This was a very useful chapter when I was writing about community and networks for my PhD thesis in 2009. Social Networks and Online Community, by Caroline Haythornthwaite, is a great overview of the main topics of interest in trying to untanlge the effects of the web on our social environment.
Here are a few of my notes:
* can community exist without a geographic touchstone? Haythornthwaite argues one can “liberate community from its physical setting” by looking at the basis of community as interaction. It’s in the interactions between online community members where you see the richness and the social-emotional connotations that are implied in generic definitions of community:
Interactions such as the exchange of information and advice, social support, mutual help and provision and receipt of services can have the cumulative impact of creating trust…shared history and language and known expectations about behaviour that support the community and identify common goals.
that’s on page 121 of the Handbook.
* “community” has been under threat by industrialisation and urbanisation, leading to the decline of society (an increase in crime, decreased quality of life):
Each new disruption in the (imagined) ideals of home and town is met with resistance and fear of the further degradation of our daily experiences.”
* here’s a very traditional definition of community from 1887 by Tonnies:
Gemeinschaft: … a collective based on strong interpersonal ties, face-to-face interaction, a shared focus and common purpose, language and identity
* i like this:
…the emergence of community online is as much a surprise to online participants as it is to non-participants
She reminded me of Howard Rheingold’s seminal study of the WELL, an online messaging board full of the great and the good in internet history, known as the birthplace of the online community movement. He published his observations as The Virtual Community in 1993. It was the first to describe the online collectives in this way, and for this we are thankful.
She also reminded me of Ray Oldenberg’s concept of Third Places - the “great, good” environments that are inherently and uniquely neutral - like parks, cafes, etc - where interactions are playful and are locations where people across social statuses interact and co-exist.
And then, crucially, she turns to the network view of community, a kind of post-modern, perspective on connections that has emerged from a methodology that links people together based on who is connected with whom. These social network graphs have become more popular since sites like Facebook started letting people draw them: they usually reveal unexpected and fascinating collectives of people with lots of mutual friends, plus surprising interconnections that people may not have known existed until they saw the topography of their social spaces.
Specifically, this comes from Barry Wellman’s concept of “liberated” communities that are personally constructed, experienced by individuals. The social, he argues, is essentially subjective. Haythornthwaite is a disciple of Wellman; they are both at the University of Toronto, but she also believes in the group collective notion of community. She describes technologically-facilitated liberated communities thus:
…an external view of lost, local community does not need to translate into an individual lacking in community. As the time of the early studies, contacts were found to be maintained across distance by telephone calls and visiting by car and place. Means of contact now include the full range of CMC, as well as the ubiquitous cell phone and continued travel bty car and plane. Indeed, community is now so liberated that it can be reinforced nearly anywhere at anytime with mobile computing and phone communication.
page 125. emphasis added
A great chapter. Citation:
Haythornthwaite, C. (2007). Social Networks and Online Community. In A. Joinson, K. McKenna, T. Postmes and U. Reips (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Internet Psychology, Oxford University Press: Oxford.