community networking, community networks, information and communications technologies, ICTs, social activism
Digital Communications and Networking
Since the publication of Doug Schuler’s influential book New Community Networks: Wired for Change (1996), community networking has gained definition and momentum as a socio-technical phenomenon in the U.S. and elsewhere. It has emerged as a research field of enviable vitality as well. This special issue is focused on a neglected but fundamental research question: How do community networks originate, stabilize, and change in their socio-historical context? I use the term here to refer to systems enabled by information and communications technologies (ICTs) and “intended to help revitalize, strengthen, and expand existing people-based networks” (Schuler, 1996) in locality-based (geographically grounded) human communities. Social activism is an important motif in community networking (Schuler, 1996). I include community technology centers under community networks (the papers in this special issue cover both modes) on the reasoning that, despite differences in emphasis, both modes (see Beamish, 1999) help foster social networking. The framework developed here is grounded in theories of community social organization and is attentive to the social and historical context within which the community network lifecycle—origin, stabilization, and transformation—plays out. Community networks must be analyzed as artifacts shaped within particular systems of social organization (or social structure), and it is here that explanations for variations in technological form and function must be sought. They develop in the “ordered arrangements of relations” (Wellman, 1997) between individuals, groups, and organizations that describe community social structure. They are embedded in these relations; their constitution and ongoing operation are shaped by them. The network may change these relations as it matures as a social object, but the starting point for an adequately historicized and socialized account of the lifecycle would have to be in community social structure. The starting point, in other words, is community (see Calhoun, 1998) or, rather, locality-based community.
Venkatesh, Murali, "The Community Network Lifecycle: A Framework for Research and Action" (2003). iSchool Faculty Scholarship. Paper 101.
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