Here’s a paper I wrote recently, Hearing Women’s Voices: Digital Communities and Feminist Ethics.
[Edit: now available in HTML format here.]
Introduction: Community and Ideas of “Space”
“Online community” is a highly contested concept. Are text interactions “authentic”? Are digital friendships real? Can collections of electronic conversations and relationships truly constitute a community? In what ways can conflicts be resolved?
Online community debates are beset on one side by entrenched ideas of geographic determinism, moral panics, and assumptions about a lack of “authenticity”, and on the other by technological determinism and transcendental utopianism. These dichotomous ideas miss the blurred boundary between online and offline life, and the multiple, mixed meanings in the spaces between. Inquiry into online community also risks an ahistorical approach, so I will chronicle ideas of online community with a longer-term view.
One of the key issues in the emergence and creation of community is the production and enforcement of norms, the ways in which conflicting ethical imperatives are discussed and resolved. In this paper I will look at the history of online communities and online community research, definitions of community, methodological approaches and limitations, and some issues around the emergence of norms and ethical systems online. As a case study, I will examine one conflict between traditional ethics and feminist ethics that occurred in and around a popular feminist blog in 2006. This conflict threw into relief participants’ differing interpretations of online rights and responsibilities.
I find this putting this sort of work “out there” really confronting. My personal-growth project over the last few months has been to tackle that feeling head-on, reminding myself of Bokardo’s 9 Lessons for Would-be Bloggers. This is the first time I’ve tackled any sort of academic philosophy, or started to explore ethics outside of the strictly traditional-individualist framework. I hope there’s something there of interest for some readers.