Wk 8: Community & ID

Shafi, ‘Can a Virtual Community be any different from the experience of a Real Community? Incoherent Thoughts, December 13, 2005. Archived by WebCite.

This blog post expresses the author’s initial reservations about virtual community, and then moves on to a more positive stance on their possibilities. This highlights the normative use of the word community, that is, beyond being a way of describing a set of social relations, ‘community’ often implies certain values and expectations. What do you associate with the term, ‘community,’ and are these things available in both online and face to face types of community?


This blog post is an opinion and not a peer reviewed academic source and therefore unsuitable to be considered as relevant, accurate or of merit. Also, the blog’s description by its own author states:

Monotonous tales and incoherent thoughts of a seething brain…Read at your peril

Therefore, in light of my learnings from Web101 and Net102, I have not wasted my valuable University reading time allocation on something that provides no veracity nor accuracy.

However, I did notice that this blog is dated 2005 and he uses blackboard and in the five years since this post, Curtin University still hasn’t updated to something more modern, despite being a university of “technology”

Helen Willis had this to say on Blackboard:

Shafi (2005)draws a distinction between offline communities –essentially the product of a physical locality – and the online community of people who “share the same ideas, opinions, beliefs, political perspectives, interests, etc” but from different geographical locations.  Essentially then, Shafi suggests the only difference between a virtual and a “real” community is its location.  One exists physically, the other mentally, giving rise to the concept of cyberspace as a social ‘space’, constructed in, as Shafi says, “our mental state”. Communities, it is assumed, are beneficial, although some have argued “ the unlovely aspects of community – its smug provincialism and punitive conventionalism, its stasis and xenophobia” (Siegel, 2008, p. 16).

There are a few points of discussion in Shafi’s blog. One could extrapolate the experience of a ‘real community’ as a jumble of multiple acquaintance and strangers in a multitude of contexts and activities – houses, buses, footpaths, fetes, shops, playgrounds, galleries – and always with the faint tinkling of crockery in the background; communities historically meet over food. Therefore, rather than use the term ‘communities’ for online gatherings, perhaps it is more apt to term these as ‘subcultures’, where individuals are attracted by and focused on singular entities. One wonders what Shafi would make of current applications such as Chatroulette, and could the randomness of this development constitute a community per se.

There are many sweeping statements: “online communities tend to be more close-knit and supportive”, and “The online community can strengthen social contacts, community engagement, and attachment for people with high education and a sense of belonging”, so that the article leans towards those enlightened beings who can see [new technology’s] “unique advantages and special features” , and subtly scorns the “excessively hysterical” who fearthe terrible effects it may have on the society”· This polarizing divisiveness is a constant theme in discussions of the Internet, and it must be agreed that much of declamation is doom-laden (Anderson & Rainie, 2008) just as much is totally uncritical; Shafi’s simply  dismisses the relevance of (non-technological) “communication methods such as face-to-face, physical presence and they [sic] dynamic body language”. The Futurist Richard Watson argues “real-world communities are breaking apart in favour of sealed off individuals” in (McCarthy, 2010). The point is that it is all crystal-ball gazing: humanity has two views of the future – the sparkling Cloud City (Star Wars) or the dark Los Angeles of Blade Runner.

Most questionable, however, is the naïve assurance we “are no [sic] much different in cyberspace, than our usual self”, assuming that “our mental state”, a product of the conscious /subconscious, perfectly reassembles the physical. This erroneous simplicity is evidenced at its most extreme by Freud and River’s study of war repression (Rivers, 1918).   Given this blog was published in 2005, Shafi appears to be unaware of the effect of disembodiment, or anonymity, on the individual, notably in the manufacturing of online identity as a performance (Slater, 2002). This is why Stone, for example, can argue Cyberspace is “a space of subversion – and that is the space of transgender, which is one of the spaces of liquid identity, which is to say, manifesting that which breaks free of location technologies which are intended to create singular identities” Allucquerè Rosanne Stone (1995) in (Goggin, 2004, p. 148).

Shafi’s article may have assisted in locating the virtual community; however, placing it in the realm of the human conscious / subconscious effectively detaches it from any perceived function of a ‘real’ community.  Shafi is commenting on virtual and real communities as discrete entities, and in isolation of the individuals in them, whereas Hongladarom (2002) and Slater (2002), both indicate offline communities use online communities simply to enhance local communities.

Shafi locates virtual communities in the mind of the user. This however, far from simplifying the concept of online community, fragments it into all the elusiveness  which characterizes the subconscious.


Tutorial: discuss, in relation to an online community of your choice:

  1. How is this a ‘community’?

  2. What are the connections and gaps between the world of this community and face to face life?

  3. Who are the ‘powerful’ in this community, and how was this power acquired?

  4. Is there a difference between ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ life? What do these terms mean, nowadays?

Discussion: pick 1 topic (e.g. dating) and list examples of the way the Internet has, in terms of your topic, become part of our everyday in terms of community, power, economy and identity. Please bring any questions and issues to the tutorial for discussion.


I thought it over, and decided I really didn’t like you enough to comply. So no. I didn’t. And I won’t.


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