from Gemeinschaft, where community
relationships are tied to social status, public arenas and bounded, local territory, towards
Gesellschaft where community relationships are individualistic, impersonal, private and
based on `like-minded' individuals (Fernback and Thompson, 1995). Rheingold, how-
ever, suggests that Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft aspects of community can be brought
together so that we have individualistic, like-minded people forming public-based
communities. Whereas Sennett feels that the material (the locale) and symbolical dimen-
sions of community are increasingly being conflated in geographic space, Rheingold feels
that can be rejoined in cyberspace. If this is the case, then Rheingold little speculates
upon whether cyberspace will rapidly progress the degeneration of communities in
geographic space as people search out public online forums based upon individual
personalities.
There is a growing body of empirical work that has started to examine ideas pertaining
to online community formation and regulation. For McLaughlin et al. (1995) the fact that
there are commonly agreed protocols and the advent of distinctive referent language
(abbreviations, jargon, symbols) and the formation of strong social networks, suggest
that online communities, in one form or another, do exist. Rafaeli and Sudweeks (1996)
396 Towards geographies of cyberspace
suggest that people would not invest so much time and effort into computer-mediated
communication without gaining some sense of social cohesion or sense of community
from their virtual actions. They suggest that the form and depth of interaction mean that
these communities are neither pseudo nor imagined.
In contrast, Fernback and Thompson (1995) pose the question as to whether online
communities are little more than a postmodern simulacrum. While it is clear that many
commentators suggest that interactions via computer-mediated communication do form
online communities, others are beginning to question the nature of this community and if
it can be called a community at all. For example, Robins (1995) suggests the use of the
Internet does not mean we will be able to recover the meaning and the experience of
community which Rheingold feels are dissolving in real space. It is a misnomer to equate
communication directly into communion and community (Robins, 1995). For example,
while some people would claim to be part of a virtual community the vast majority of
cyberspace users are transient, moving between different spaces. While some virtual
communities seem to have rules and protocols very similar to real communities, they do
not possess the same kinds of responsibility. How deep and bonding are virtual relation-
ships in comparison to real-world relationships? What is the nature of the commitment
and how strong is the sense of responsibility (Jones, 1995)? Rheingold (1994: 61) himself
questions whether `relationships and commitments as we know them [are] even possible
in a place where identities are fluid?' In communities in `real space', community
members must and do live together. It is not simply a case of logging on and, when we
feel like it, logging off. The Internet, however, allows interaction where we can disengage
with little or no consequence ± if you do not like what the neighbours have got to say
you can just turn the machine off, or uproot and connect to somewhere else, or enter a
flaming match where the fear of physical reprisal is minimal. Whereas personal conflict is
often dealt with by diplomacy in real places, flame wars are not uncommon in
cyberspace ± the screen depersonalizes contact. For Robins (1995: 150), then, `there is an
invocation of community, but not the production of society'.
3 Democracy
Commentators are nearly all agreed that cyberspace technologies have wide-scale
implications for politics and polity. In one form or another they are set to transform
political structures and organizations, political campaigning, lobbying strategies and
voting patterns (Neustadt, 1985). Here cyberspace is viewed as opening `qualitatively
new political opportunities because it opens new loci of speech' (Poster, 1995). This has
led analysts to two separate but equally radical conclusions. First, representative govern-
ment could potentially be replaced by direct government. Here, we would all be able to
propose, debate and vote upon local, national and international issues rather than elected
officials doing this on our behalf. Secondly, the role of place-based political mobilization
will rapidly diminish (Thu Nguyen and Alexander, 1996). Instead, political opinion
concerning specific topics will be mobilized globally by interested parties as politics
fragments and people's perspectives narrow. For example, groups such as Tibet Informa-
tion Network, Greenpeace and Amnesty International all use web pages to disseminate
information and raise political awareness at an international, rather than just local scale.
Readers are given specific information on how to effect effective political action. Indeed,
for Poster (1995) global communication networks challenge the notion of nation-states.
Technologies such as cyberspace defy the character of power employed by modern
Robert M. Kitchin 397
governments by undermining the concept of territoriality. Cyberspace knows no borders.
This has wide-ranging implications given that boundaries are seen as central to current
political theories. As such, Luke (1994) suggests that the geopolitical conditions of the
1990s are best described as spatial confusion, and such is the concern for national
security that agencies such as the FBI are insisting on building surveillance systems into
the Internet to monitor traffic.
Thu Nguyen and Alexander (1996) argue that, although nations still exist, they are
progressively losing control over their people because cyberspace is undermining polities
through the availability of outside information. They describe how nations and organiza-
tions keep political control through gatekeepers (people who control and regulate
information). Within computer networks they argue that people can bypass the gate-
keepers and get to information directly. This bypass represents a `major shift in the
nature of embodied power' away from central individuals who `hold' power (Thu
Nguyen and Alexander, 1996). For them, the Internet is a `conversational, demassified,
non-representational democracy that transcends nation-state' (p. 111). It represents the
communication system needed to underlie the continued differentiation and complexity
of society. As society fractures, the more information social systems need. Cyberspace is
providing for that need and, as such, is an active agent of change ± an agent that is
challenging the traditional notions concerning power, knowledge and information
through the altering of conventional power relations. This challenge, they contend,
through demassification and atrophy of the polity, will eventually lead to chaos through
weakened polities unable to contain disruptions. In short, there will be a basic conflict
between the coming Internet society and modernist democratic institutions. They explain
that modern politics is grounded in geographical units and communities, and in the
assumption that individuals have concrete identities and interests. However, cyberspace
renders place meaningless, identities fluid and reality multiple. They suggest that
democracy based upon geographical units is withering and is destined to suffer the same
misfortunes as the monarchy.
In contrast to Thu Nguyen and Alexander's position, the Internet in many instances,
such as free-nets and many commercial web sites, rather than challenging convention,
actually works to reproduce and reinforce existing hegemonic structures (Interrogate the
Internet, 1996). For example, local governments in the USA are increasingly experi-
menting with community-orientated, participatory democracy within their city through
the use of free-net systems. Using public electronic networks (PENs) registered users can
access city information, complete some transactions, send email to departments, elected
officials or other PEN users and participate in public conferences (Schuler, 1995). PENs
such as Santa Monica PEN and Cleveland Free-Net have grown in use and popularity
and hundreds of community organizations maintain and disseminate information. Users
can use their own PC or those strategically placed in public areas such as libraries around
the city to gain access. In this context, the Internet strengthens the civic, public dimen-
sions of cities/nations by providing a free-access public space for debate and interaction
(Graham and Marvin, 1996). Indeed, the homeless, a normally poorly organized group,
have successfully used Santa Monica's PEN to lobby for shower facilities. Cyberspace is
thus going to bring us a democratic renaissance based on the notion that an abundance
of available data and information is liberating, that cyberspace allows greater access to
officials, and that cyberspace undermines the traditional media bases of democratic
institutions such as broadcasters by allowing individuals to be both sender and receiver,
thus permitting a more eclectic range of views to be disseminated (Brants et al., 1996).
398 Towards geographies of cyberspace
Rather than radically overhauling existing structures, the Internet is seen at best as just
another tool to help conduct the everyday, democratic functioning of a government,
allowing people to express their opinions. People can, and will continue to, lobby in
conventional ways.
V An agenda for future research
The explicit message within this discussion is that geographers with their emphasis upon
space, spatiality and place are well placed to add significantly to studies of cyberspace.
As I have argued elsewhere, cyberspace cannot be fully understood without an appreci-
ation of the role of space (Kitchin, 1997). Further, the widespread adoption of cyber-
spatial technologies raises fundamental questions concerning the role of space and place
in contemporary society and culture. Some of these concerns have been highlighted in
the discussion. For example, Castells (1988) argued that we are witnessing the transition
from a `space of places' to a `space of flows' with the convergence of time and space
through instantaneous communication. This is leading to rapid restructuring of organiza-
tion and employment structures and urban-regional development. Rheingold (1994)
suggested that communities are no longer reliant on proximity, with place rapidly
diminishing as the basis for a viable society. Thu Nguyen and Alexander (1996) con-
tended that cyberspace is going to transform geopolitical relations leading to the dissolu-
tion of nation-states and place-based politics. These claims either diminish the role of
geography or suggest that spatial relations are being radically configured. However, at
present, we are still unsure as to the new spatialities which cyberspace instigates. An
agenda for future research must directly examine the various spatialities of cyberspace.
The basic urban and economic geographies of cyberspace have been mapped out.
However, there are a number of questions that need to be addressed further, plus some
that we have not yet begun to explore. Questions that need to be examined include: to
what extent is cyberspace an `agent of change' in the current shift to a postindustrial
society? If, as Harvey (1989) argues, periods of economic growth and stability are
dependent upon certain spatial configurations and relations, are we currently under-
going a period of restructuring to enter an age where stability is a virtual space overlain
across real space? If this is just a transitional period, however, aiding rapid globalization,
what will be the next underlying spatial nexus of the new global economy? What are the
long-term local employment patterns resulting from cyberspatial businesses? Will
teleworking becoming more popular with increasingly more sophisticated and cheaper
hardware and software? To what extent is cyberspace leading to patterns of central-
ization and decentralization of certain corporate divisions? What is the spatial manifesta-
tion of this restructuring? Is cyberspace, and telematic communications in particular,
leading to the dematerialization and dissolution of the city? Are electronic spaces really
replacing urban spaces, or is there a symbiotic relationship between the two? How will
cyberspace affect our spatial behaviour and the social aspects of the city? Will we see
radical changes in shopping patterns (home buying), travel patterns (home working),
entertainment (online video), education and in particular higher education (home
studying)?
Outside the `world in the wires' geographers have actively engaged with the high-
lighted issues of identity, community and democracy, and the associated roles of space
and place. However, in general, geographers have yet to examine the social, cultural and
Robert M. Kitchin 399
political implications of cyberspace and to examine the role of space and place in a
distributed social space that lacks physicality. As such, future research needs to address a
range of related questions concerning the mapping of identities, community develop-
ment and geopolitical futures. These questions include: how are spatial relations main-
tained in cyberspace, a social space that has been described as `spaceless', `placeless' and
`profoundly anti-spatial' (Mitchell, 1995)? Does cyberspace render place meaningless?
Are cyberspaces merely embodied spaces, situated in real-world images and protocols?
Does cyberspace allow a recoding of the body and self? Is cyberspace providing an
effective space in which to challenge patriarchal relations, as Haraway (1991) and others
suggest? Does spatial and social behaviour in virtual spaces `spill over' and affect
behaviour in the real world? Are communities, as Rheingold (1994) contends, viable in
cyberspace, and to what extent are social interactions different from the real world? How
will cyberspace affect current place-based political systems? Are current polities, as
suggested by Thu Nguyen and Alexander (1996), destabilized by access to greater
information and the bypassing of gatekeepers? Is the concept of the nation-state under
threat because cyberspace knows no borders?
The questions posed draw upon issues discussed within this article. However, there
are a number of other social and political issues relating to the development and use of
cyberspatial technologies that should be of interest to geographers. For example, to what
extent is the blurring of reality with virtuality, if occurring, the result of a changing
spatiality? Is cyberspace altering our geographical imagination? Is the fabric of reality
becoming warped and reconfigured? Further, cyberspace accentuates the recent blurring
between public and private spaces. Once a publicly owned series of interlinked
networks, cyberspace has been increasingly privatized. With the changing of ownership
comes questions of regulation and censorship. Cyberspace is rapidly becoming a policed
space controlled by online service providers selling value-added services. This raises
questions of access. Cyberspace is promoted as a space for all. Looking beyond the
egalitarian hyperbole, however, it is clear that cyberspace usage is fragmented along
traditional spatial and social divisions and is not universally accessible. In fact, far from
creating a more egalitarian society, some commentators have suggested that cyberspace
is going to reinforce and create new inequalities bringing about a world that is more
unequal and socially fragmented (Thomas, 1995). Added to this, there are concerns that
privacy and confidentiality are being compromised with the emergence of a sophistic-
ated `surveillance society' (Lyon, 1994). The great fear is that the Internet `may well
simply turn into an extension of social control through the control of information'
(Interrogate the Internet, 1996: 129). Increasingly large portions of our individual details
have been converted into digital form, residing in various databases (Mitterer and
O'Neill, 1992). Agencies from the police, to the military, to the government and industry
are all actively collecting and exchanging digitally recorded data via cyberspatial
technologies. Moreover, there is a growing geodemographic industry which identifies the
characteristics of suitable areas for advertising and marketing based upon census and
other corporate database variables. These issues raise a number of questions. Will
cyberspace be a reality for people with low incomes and what are the `real world' effects
if they are excluded? Does cyberspace form the effective basis for a superpanoptican and
Orwellian `surveillance society'? What are the ethical implications of geodemographic
industries? What are the sociospatial implications of a `surveillance society'?
Some suggest that cyberspace is creating a new space of deviancy, a space that
provides a social context where the socially alienated can occupy and play out their
400 Towards geographies of cyberspace
fantasies. Cyberspace is space where some of the more distasteful facets of contemporary
society can proliferate and flourish (Squire, 1996). Here, images and messages of sex and
abuse, and racial and ethnic hatred can be found and groups, such as paedophiles and
neo-Nazis, have quickly moved into digital space where they can communicate easily
and reproduce endlessly their messages and images. Moreover, cyberspace has been
trumpeted as a new space of white-collar crime. Here, cyberspace is creating a new space
where embezzlements can be camouflaged, fraudulent payments made and reports and
inventories falsified. Martin (1995) reports that cybercrime is encapsulated as the seven
Es: error, embezzlement, ego, eavesdropping, espionage, enmity and extortion and costs
the USA at least $2 billion in direct costs every year. To what extent is cyberspace a new
space of deviancy and crime? In what ways, and to what extent, do these deviant spaces
intersect with geographic spaces? What are the material consequences of crimes in
cyberspace? How is such crime policed and the public protected when cyberspace knows
no borders and laws differ from state to state?
VI Approaching geographies of cyberspace
In order to answer these questions, and to approach and study the geographies of
cyberspace effectively, it is argued that we need to adopt an approach which allows us to
deconstruct the complex spatialities of cyberspace which underlie cyberspatial use,
development and regulation. Such an approach can be achieved by combining aspects of
postmodernism with social constructivism and political economy. Within this approach
the combined power of cultural and political-economic ideologies to shape human life is
recognized while the grand narrative aspects of social constructivism and political
economy are rejected. Instead a position is developed which seeks to deconstruct the
complex ways in which the local and global, and sociocultural and politicoeconomic
intersect; a framework constructed in which the fragmentation, decentring and
restructuring of society can be read and interpreted.
A similar approach has been forwarded by Graham and Marvin (1996). They sought to
combine social constructivism and political economy in order to try to explain the
geography of telecommunications. They argue that these approaches are suitable for
combination because they both recognize that technologies are applied within, rather
than from outside, society. However, both are flawed when used independently as
political economy neglects social processes and thus overplays the significance of
capitalist structures, and social constructivism solely concentrates on social processes
neglecting wider political and economic forces that create power imbalances and help
shape local conditions (Graham and Marvin, 1996). They thus persuasively argue that
the relationships between technology and society can no longer be framed within strict
economic and political terms or in strict social and cultural terms, but must encompass
both. Essentially, cyberspatial use and development are socially constructed at the local
scale and mediated by a broader, more regional/global political economy; there is a
recursive relationship between local, social/cultural and regional/global, political/
economic processes. Here, technological developments, uptake and usage are locally
constructed through the interplay between individuals and institutions, and bound
within historical systems. These local constructions are, however, further bound into
larger political and economic contexts and affected by factors such as investment, policy,
Robert M. Kitchin 401
marginalization, local economic conditions and status (levels of unemployment, poverty,
etc.), and the opportunity to exploit and break into both local and global markets.
The approach forwarded here builds upon Graham and Marvin's ideas, but in contrast
adopts a more critical stance that rejects some of the modernist underpinnings of their
approach, particularly the notion of grand narratives, universal truths and causality. As
such, the integration of a postmodernist perspective seeks to acknowledge a rejection of
modernist values and the adoption of an approach which seeks `readings' not `observa-
tions', `interpretations' not `findings', `intertextual relations' rather than `causality'; the
recognition of difference and a recognition that society is rapidly progressing through a
series of rapid transitions as traditional modernist ideas concerning space, time, reality,
nature are undermined and reconfigured. Whereas Graham and Marvin plot the changes
telecommunications are making to the urban landscape, the approach forwarded here is
designed to examine how cyberspace reconfigures and transforms society in a new
postmodern world. Within this context, it is possible to integrate notions of power
relations and dominant ideologies and to acknowledge that identity and community are
fluid, multiple and contested.
It is argued that this integrative approach allows us to deconstruct carefully the
implications of cyberspatial technologies within the context of the world we do live in
and to understand the symbiotic relationship between the virtual and nonvirtual worlds.
Within this approach it is important that we appreciate that cyberspace, while having a
different form from real space, is just an extension of the real world ± we access
cyberspace from the real world and many of the actions in cyberspace have real-world
implications. Cyberspace exists in a symbiotic relationship with real space and it is this
relationship we must seek to understand. Further, it should be noted that the implica-
tions of cyberspatial technologies are many and the social, cultural, political and
economic effects are interdependent and should be studied as such. At present, many
analysts study the social, cultural, political and economic effects in isolation from one
another. This approach allows an integrative approach, and for the various questions
raised within the discussion to be approached in a consistent and coherent manner.
For example, using this approach appreciates that the development and implications of
technologies are played out in an intricate fashion, with local, social and cultural
processes recursively situated within broader political and economic structures and
mechanisms working at the national and global scale. As such, organization and employ-
ment restructuring and urban-regional reconfiguration are best understood by carefully
analysing the cultural and social processes underlying the decisions of corporate
decision-makers, urban planners and regional government, and assessing the interplay
between individual and institutions, while appreciating historical context and the strong
influences of broader-scale political and economic processes and mechanisms.
Similarly, this approach explicitly recognizes that identity and community are fluid
and contested, but that cyberspatial interaction and appropriation are socially
constructed and bound within broader politicoeconomic structures ± life on-line is not
divorced from nonvirtual life but is highly situated within it. As such, online spaces are
not completely disembodied but rather are highly embodied, with real-world discrim-
ination and abuse reproducing themselves in a new space. Further, this approach
appreciates that within the local, political organization and mechanisms are socially
constructed by the interplay between individuals, institutions and technologies, while
acknowledging that these constructions are bound within a historical context and the
wider political agenda of nations and businesses. As such, the political implications of
402 Towards geographies of cyberspace
cyberspace need to be contextualized into wider economic concerns relating to owner-
ship, control and regulation, and into social concerns relating to voter behaviour, political
mobilization and cultural ideologies concerning what is determined to be deviant.
Studies of online politics and polity need to deconstruct the recursive relationship
between on- and off-line political spaces.
VII Conclusion
Space is central in understanding the changes cyberspace is instigating. For some
analysts, cyberspace is transforming the social, cultural, political and economic landscape
by radically transforming space-time relations and creating `spaceless', `placeless' social
spaces. Contrary to this position, it has been argued that geography remains para-
mount ± cyberspace, rather than providing an alternative world, exists in a symbiotic
relationship with real space. Cyberspaces are dependent upon spatial fixity, they are
embodied spaces and access is unevenly distributed. This is not to deny that cyberspatial
technologies are significant `agents of change'. However, cyberspaces do not replace
geographic spaces, nor do they destroy space and time. Rather, cyberspaces coexist with
geographic spaces providing a new layer of virtual sites superimposed over geographic
spaces. Geographers are well placed to study the interplay between virtual worlds and
geographic spaces. At the points of this interplay, spatial transformations are affecting
social relations while simultaneously social transformations are affecting spatial relations.
As discussed, this is leading to a rapid globalization of production and consumption and
widespread restructuring of organizations, employment structures and to urban-regional
restructuring. Accompanying these changes has been the creation of new metamedia
social spaces which have large-scale social, cultural and political implications. At present,
while some aspects of the geographies of cyberspace have been mapped out, there is a
need to deconstruct and map further the complex spatialities of cyberspace. In this article
I have provided several agendas for geographic studies of cyberspace, outlined some of
the questions that as geographers we are well placed to study, and detailed an approach
for studying the implications of cyberspatial technologies. It is time to explore the `world
in the wires'.
Notes
1. Estimates of Internet users vary from 4 to 96 million. These estimates are calculated by deciding
how many people are likely to be connecting with each Internet host. There are estimated to be between
4 and 0.6 million hosts worldwide, each thought to be supporting between 1 and 10 users (see http://
nic.merit.edu/nsfnet/statistics/history.hosts).
2. Martin Dodge, of the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London,
provides an excellent overview of attempts to map cyberspace. His web pages `An atlas of cyberspace'
can be reached at http://www.geog.ucl.ac.uk/casa/martin/atlas/atlas.html.
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406 Towards geographies of cyberspace
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