week 6 summary

For my ethnography, I’ve decided to use a community of which I was already a member and which is rather ambiguous in its status as a community (being the online components of a two-day RL conference). This got me thinking not only about what defines a community generally but what I experience personally as community.

Succinctly, not much. I’ve been part of random groupings of people that I’m sure other members thought of as community (e.g. neighbourhoods, schools, girls’ clubs, retail jobs), but that weren’t communities to me. Personally, it’s been the common interest factor that has made a [collection of people] eligible to become a community. And even then this isn’t a guarantee that ‘affective and emotional solidarity’ or a ‘strong sense of belonging’ (Bell, 2001, p. 107) will emerge. But how do I know that other people haven’t perceived these same groups in a different way? Was the IRC Beatles room that I stopped by intermittently circa 1995 a tight-knit community, unbeknownst to me? Did others of the 500 1998 Berkeley English graduates see the cohort as an interest-sharing community? And what about the groups that I do think of as communities? Perhaps other members wouldn’t agree…

My examples here rather beg the question–I didn’t participate in the IRC room consistently, and I commuted to university rather than living near campus, so there are reasons I wasn’t as involved as I could have been. But this brings up the question (that others have asked over the past week) of status within a community; while my low involvement or geographical separation put me de facto on the periphery of these communities, many online communities create de jure inner circles. These are often labelled light-heartedly, and based on number of [helpful/liked] posts, but can carry significant weight as gatekeeping mechanisms. In The Digital Scholar‘s chapter on A Pedagogy of Abundance (Weller, 2011) a hierarchy of communities of practice is explicitly broken down with the assumption that members move from the outer circles to the inner. However, it seems to me that the democratising potential of the internet should be used to allow ‘peripheral’ individuals to nonetheless feel part of a community–that their membership should be based on their interest in the topic (their ‘election’ to be there in the first place) rather than the time or knowledge that they can offer to the community.

This will be interesting to look at in terms of my ethnography, in that there wasn’t time to form a hierarchy online–but were offline status relationships leveraged in cyberspace?

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chatroulette

I was just reminded of this as an interesting test case for ‘is this a community?’ Even though completely random, it’s still self-selecting (‘people who like to meet random people on the internet’?).

It does smack a bit of a film I don’t think we mentioned in the first block. Here’s the scene in question:

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