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torsdag 18 november 2010

Online networks vs online communities (Nov 25)

- Online networks vs online communities
- Daniel Pargman
- Assistant Professor of Media Technologies, Department of Computer Science and Communication, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH)
- Stockholm University (Frescati campus), Thu Nov 25 (13.00-16.00), Dept. of Political Science, room F702
Online networks vs online communities

Some researchers have made the connection between social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) and a modern (western), personalized, fast-paced, hypermobile, multiple-affiliation, rich-networked, ”friendster” society (Bennett and Segerberg 2010). In tems of Tönnies’ (1887) well-know dichotomy "Gemeinschaft" - community - and "Gesellschaft" - (modern) society - (Asplund 1991), this seems to represent a continuation that goes “beyond” his ideas about fluid, modern late-19th century Gesellschaft; a “Gesellschaft-plus” society?

In a previous text in this seminar series (“Small change”, 2010), Malcolm Gladwell conflated all kinds of social media and point out how networks (social media) and hierarchies (for example high-risk social activism or even terrorism) in many ways are opposites. His point is that social media does not really entail social change, as summarized by the subtitle of his text; “why the revolution will not be tweeted”. To him, the strong ties between people engaged in high-risk endeavors (for example political activism for unpopular causes) are the opposite of the large networks of weak ties that are typical of social media "armchair activism" which to him represents “all talk and no action”.

Despite the 130 year that separate them, both Tönnies and Gladwell both paint a picture of society moving in a direction away from strong hierarchies and small groups of people united by strong personal ties (i.e. communities) and towards loose networks and large groups of people connected by weak personal ties (i.e. networks).

I have personally on the other hand seen social media been used in quite different ways in order to satisfy our needs for connection and community (Pargman 2005). This would seem to represent a movement in the “other” direction; towards rather than away from "Gemeinschaft". The best example of how people subsume their individual autonomy to become part of, and for the greater good of the collective, are so-called "guilds"; instrumental, goal- and action-oriented groups inside massively multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft (Lin et. al. 2003).

This leads us to the following questions:

- How can our understanding of these phenomena progress beyond simple causal relationships between individual, media and society?

- How can we further our understanding about different characteristics / uses / "affordances" of different digital media in terms of communities/ hierarchies and networks?

- What does a model that can account for the existence of both tight online communities and loose online networks look like?

- For what purposes and under what conditions do these different forms of organization emerge and thrive on the Internet?

Literature. There are no less than nine texts recommended for this seminar.

- Two texts are repeated references to texts from previous seminars in the seminar series (Bennett and Segerberg, Gladwell)
- One text is a short newspaper article (Thente)
- One text is optional (Granovetter)
- The three scanned texts on Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft are all relatively short
On Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft
- Asplund (1991), “Essay about Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft”, pp. 37-53 [in Swedish].
- Bauman (2001), "Community: Seeking safety in an insecure world", pp. 1-5
- Nisbet (1953), "The question for community", pp. 69-77

On "Gesellschaft-plus" society (repeat use of literature from previous seminars)
- Bennett and Segerberg (to be published), "Digital media and the organization of collective action".
- Gladwell (2010), "
Small change: The revolution will not be tweeted". The New Yorker.

On strong and weak ties
- Granovetter (1973), "The strength of weak ties".

On communities and online games:
- Pargman (2005). "Virtual community management as socialization and learning". In P. van der Desselaar, G. De Michelis, J. Preece and C. Simone (eds.). Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Communities and Technologies, Milano, Italy, June 2005, pp. 95-110. Dordrecht: Springer.
- Lin, Holin et. al. (2003) "
Exploring clan culture: social enclaves and cooperation in online games". Digra 2003: Level up Conf. Proceedings.
- Thente, Jonas (2010) "Wow! I låtsasvärlden finns riktiga affärsnäsor". Dagens Nyheter, Aug 30.


Three texts are available online and five texts are available in Bilda. To get the sixth text (Bennett & Segerberg) please contact Alexandra Segerberg (

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