New Modes of Integration: Individuality and Sociality in Digital Networks
The paper provides a theoretical framework for researching how digital media may contribute to social cohesion by providing communicative references and new forms of sociation. The latter depend on referable sets of culturally available signs, traditionally provided by central social institutions, especially the mass media. While the advent of decentralized, highly variable media usage in the wake of digitization has initiated new patterns of communication and social interaction, these new phenomena are not necessarily detrimental to social integration.
The contribution suggests that we are witnessing an important moment in the organization of societal communication given the current conjuncture of long-term socio-structural change processes with the advent of new technological and individual ways of communication. Contemporary internet-based media technology – above all Social Network Sites (SNS) – may provide the groundwork for a new form of communicative integration through the emergence of what may be called Networked Individuality. This amounts to a restructuring of the very architecture of societal communication as social media and their technology enable an exchange-based mode of sociation. Based on a discussion of classic and contemporary sociological theory, some of the central mechanisms of the new societal role of the emerging communication paradigm are sketched out, and subsequent potentials and risks for this new mode of sociation are discussed.