[Air-l] Re: Company vs. Community

Phillip Thurtle thurtle at u.washington.edu
Wed Dec 19 05:38:12 PST 2001

Regarding commerce and community:

I think that some of the more interesting social engagement is happening
now via multiple layers of commercial platforms even if it is not
explicitly commercial in content.  Take the example of the online game
EverQuest. There are a variety of reasons why individuals play this game
(some are even explicitly commercial, I heard one individual claim it as
"cheap long distance") but more importantly it happens via a browser
(almost always obtained from a commercial source) and through a commercial
gaming platform.  "Community" happens when these platforms become
transparent through use.  For instance, one of my students has very
interesting screen shots of an online funeral held for a gamer who died in
real life.  Here all the functions of community are being served through a
commercial platform.  For me the more interesting question is not whether
or not it is "community" but how does the discourse of "community" make
these multiple platforms of commercial engagement transparent.

This brings me to my second point regarding the value of theory for
empirical work.  There are many ways of using theory. Jeremy has
identified one important way: to extend or reconceptualize one's framework
assumptions.  A second is to gain greater awareness of one's (often
transparent) theoretical assumptions.  In both cases, theory operates, in
a sense, as a means for broadening one's event horizon.  I fully agree
with Christian's reminder that rich empirical work (or "classic" work)
often remains classic because of, rather than inspite of, internal
ambiguities.  The goal is not to have one's greater awareness about
theoretical standpoints determine an empirical account, but to be aware of
one's starting assumptions when one begins an empirical study.  This then
helps one assess if they are asking the right questions and avoids the
dangers of what is often labeled "naive" empiricism.

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