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Home > Books & Journals > Journal Abstracts Last Updated: 14:22 03/09/2007
Journal Abstracts #49: March 11, 2002

Information, Communication & Society

Journal Name: Information, Communication & Society,
Volume 4, Number 4, 2001


A New Game In Town: Competitive Higher Education
By Lloyd Armstrong
Research universities in the USA are complex, expensive organizations that perform multiple interrelated tasks and serve numerous constituencies. The value structure that has evolved for these universities is one that creates very high barriers to entry for new players and numerous impediments to rapid change. Consequently, real competitive pressures on universities have been minimal. However, new types of for-profit and non-profit organizations are beginning to provide competition in targeted segments of higher education. The arrival of Internet-mediated distance learning will greatly increase both market penetration by these new organizations and competition between traditional institutions of higher learning. Because this new competition targets only selected activities of the research university, it risks to destabilize their organization and structure. Ways in which this destabilization might occur are analysed and possible responses are discussed.

Applications of Community Informatics for Building Community and Enhancing Civic Society
By Kenneth E. Pigg
Community informatics provides new ways of approaching old problems of community development and enhancing civic society. Building on a theoretical analysis, this article discusses research in the area of the efforts of community networks in the USA to achieve outcomes in these two areas using the tools of community telecommunications and networking. The analysis matches the theoretical arguments for how community building and civic society are achieved against the practice of community networks trying to implement the new communications technologies. The analysis shows that achieving these goals is difficult for community information networks and that a full understanding of the nature of community information infrastructures could likely be very helpful in this task.

Change, Agency and Women's Learning New Practices in Community Informatics
By Margaret Page and Anne Scott

How can community informatics initiatives be sustained? This paper argues that, in the fast moving area of ICT and on the constantly shifting ground of community-sector practice, sustainability depends upon adaptability. We develop the concept of 'learning communities' - as developed by a women's ICT project to meet the need for democratic, inclusive and on-going innovation in women's organizations and the wider community/voluntary sector. Reflecting on the Women Connect project, we conceptualize 'learning communities' as dialogic and 'playful' spaces within which members can draw creatively on their differences while constructing shared knowledge. This approach, it is argued, can lead towards a new way of conceptualizing knowledge, new approaches to learning, and new practice for community-based and women's organizations in relation to the use of ICT. The paper starts by describing the Women Connect project, and then introduces the idea of learning 'in community'. We analyse issues relating to the use of the term 'community' in relevant discourses, arguing for an approach which emphasizes agency in our use of this term - the 'doing' of community within a context of shared projects, obligations and goals. Weaddress some difficulties involved in working across social differences, while arguing that these differences - which may make the practice of community uncomfortable - can also facilitate their emergence in the new form of 'learning communities'. Drawing on Gloria Anzaldキa's concept of 'the Borderlands', Nira Yuval-Davis's concept of 'transversal politics' and Maria Lugone'sconcept of 'world-travelling', we analyse community-sector processes of innovation and change agency, as they have found expression within Women Connect. We conclude by arguing that the current, outcome-driven, model for funding voluntary sector organizations acts to actively inhibit the development of learning communities - and the sustainable innovatory practice they can produce.

Avatarculture: Narrative, Power and Identity in Virtual World Environments
By Stephen Webb
Drawing on the work of Raymond Williams, this paper examines avatar culture through the interplay of emergent and residual forces. A dual process is at work in the formation of cultural identities in which the enabling conditions of virtual worlds are understood alongside and in relation to pre-existing off-line phenomenon. Avatar culture confirms structure for participants, especially in relation to gender and sexuality, whilst at the same time providing a reflexive space to break with pre-existing features of social identity. Virtual environments are thus microcosms of a grounded cultural materiality that is simultaneously improvised on and transformed. With regard to the distinctive aspects of avatar culture the paper focuses on issues of narrative, representation, censorship and power relations and their formation within virtual worlds. It discusses how virtual worlds incrementally acquire a peculiar power and meaning in the lives of participants. The paper discusses the flows of social interaction in virtual environments and how intermittence best describes how users participate and withdraw from different encounters. Avatar culture binds people together temporarily and loosely and then frees them up to relocate themselves elsewhere. In this context, virtual environments might be regarded as putting structure and power into movement. The ethnographic approach adopted helps peel back the residue of social structure to reveal a virtual agency with its emerging shells of avatar-derived affiliations, tensions and conflicts.

The Political Implications Of Digital Innovations: Trade-Offs of Democracy and Liberty in the Developed World
By Ben O'Loughlin
This paper addresses three issues: the potential trade-offs of democracy and liberty that the Internet may produce, the connection between real life and cyberspace, and the consequences for the conceptual apparatus of political science. It is argued that the Internet and real worlds are entwined, and thus classic political trade-offs remain pertinent. Important normative issues are addressed. It is established that the Internet is a nearly-neutral medium, so it is important how its development and effects are controlled. It is argued that a privately-controlled Internet would have negative implications for citizenship, political democracy and liberty.However, it is shown that existing Internet politics is significantly democratic, and if the 'net was used within a system similar to existing arrangements, i.e. with checks and balances, then one could optimistically foresee enhanced democracy. In this relatively unexplored but rapidly changing area of political life, this paper serves as a simple warning - public good, private bad - and justifies this in terms of the potential trade-offs of political citizenship versus market consumerism.

The Internet and Democratic Discourse: Exploring The Prospects of Online
Deliberative Forums Extending the Public Sphere

By Lincoln Dahlberg
Three prominent 'camps' have emerged within Internet democracy rhetoric and practice, each drawing upon different models of democracy: communitarian, liberal individualist and deliberative. Much interest has been shown in the former two camps by researchers and policy makers. This paper turns to an examination of the possible realization of the third camp's vision - that the public sphere of rational-critical discourse will be extended through cyberspace. This paper's method is to compare existing online discourse with a set of requirements of the public sphere developed from the work of Jウrgen Habermas. Previous research of cyber-interactions reveals a number of factors limiting the expansion of the public sphere online. Toexplore how these limitations may be overcome, the paper examines an online democracy project that explicitly attempts to foster deliberation. It is shown how this initiative has been able to successfully surmount many of the impediments identified in less structured online deliberations, but that it has, along with similar projects, failed to gain a representative sample of the population and is increasingly marginalized by commercial sites, virtual communities of common interest, and liberal individualist political practices. The paper concludes that the expansion of the public sphere through the Internet requires not only developing deliberative spaces but also attracting participation from citizens who have been socialized within a commercialized and individualized culture hostile towards public deliberation.

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