“Imagine all the people sharing all the world” – John Lennon
Two days and three field trips later, I once again find myself wondering about the power of imagination in community formation.
CPSquare’s Connected Futures workshop participants spent time over the last two days learning about three online communities: Beth Kanter lead us through the NpTech story, Bev Traynor provided us with an in-depth look at CIARIS, and Vance Stevens herded us through Webheads in Action.
Each community has its own idiosyncratic origins. Each community defines itself in different ways. They all rely on experimentation and community leadership as they continue to develop and evolve.
NpTech is often described as a “loosely coupled community.” Members primarily participate through their contributions of tagging resources. The “there” of the community lies in these resources and in the facilitation by NpTech leadership. CIARIS appears to be a more ‘traditional” platform-centric online community; the website houses the workspace where individuals and groups engage in learning around a particular domain, social inclusion, and its different permutations Webheads in Action, consonant with its grass roots, hippy sensibility, sprawls across cyberspace like picnickers on an infinite lawn.
One question that consistently arose was “how does one become a member of this community?” The intent of the question was not an issue of signing onto a site or discussion list. Rather, when does one recognize that he or she is part of the community? To what extent does the community need to recognize the individual member? Are there reciprocal transactions of identity that must occur?
In his book, Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson defines nations as imagined political communities. They are imagined “because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion. (p. 6).” Imagination, it appears, is key to identity and to affiliation in communities.
Membership in any community seems to me to be a leap of faith and an act of imagination.