Online Field Theory

Mathieu O'NEIL, Robert Ackland

Research output: A Conference proceeding or a Chapter in BookChapterpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
209 Downloads (Pure)


Though massive amounts of digital trace data can be collected about how people and information connect online, the question of why they do so has been given less attention. This chapter addresses the spread of innovations and controversies by asking why some actors choose to connect to new issues while others do not? To answer this question, a new framework combining field theory with social network analysis (SNA) – online field theory – is proposed. Field theory suggests that actors in social spaces are unequal and strive to change this inequality, and SNA provides a framework for testing hypotheses emerging from field theory. The framework also draws some elements from actor-network theory (ANT), such as the incorporation of nonhuman actors, but – unlike ANT – empirically examining actor choices mandates the establishment of distinctions between the agency of different categories of actors. These different types of agency interact in mutually constitutive ways with field boundaries: while field structure is readily apparent in Web 1.0 organizational fields – such as the online environmental movement – the lack of information about actor identities in some Web 2.0 settings complicates field analysis. The chapter also examines how online field theory can provide insight into how Web 2.0 algorithmic governance, customization, and personalization are contributing to the emergence of online echo chambers. We define “filter bubbles” as online fields characterized by low contention and high homophily and outline how research into actor connection to innovation should approach them
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSecond International Handbook of Internet Research
EditorsJeremy Hunsinger, Lisbeth Klastrup, Matthew M. Allen
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9789402415551
ISBN (Print)9789402415537
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


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