The concept of community and the character of networks

  • Arnold M
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Many case studies have examined Community Networks and we have at hand a good many rich and well grounded accounts of local experiences and outcomes as they have been observed in local circumstances. This sort of detailed, highly contextualized empirical work is essential to an understanding of contingent phenomena such as the performance of a Community Network. What we also need though, are theoretical approaches that are abstract enough to interpret the character and performance of differently situated Community Networks. The concept of community, the character of networks, and the implications of marrying the two, need to be teased out. To this end, I suggest that Community Networks be understood analytically as a-modern hybrids that derive their ontological characteristics from a conflation of binaries. From this analytic perspective the Community Network is seen to be a sociotechnical assemblage that hybridizes the social and the technical, and not a set of technologies brought to bear on the social. The innovative feature of this particular form of sociotechnical assemblage, from an analytic point of view, is that it brings together “community” and “network” as both ontological concepts and as empirically observable phenomenon. The characterization of the assemblage as a “community” but also as a “network” is thus critiqued, and the differences between these two abstractions are explored; and it is further argued, that the contrary ontology of the particular assemblage, manifest structures that are at once heterarchic as well as hierarchic. The overarching purpose here is to address two problems: the neglect of theory and of abstractions in current ethnographic approaches, and the concomitant desire to develop theory and abstractions that are sensitive to the local and contingent nature of Community Networks. It is argued that an a- modern approach fits both requirements in so far as it identifies key abstractions as binaries, and embraces the coexistence of these binaries rather than arbitrating between them..

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  • MV Arnold

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