Communities, Networks, Swarms. Internet-Collectivities As Supplements for the Notion of Society?

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 9:15 AM
Room: Booth 68
Oral Presentation
Elke WAGNER , Institute for Sociology, JGU Mainz, Mainz, Germany
Sociological observations of social formations emerging with the internet have seldom pictured their object as a society; instead, there are many references to community, network, or swarm. These different notions are in many ways loose constructions and unrelated to the sociological theoretical discourse. They describe different phenomena: on the one hand, there is a sort of community feeling in online social groups. On the other hand, internet practices produce social contacts between strangers. What is referred to as “Internet communities” is fluid and diverse. They change all the time and combine different forms of networks. Thus, concepts switched to theoretical tools found in network analysis. Contemporary sociological writings go back to the concept of swarms to describe internet collectivities. The notion of society does hardly appear within the sociology of the internet. Instead of simply taking that as a sociological blind spot, this paper argues for an empirical perspective. Discussing different supplements (Derrida) of the notion of society within internet culture it thus addresses internet practices as societal practices. Internet practices are social practices – and within modern society there has always been a typical figuration of proximity and distance, fluidity and diversity. But at the same time the different supplements for the notion of society could indicate that societal forms are changing (through the influence of new media practices), e.g. the figuration of proximity and distance or the figuration of privacy and publicity. For the special case of the internet, this might be an instance of “writing (society) into being” (boyd). The paper discusses the sociological discourse on internet collectivities from an empirical point of view. It emphasizes that internet practices take place within society. And it works out how the new supplements to/of the notion of society could be indicators for social transformations.