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August 9, 2006

Interpreting Soap Operas and Creating Community: Inside an Electronic Fan Culture

Baym, Nancy K. (1997) Interpreting soap operas and creating community: Inside an electronic fan culture. Culture of the Internet. Sara Kiesler, Ed. Newbury Park: Sage. 79-94.

Baym explores functional aspects of virtual communities through ethnography of the r.a.t.s usenet usegroup. Among the features explored are community linguistic and politeness norms, emerging discussion genres, and group performance expectations. Her discussion of group performance evaluation (111) is applicable to blogs: participants compliment skilled performance through responses, explicit praise, and thanks. In turn, social capital is gained by demonstrating "humor, insight, distinctive personality, and politeness" (112). Through this study, Baym confirms that virtual communities demonstrate many of the same features as f2f communities, and are just as complex, interwoven, and personalized (119).

August 8, 2006

Rhetoric and Community: The Problem of the One and the Many

Miller, Carolyn. (1993) Rhetoric and community: The problem of the one and the many. Defining the New Rhetorics. Theresa Enos and Stuart C. Brown, Eds. Newbury Park: Sage, 79-94.

Miller provides an overview and problematization of rhetorical theory concerning the individual within communities from classical Greece to French postmodernism. She argues that a New Rhetoric must better consider how community is viewed in rhetoric. Particularly pertinent to Internet concerns (most especially those of WIkipedia) are her comments on ‘radical democracy’ (90):

As conceived of by Chantal Mouffe, radical democracy does not try to suppress conflict but requires it and creates ‘equivalence’ between different struggles; it is a matter ‘not of establishing a mere alliance between given interests but of actually modifying the very identity of these forces.’ This is possible only when social agents and the political community are conceived of not as essentialized entities but as ‘discursive surfaces.’
Miller ends by calling for a notion of community that is not geographic or demographic or empirical, but rather a rhetorical construction that facilitates emotional solidarity and political action.

August 7, 2006

Virtual communities as communities: Net surfers don't ride alone

Wellman, Barry, and Gulia, Milena. (1999) Virtual communities as communities: Net surfers don't ride alone. Communities in Cyberspace. Smith and Kollock, Eds. Routledge, 167-194.

This piece poses seven research questions and conclusions:

1. Are online relationships narrowly specialized or broadly supportive? Communities are often based on narrow, info-specific subjects. However, participants very often reach out to others who are experiencing similar social issues, feelings, or physical symptoms. “Even when online groups are not designed to be supportive, they tend to be” (173).

2. In what ways are the many weak ties on the Net useful? Weak ties are more likely to link people with different social characteristics. Heterogeneous groups have a greater base of problem-solving skills (176).

3. Is there reciprocity online and attachment to virtual communities? There is a striking amount of reciprocity, which may be driven by simple kindness, desire to gain/maintain social capital, or community norms of reciprocity and/or citizenship. (177). Group attachment is tied to mutual aid.

4. Are strong, intimate ties possible online? Virtual relationships share same of the same criteria as strong, intimate f2f relationships, but cannot exactly meet all the criteria due to contraints of the medium. This question remains somewhat unresolved, and the authors also question research regarding duration of f2f relationships.

5. How does virtual community affect ‘real-life’ community? The authors list a number of reasons this dichotomy is false (see 181-182). Essentially, we must not assume that participation in a virtual community is deterimental to real-life communities -- community is not a zero-sum game. Both communities blend in the participant’s life, and need not be mutually exclusive.

6. Does the Net increase community diversity? Yes, because class/gender/race don’t matter. The authors fail to address the fact that class/gender/race/beauty do influence access, and thus who has the opportunity to get online in the first place.

7. Are virtual communities real communities? They are different but real. “They are not just pale imitations of ‘real life.’ The Net is the Net” (186). Relationships develop, support is given. The architecture necessarily shapes interactions. And then there’s the inevitable use of the word glocalization.

Social Psychological Aspects of Computer-Mediated Communication

Kiesler, Sara, Siegel, Jane, and McGuire, Timothy W. (1984) Social psychological aspects of computer-mediated communication. American Psychologist, Oct. 1984, 1123-1134.

This article is among the first that note changes in organizational communication within digital environments:

  • centralization of control because it is easier to keep tabs on co-workers and subordinates
  • flattened hierarchy due to universal access within the organization
  • lack of social cues
  • anonymity and attendant uninhibited verbal behavior (i.e. flaming)
  • norms and etiquette based on programmer/hacker culture
They also note changes in group communication dynamics that are generalizable outside the organizational context:
    changes in coordination of discussions (turn-taking, etc. Also, cmc groups took longer to reach consensus than did f2f groups, and exchanged fewer remarks in the time allowed to them [1128])
  • changes in the participation and/or influence of dominant individuals
  • changes in normative control
  • again and always, uninhibited verbal behavior
There is an early reference to speed and reach on 1127.

There’s a quote on 1131 that seems relevant to my work with IP:

.. For example, absence of computer etiquette is a transient problem, but it is one that raises significant policy debates over rights of computer users to privacy and freedom of exploration. A more permanent effect might be the extension of partiicpation in group or organizational communication. This is important because it implies more shared information, more equality of influence, and, perhaps, a breakdown of social and organizational barriers.
Finally, they call for interdisciplinary research in CMC — interesting, considering the fact that so many disciplines were trying to stake their claim to (or within) the field at that time.

August 3, 2006

Internet Studies in the Twenty-First Century

Gurak, L. J. (2004) Internet studies in the twenty-first century. In D. Gauntlett (Ed.), Web.Studies (2nd ed.) (pp. 24-33). London: Arnold.

Gurak starts off with an overview of early CMC research that mimics the 8550 syllabus:

  • Hiltz & Turoff (1978): impersonality/freedom to be oneself; social/psychological differences noted in online vs f2f communication; lack of social cues; pen names/anonymity; impacts on workplace hierarchies
  • Kiesler, Siegel, McGuire (1984): emphasis on social/language based features which became CMC
  • Rice & Love (1987): electronic emotion
  • Herring (1993): gender and “masculine communication styles”
  • Turkle (1995): identity
  • Rheingold (1993): anecdotal research on virtual communities
  • Doheny-Farina (1996): virtual and local communities
  • Stromer-Galley (2000) and Hass (2001): reinvigoration of democracy through coalition-building, discussion, etc. on political campaign sites
  • Burk (2000): intellectual property in digital environments
She goes on to emphasize the movement from general studies to specific case studies that focus on individual communities or technologies and the creation of “Internet Studies” as an interdisciplinary field. Also noted are the shifting relevance of former topics (community, flaming, linguistic textual features, etc.) and the emergence of legal issues.

Finally, she provides an overview of speed and reach (oralness, redundancy/repetitiveness, casualness, multiplicity, visual reach, community) (31); as well as interactivity and anonymity (gender/identity, ownership, flaming, talking back, privacy) (32). Gurak concludes with a call for revisioning Internet Studies as new technologies emerge and old ones collapse.