Headin' South
Files from NCSU workshop

My Communitas Workshops at NCSU

This weekend in North Carolina State University has been totally awesome. I am so thankful that Meredith Davis invited me to come in give a workshop on digital community and a public lecture on the Yin Yang of Design and Anthropology. It was funny because I met so many of the Masters of Graphic Design students from either AIGA Schools of Thoughts conference, AIGA National conference, and one is an alumni of UIC.

I will post the workshop materials later when I have a wired internet connection, but I feel that the workshop was successful. Meaning, the students were able to take the concepts presented  (imagined community, communitas, and the 5 experiential elements of community) and use them to analyze a digital community, and then share that analysis with the group to inform an in depth discussion of the various natures of digital community. The gist of my discussion was that:

1. Benedict Anderson's concept of imagined community helps:

  • Distinguish between digital and analogue mediated communities
  • Address the impact of digital communities
  • Emphasize the role of capitalism in community
  • Introduce discourse of charters and rights.

2. Using Victor Turner's concepts of liminality and communitas, the liminality (betwixt and betweeness) of identity in digital communities can contribute to the feeling of communitas (open, shared, brotherhood) which can be experiential (existing in the present moment), normative (starting to impose social structure), or ideological (utopian blueprint) in nature.

3. Based on old Sapient work, the extent to which historical consciousness, life goals, organizational structure, agency, and relationships are supported helps define the extent and characteristics of the community. We actually used this to measure the features and functions of digital community to see on a 5-point Likert scale the degree of support.

We talked about it. The students had an afternoon assignment to analyze a digital community and do presentations the next day. They are so hard working. What they produced in a less than 24 hour period would have taken several weeks in my classes.

Some interesting questions that came out of the discussion of the student's communities were:

  • What is the role of scale in the definition of a imagined community (Google or music lovers) versus a tool to support a community (Google documents or last.fm)?
  • Whether a digital community, because it speaks of a design for sustainability and imposes a structure on a community, always represents a normative communitas as opposed to an existential communitas?
  • How do artifacts (custom bikes, diabetes monitoring machines, photos of cats) come to represent identity and thuse mediate relationships among people in digital communities?

More later on the student's actual presentations. Just wanted to hint at some of the questions raised.


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