Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Social, Community, Discursive Practice

Following up on the previous post and on recent posts from Jacob and Paul where they're contemplating notions of the social versus the collaborative, I've gotta revisit some important conceptual touchstones.

In my last post I valorized Seattle and its "Libraries For All" initiative, labeling such thrusts emblematic of a healthy community...possibly even one that's invested in pursuit of utopias. I'm still excited about "Libraries For All".

I have also read Paul Jones' post and Jacob Kramer-Duffield's meditation on Paul's post. Good stuff. I've linked them here (and below in my blogroll) at your leisure. One of the points that they're considering is how to operationalize terms like "social" and "collaborative" with regard to software, the virtual, and the hyperreal. When I think about this I find myself returning to my cultural studies roots and the early work of media and social theorists, namely Raymond Williams.

In his work, Culture and Society, he states "any real theory of communication is also a theory of community’ (301). The Seattle post is about community and I read discussions about "social" and "collaborative" to be the same. Anyhow, Williams' goes on to argue that communication, ‘is not only transmission, it is also reception and response’ (301). Williams' work is decades old now but as salient as ever. Williams', like the other early cultural studies theorists, resuscitated the Marxist concept of the dialectic, but utilized it namely in a cultural way.

One of my favorite contemporary thinkers, Bruno Latour, works with the same trajectory when he contemplates "the social"; for Latour, the social is a's always already in flux, always contested, and always changing (like hegemony). Think through post-structuralism and sit with fluidity...all our spaces, meanings, and identities tend to leak and mix these days.
Looking at concepts, at practices, as processes overcomes the stricture and oppression of naming, labeling, or defining. Such a lens also seems appropriate given these new times. So, it might be useful to turn to such an approach when iterating over what Williams' referred to as the "mass mind". To that end, as you read the big and valuable thoughts of Paul and Jacob, indulge me and stretch beyond the quest for definitions of social and collaborative...look at how the processes that we are involved in daily get us to a point where creation of such terms are possible (or even needed). By looking at the context and the conditions that create it we might get at drivers of culture and what gets constructed as knowledge and truth in said cultures.

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