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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Community 


tree with magpie
In the chill-out zone around the holiday period I’ve been thinking about relationships, social networks and community – part of which was sparked by reading Howard Rheingold. Although I’m very much an advocate of the educational value of participatory software, I find his step by step approach to citizenship a bit of a turn-off. It smacks a bit of an older generation telling youngsters to grow up quick and get political. It won’t work. But there is something new and different about relationships which we should be alive to…Ruth and her boyfriend did ‘virtual Christmas’ opening presents on a Skype video call…OK that may be trivial, but it’s a very different way of being together. The connection between that and my adult students doing distributed knowledge building with wikis is a useful one, but we have a way to go in conceptualizing this. Both examples are about relationships (one personal the other professional) but they don’t have a direct relationship with a public – or community in its wider sense. A community, like a tree is greater than the some of its parts – a network is a string of relationships (the connection between leaf and twig, twig and branch and so on). Communities and networks are equally valuable, but we do spend a lot of time worrying about notions of community. Worrying about what we’ve lost; worrying about what it is becoming. We don’t seem to worry half as much about networks. But then maybe the whole community thing is a bit of a fiction in the first place. As Richard Ford observes, it’s just like: isolated, contingent groups trying to improve on an illusion of permanence, that they fully accept as an illusion. (1995:386)...or maybe not.

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