Alexander Longworth-Dunbar


Materialising the Virtual: a Critical History of Contemporary Popular Conceptions of the Internet



My research focuses on providing a critical history of the development of the common ways we talk of and think about the Internet in the Anglophone world. These conceptions are generally idealist in nature, and tend to consider the Internet as a purely virtual elsewhere, detached from the material ‘real world’ of everyday life. Social media theorist Nathan Jurgenson has described this conceptualisation as ‘digital dualism’, and finds it worryingly pervasive throughout public discourse surrounding the Internet. This dualist discourse has received increasing critical attention for its erroneous dissociation of on- and offline despite the two being mutually interactive, while new scholarship on the Internet has conversely highlighted the importance of considering the Internet from a materialist perspective in terms of its physical infrastructure. Taking these critiques of digital dualism as the starting point, my research will seek to address the question of how and why this particular conceptualisation gained such widespread popularity, and came to form the foundations of our current public discourse surrounding the Internet, despite its very clear limitations.

I am also an editor of the newly launched, student-led science magazine Planet Bee here at the University of Manchester.

Previous Study

In 2016, I graduated from the University of Manchester with a bachelor’s degree in History. My dissertation was a comparative study of popular culture representations of robots in the United States and Japan, assessing the validity of claims that Japan’s world-leading robotics industry (and America’s comparative lagging behind) was due in part to the predominance of positive representations of robots in Japanese popular culture.

In 2018 I completed my MsC in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine with CHSTM. My Master’s thesis examined the under-explored dimension of negative representations of the electric telegraph in Anglo-American print media in the late nineteenth century, and drew comparisons with contemporary negative discourses surrounding new media technologies in order to grant them much needed longform historical contextualisation.

All my previous work is available to view on my page.

Research Interests

History of technology, new media, representations of technology, Internet history, new materialism, media history, social construction of technology, cultural history, media archaeology.

Presentations Given

Neither Adam or the Fallen Angel: Comparing and Contrasting Popular Culture Representations of the Robot in the United States and Japan from 1921 to the Present, CHSTM Postgraduate Student Seminar, 15 May 2018.