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Community Equals Sum Media

The notion of community is a complex one, and we kid ourselves, at least to some extent, when we try to reduce that complexity to formulas. It remains, however, that there is a certain value to reductionism insofar as it allows us to consider critical factors associated with a phenomenon. This is true for Community as it is for other things. On this page we assert a series of levels at which one might assert community, including language, medium, conversation, and text. The idea, in building what might be considered a series of layers of community formation, is to not only consider what a community is, but what is essential to its formation. We start, then, with a definition:

Any group of people that believes that it functions as a unit for some set of purposes.

This is, one admits, an extraordinarily generous definition. It allows almost any unit of social collectivity, including dyads, families, geographically propinquitous collectivities (e.g. towns, neighborhoods, etc), organizations, and even nations to be regarded as communities. One suspects that many people will prefer much narrower definitions, including notions of community as both exclusive and inclusive. To be honest, few variations in the definition of community will prove problematic to the remaining analysis, and none spring to mind at the moment. For now, it is enough to say that if a group of people regards itself as a community, that's good enough, and that is all the definition offered here claims.

It is possible, however, to operationalize this definition in a set of compact equations that relate to other pages here:

and where C is a community, R is an relationship (see RelationshipEqualsSumMedia), O is an organization (see OrganizationEqualsSumMedia), and U (Use) is the extent to which the text is used for a particular purpose. U breaks out into is own equation (see UseEqualsSumGenresAndTime). Organizations are, of course, a special case in community, and relationships figure into the definition of both communities and organizations. One important implication of the relationship variation of this equation is that communities are usefully explored (much as organizations are) via network analysis.

It makes that claim in a manner that is consistent with James R. Taylor's view (See Littlejohn, 2002), derived to some extent from Giddens' Structuration theory, that an organization is both a conversation and a text. Specifically, Taylor claims that an organization exists as a collection of shared knowledge of how it enacts itself (e.g. as a text). This shared knowledge consists of rules, roles, norms, scripts, goals, and shared experience that is constructed in, and which in turn helps to structure, the organizations ongoing conversations. Text and conversation are both used in somewhat special ways here, with a conversation occurring in any media interact within the organization and text emerging from those interacts as, in some sense, a set of interacts that work and are therefore worth preserving and repeating.

This notion seems to generalize to communities in general. Specifically, it might be said that a community is a conversation and a text, where the text arises from, and subsequently helps to structure, the conversation. Lets look at this in layers, starting with text, then moving to conversation, and then moving beyond Taylor into mechanism.

Believing yourself to be a part of a community reflects some level of shared experience with that community. We know who is in a community. We know how to draw a boundary around the community. We imagine that our communities share values, and they often do. We know who plays certain key roles in our communities, who enforces the rules of our communities, and what processes are available to change or negotiate exceptions to the rules. A community is a collection of activities, organizations, and places and times where we can have conversations. It is a set of norms; a set of assumptions. It is, in a word, at collection of personal texts that share a common belief in a set of common rules, roles, norms, behaviors, scripts, and other expectations. This can be summarized in the equation:

, where C is a community, T is a text, and U (Use) is the extent to which the text is used for a particular purpose. U breaks out into its own equation (see UseEqualsSumGenresAndTime). It is not clear, at the moment, that the current notion of Use is appropriate, but the idea that we use our texts for a variety of purposes, and that its value grows as a function of new purposes, remains appealing.

Texts do not simply happen. They happen as a result of an ongoing conversation between members of the perceived community. This is important, because it implies that texts are not static; that we change and renegotiate our texts based on our ongoing interaction with each other. Text may well structure conversation, but conversation changes text. This is a important notion, and one that is probably reasonably summarized, in terms of its specific mechanism, in the cycle of genre:

, where use (e.g. conversation) inevitably leads to effects, effects to practices, and practices back to uses. We might summarize the effects of conversation on community in the following equation:

, where C is a community, I is a conversation or an interaction, and U (Use) is the extent to which the text is used for a particular purpose. U breaks out into is own equation (see UseEqualsSumGenresAndTime).

Of course, conversations don't happen in a vacuum. They require systems of communication in which they can occur. This notion is asserted in the equation:

, where C is a community, M is a medium, and U (Use) is the extent to which the medium is used for a particular purpose. U breaks out into is own equation (see UseEqualsSumGenresAndTime).

The value of this equation is explained somewhat in the following:

Another mechanism of community is language. Many, especially in the United States, belive that a single language is necessary to community formation. There is probably a limited truth to this, as is expressed in the equation:

, where C is a community, L is a conversation or an interaction, and 1 is unity.

In truth, this is trivially true. Most, but not all, communities (see bilingual communities in Canada, for instance) form up around one oral and written language. It is also obviously not true. Communities generally share not only oral and written languages, but non-verbal codes and other shared languages such that language might be better stated in the following:

, where C is a community, L is a conversation or an interaction, and U (Use) is the extent to which the text is used for a particular purpose. U breaks out into is own equation (see UseEqualsSumGenresAndTime).

Clearly, none of these equations fully captures what it means to be a community. It is reasonable, however, to consider each to capture a layered facit of what it means to be a community. Shared language is a fundamental base for community. If we don't share language we necessarily either socialize to a common language or invent one (a pigeon for adults; a creole for their children; see Pinker). There is a level at which shared language is so fundamental that it precedes everything else and a level at which it is just another part of the shared text that forms a community. If we don't share or create common language, we simply do not form a community. It's really about that simple.

Once language is established we use it through a variety of media (broadly defined to include the full range of media; see Unlike language, however, media is a place where the more media a community shares at the level of the community, and the more ways those media are used within the community, the stronger the community will be. Communities die when they stop having ways to talk with each other. Communities are created with people have ways to talk to each other. Again, itís really about that simple.

With media comes conversation. With conversation comes text. Communities exist in the intersection of conversation and text.

A note from James R. Taylor on related materials:

I very much enjoyed reading your papers. It's an aspect of co-orientation that I have not explored much - density - but that I know is important. My tendency is to angle toward the structurational, but part of my training was in geography and regional science, and there the density issue becomes very salient. Given your direction of thinking you might like to look into some of that literature. My references are now, I imagine, out of date, but it also touches on the issue of network, but from a probabilistic perspective: i.e. probability of link formation. Certainly people who study Silicon Valley recognize that density is crucial to sustained innovation, but that goes back further into the thinking about cities as crucibles of innovation. Sounds like you are onto a productive line of investigation.

Best, Jim

The following is an earlier variation on the community equals media equation:

, where C is a community, M is a medium, U (Use) is the extent to which the medium is used for a particular purpose, and G (Genre) are specific uses to which a genre is put.

This equation might be misleading were it not for the special way in which medium is described here, which presumes that a medium is invented in five interrelated spheres of invention. See SpheresOfInvention.

On this page I plan to collect material that relates to this notion, starting with pointers to two special cases, organizations and relationships (see XequalsSumMedia). There are probably more such special cases (groups, societies, species). Community represents the most general case, I think.

As a start, it is useful to use Taylor's notion of Organization as Conversation and Text as a starting point. A community is also a conversation and text (as is a relationship). Many other interesting things might be said at this point, but they can wait.


Related reference resources:


-- Last edited September 18, 2015

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Unless otherwise noted, the contents of this page were written by participants on the Media Space Wiki, operated by Davis Foulger, and should be cited accordingly. For example (APA):
Foulger, D. and other participants. (September 18, 2015). Community Equals Sum Media. MediaSpaceWiki. Retrieved on from
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