The Internet as Social System: Applying Margaret Archer's Theory of Morphogenesis to Hypermedia Communication
While there is a growing recognition amongst information and communication technology (ICT) researchers that computer systems are designed for and situated in social practices, the Internet tends to be viewed as an artefact, with the focus being on its technical and material aspects. This paper explores the notion whether the Internet is not only, as an artefact, an element in the nexus of relationships comprising the social structure in which we operate, but in itself a social system informing a social structure. This is because the Internet has all of the qualities which Margaret Archer’s theory of morphogenesis, building on Roy Bhaskar’s critical realist philosophy, attributes to social structures. However, this paper comes to the conclusion that the Internet, being a techno-system with social attributes, is not in fact a social system, but should rather be viewed as the mechanism which sets in place the communicative sub-structure provided by the World Wide Web. The “web” is a true social structure, that of communication, being both the context for and product of human interaction, offering us positions and practices which are analogous to our roles in real-world functioning, but which are deepened, extended and transformed by use of ICT.