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<nettime> [New post] Up from Facebook: #Occupy-(Re)Building and Empoweri
michael gurstein on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 06:41:17 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> [New post] Up from Facebook: #Occupy-(Re)Building and Empowering Communities

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From: Gurstein's Community Informatics [mailto:donotreply {AT} wordpress.com] 
Sent: Saturday, October 22, 2011 2:20 PM
To: mgurst {AT} vcn.bc.ca
Subject: [SPAM] [New post] Up from Facebook: #Occupy-(Re)Building and
Empowering Communities


New post on Gurstein's Community Informatics 



building-and-empowering-communities/> from Facebook: #Occupy-(Re)Building
and Empowering Communities

by Michael  <http://gurstein.wordpress.com/author/gurstein/> Gurstein 

#OWS (occupy Wall Street and the "Occupy" movement) have been widely
discussed but not as yet in the context of a broader understanding of an
evolving Digital/Information Society.

Castells and Wellman and his colleagues have argued that the Digital or
Information Society (or in their term the "networked society") results in
social relationships characterized by what they call "networked
<http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol8/issue3/wellman.html> individualism" 

.It is the move from densely-knit and tightly-bounded groups to
sparsely-knit and loosely-bounded networks. 

Each person is a switchboard, between ties and networks. People remain
connected, but as individuals, rather than being rooted in the home bases of
work unit and household. Each person operates a separate personal community
network, and switches rapidly among multiple sub-networks. 

For them, the organic and multi-dimensional relationships of communities are
being transformed into narrow digitally-enabled, highly individualized,
networked relationships; perhaps most widely recognizable as Facebook
"friend"-ings accompanied by Facebook "like"-ings as a possible substitute
for shared community values and norms. Regrettably their analysis nowhere
points out how these changes reduce the capacity for individuals to protect
themselves from the on-going encroachments of an impersonal neo-liberal
marketplace and particularly how it undermines the possibility of solidarity
which in the past has proven to be the most effective basis for effective

According to Wellman and his colleagues there is a parallel transformation
in the political sphere with

civic involvement . increasingly . taking the form of e-citizenship,
networked rather than group-based, hidden indoors rather than visibly


This move to networked societies has profound implications for how people
mobilize and how people and governments relate to each other .  But such
e-citizenship also facilitates, and to some extent reinforces, mass society,
with the individual in direct relationship with the state without the
intermediary of local and even central groups. . the turn away from
solidary, local, hierarchical groups and towards fragmented, partial,
heavily-communicating social networks.  

Certainly politics in the Information Society seems to have taken the shape
prescribed for it by the marketplace-fragmented, concerned with short-term
individualized interest maximization, personality-obsessed media saturation
and so on. These changes in turn have been propelled by the forces of
technology and the breakdown of established employment structures, education
patterns, industry-based physical communities, even family and friendship
ties under the avalanche of neo-liberal induced corporate and governmental
restructuring, outsourcing, downsizing and so on.

<http://www.itforchange.net/sites/default/files/ITfC/PolEco-Gurstein.pdf> I
have critiqued this position as one that is profoundly pessimistic and
depoliticizing and that it ignored the possibilities for community-based
ICT-enabled resistance arising within the Information Society. I pointed out
that while applications such as Facebook manifested these types of alienated
and alienating individualized relationships (where individuals interacted
with each other as fragmented and depersonalized "profiles" linked through
these social media); I also suggested that such social frameworks could and
would be countered through community informatics - digitally enabled
communities networked both internally (as communi ty networks) and
externally (as networked communities).

It is not I think an accident that the Occupy Movement overall is
characterized by processes of community formation enabled by Information and
Communications Technologies both locally - site by site - and as a movement
wide, mega-community rhyzomatically linking the individual sites
electronically and through shared values.  Tis emergent resistance is a
result of the fusion of the local and global - interacting and being enabled
both by face-to-face connections and electronic media - Facebook and Twitter
certainly, but perhaps most significantly through technologies of presence
in distance such as skype, online chat and streaming video.

What can be seen in individual sites are communities being formed - the
articulation of common core values; the emergence of behavioral norms
governing conduct within the community and between the community and its
external environment; and the creation of systems for knowledge gathering,
opinion sharing, decision-making and boundary setting; among others.

These emergent communities are internally networked - linking individuals
via mobile phone, iPads, netbooks etc. to each other and into broader
personal networks which aren't permanent parts of the sites but which weave
in and out following the vagaries of personal schedules and inclinations.
As well, the individual sites are directly and more or less continuously
digitally networked into other sites and sympathizers both locally and
globally allowing for both physical absence and virtual presence.

For the Occupy-ers there is a very strong emphasis on both place and
continuity.  Rather than (as
for previous such movements) focusing on individual events such as
demonstrations is on the continuing occupation of a focal point of territory
- a site.  Individuals can thus find and integrate themselves into the
evolving Occupy community allowing for very many individuals to come and go,
achieving through slectronic means some degree of identification with the
movement while still living their daily lives.

This focusing on the physical presence of a site is a significant step
beyond the virtuality and externally imposed structuring of the set of
digital connections of social media(ted) networks e.g. Facebook and allows
for a face to face connection to support and deepen involvement with the
overall movement. Thus the virtual connections (the "networked
individualism" of a Facebook or an email connection) is superseded or even
transformed into a more organic and deeper connection of shared values and
norms through physical interaction at the site.  This transformed connection
can then be more easily maintained and where necessary mobilized through the
much shallower and more fragile but continuous and distance-spanning
technical capacities of electronic networks and social media.

A couple of other elements might be noted. Rather than focusing on specific
events or demonstrations which are transient and ephemeral, the occupation
of a specific site requires the creation of a variety of structures of
internal management and governance all of which are the on-going elements of
a community - food provision, waste management, security, education,
governance and decision making, external relations/diplomacy, even in
Vancouver - a lending library. All these are as necessary for a continuous
occupation as they are for any other community. Notably one of the constant
themes of the discussions and the placards is this process of community
creation/recreation - often as in opposition to the imposed alienation of
the contractual relations of work or formal education which participants
experience as characte rizing life in the modern era - a deft fusion of
means and ends.

Another effect is the internal emphasis on continuity and even permanency.
Thus the communities have the time, even the leisure to work through their
internal processes in a relatively unhurried manner without the pressure of
fast approaching crucial events. This allows the sites to take their time to
be more democratic, inclusive and tolerant - allowing for broader group
collaborative norms to hold sway while reducing the pressure for rapid (and
thus almost inevitably) top-down decision making.  This overall has the
effect of preventing the emergence of a leadership cadre whose function is
to move events along at a pace determined not by internal processes but
rather by external exigencies.

Facebook or Twitter in this context become tools for organizing and making
connections rather than being fundamental infrastructures of linkage and
networks/networking as many have suggested (incorrectly I believe) underlay
the events in Tunisia and Egypt. But importantly the social media create
initial linkages towards community relationships. Once face to face
connections have been established the social media remain useful for
maintaining connections/networks beyond physical presence allowing vast
numbers to remain "attached" even though the presence is mostly virtual but
who nevertheless are available to participate as might be necessary or
possible as events unfold.

These developments are perhaps the next step "up from Facebook"-integrating
and using the social media tools that Facebook and the like provide but as
elements in the re-construction of normative communities within urban
environments and most importantly perhaps as a foundation for broader social
action and transformation.  The characteristic of place-based communities as
resilient and persistent locales for education and nurturing become dynamic
opportunities for the recreation of personalities not as fragmented profiles
but as whole beings linked both organically and technologically with their
fellows as well as into the larger world and most importantly being able to
work outwards from the strength that such communities provide in a process
of remaking and refiguring the world in their image.

Precisely what this emergent future might look like is not clear. But that
this process has unquestionably begun, that it is globally dispersed but
rhyzomatically linked, and that there is the rise of community as a step
beyond networked individualism and as the basis for resistance and
ultimately transformation in the corporate structures and exploitative
processes of a neo-liberal dominated society now appears possible. And
overall there is the need to recognize that the Information Society is not
condemned to be a place of alienation, fragmentation, distancing and
powerlessness but rather a more democratic and economically and socially
egalitarian society can be constructed on a foundation of digitally enabled
and empowered communities.

Michael  <http://gurstein.wordpress.com/author/gurstein/> Gurstein | October
22, 2011 at 14:19 | Tags: Community
<http://gurstein.wordpress.com/?tag=community-development> Development,
Informatics Practice, Community
<http://gurstein.wordpress.com/?tag=community-research> Research, Digital
<http://gurstein.wordpress.com/?tag=digital-transition> Transition, urban
<http://gurstein.wordpress.com/?tag=urban>  | Categories: Community
<http://gurstein.wordpress.com/?cat=31327999> Based ICT Practice, Community
<http://gurstein.wordpress.com/?cat=771367> Informatics, Community
<http://gurstein.wordpress.com/?cat=33791888> Informatics Practice | URL:

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