Saturday, November 05, 2005

Community - The Definition

In (at least) one of our classes, and then individual group discussions, the notion of community came about. It was a stated concern that we are redefining the word along electronic lines, and somehow devaluing the face-to-face community sense that has been so longstanding.

This week's reading - the Markus article - defines community thusly:

A community is a group of individuals with some common interest and stronger communication flows within than across its boundaries

I'm heartened by this definition because though I see the concern of expanding the word "community" into electronic terms, I have felt the sense of community as a part of online groups. Traditional groups and communities are seen as such but so was "communication" seen as a traditional sense before the computer and even telephone lines overtook the old fashion pen-and-paper communications.

I think that as the world and technology continue to evolve, so will our definitions have to be broadened to accommodate the new abilities and standards we set for ourselves, whether or not we choose to partake of them.


Francine said...

Hi Lissa,
I'm not quite sure why you find the Markus definition heartening ?

According to Hillary (1955) this is not a typo there are more than 90 definitions of community. Community is less about geography or space than about meaning (a symbolic dimension) and thus transcend the located versus dislocated dichotomy of the virtual.

Some cyber groups are very much communities, because what is exchanged has meaning for the members that belong to them. Communities are all imagined communities, because they are 'mind' constructions of value systems, norms, rules, sense of identity, commitment and association. These are the intangibles, negotiated according to a shared language, rituals and artifacts. All can apply to both online or offline.

Are all online groups communities? I don't think so. There are other patterns of association that should also be considered.

A cybercommunity according to Fernbank (1999) :
is an entity and a process that emerges [from interaction!]

lissa said...


Thank you for this comment - it helps me to clarify what I've felt all along, but what was temporarily in question in my mind due to class discourse. I do know that all online groups are not communities - a gathering of like-minded people with like interests does not a community make.

I have never felt that proximity is a primary factor for communities being such, nor did I feel that it was merely the group mentality either. It is definitely a variety of things and if those variables you mentioned are in place then yes, it defines a community.

I found the definition heartening because it reinforced my feelings and I suppose alleviated the questions raised, albeit temporarily, in my mind about using the word in the context of an online group.

See, I've been part of (and still am) what I HAVE considered communities online - till class discussions shook me a bit - and perhaps my own feelings were in question in my mind as to this participation. Due to certain naysayers (Julia Cameron calls them "crazymakers") in my life, the Internet is something that can be as much a comfort zone as it is a point of contention and sensitive spot for me to defend. And yes the word "addict" has come up more than once (today, even!) and I will deny it to the nth degree (don't all addicts do so? *g*) but with the question of "community" and its defined parameters raised, I suppose that old defensive me also rose to the top.

Can I print your post and pin it on my lapel? Sure would help the crazymakers in my life to understand some of what I feel. And isn't Psych 101 all about "if you feel it, then it's real"..?

(PS - good to see a fellow night owl online - 4 a.m., huh? Call me next time, we'll chat! Of course, that wouldn't count as a posted comment to a classmate's blog would it? *g*)

Falcon-Hart said...

Hi L,

I think the crucial aspect of the definition of community is "common" interest. What happens when you're thrown into a "community" with people you don't have common interests with? How you you manage conflict in that situation? I know there are some people I find interesting and wish to continue socializing with (on- or offline), but they are a select few.

Choice is crucial. Can you really develop a community with people whose values you don't share or agree with?

(the Other L)

lissa said...

(Other) L,

You raise an interesting point. How many of us are unwilling members of communities in our lives...whether those are geographical communities, spiritual communities, work-related comunities...and how many of us either resist or stray from those communities?

I live in a suburb. I don't consider myself a suburban personality - I don't consider myself a suburban mom (as the stereotype would have it). And yes, I resist it...! I go grocery shopping with a headset and CD playing because it is SO not my thing to bump into people and join a gossip circle in the aisles. In fact, I truly loathe it - it is a mentality I do not adhere to, one that I shun. It works for others but not for me. Am I anti-social? Not at all. I will take the music off when I meet someone I know, exchange the amenities and most of the time, enjoy the exchanges.

But I find myself on edge when standing in line and listening to the others in "my" community as they scoop and whine and squeal over the latest mini-van or house-party is someone I am not, and yet - I live among them.

This might sound harsh (I'm not against minivans or house parties) but it is only one illustration of how L, your comment fits; we DO get thrown into communities of which we do NOT feel a part. How do I handle conflict within? I can always fall back on the individuality I retain. Or I try to assimilate if only for the sake of harmony. But it is a valid, and well-taken point that you make. And gets the wheels turning - yet again - over this well-traveled road...

lissa said...

Just an addendum for anyone following this topic - after extensive searching for "Fernbank" and community...I found that it is FernBACK and it is available via the ACM Portal (accessible to Concordia students). The article's specifics:

The individual within the collective: virtual ideology and the realization of collective principles
Source: Virtual culture: identity and communication in cybersociety table of contents
Pages: 36 - 54
Year of Publication: 1997
Jan Fernback
Sage Publications, Inc. Thousand Oaks, CA, USA