[Air-l] Collaborating on a project about information technologies in heterogeneous social groups: a survey

Gianluca Miscione gianluca.miscione at soc.unitn.it
Sat Dec 21 13:12:44 PST 2002


I'm Gianluca Miscione, PhD student at Trento University, Italy.
I'm looking for researchers, teachers, N.G.O, students... interested in
information technologies and culturally and socially heterogeneous groups.
I would like to create a network to share information and to collaborate on
matters related to that argument.

The main object of this work are groups characterised by different cultural
identities, ethnic or religious belongings, unbalanced economies.
I'm interested in studying what is the possible role of media. How they can
be used by different social actors, what are the effects.

This project is at the beginning, the purposes are to understand more about
relations between communication and social groups. Then it is interesting to
use consequent hypotesis and theories to realise practical projects.
Within this quite large frame, any contribution is welcomed, in particular
suggestions about articles, books, web-sites, theories, studies.

I hope this co-operaration will grow and stronger relations between
universities, N.G.O., people would take place.

Feel free to forward this message to whoever you think that could be

Thanks for your attention,

Yours sincerely,

Gianluca Miscione



Theoretical purpose of this project is to study social groups organised by
formal and informal norms and uses of media in different contexts. Keeping
in mind the vital role of cultures in relations, my particular interests
- what media and strategies of communications fit different social and
cultural environments;
- what are the relations between communication and social cohesion;
- how new media organise and/or fragment groups;
- effects on cultures;
- ethical and political aspects of these changes.

A specific argument I'd like to treat is networks of trust: how trust
increases and what reduces it between social actors and groups. Main
attention is given to communication mediated relations. The essential
research question is "Can reliance be created and supported by media? How?"
Particular attention is due to groups whose relations are not forced by
external forces and to open and decentralised networks, where trust is more
important than in hierarchies.
It's useful to consider how social groups that exist on the Internet have
solved this problems and what seem to be future possibilities: digital
signature and electronic money, in particular.

The main object of this research are social groups divided by different
cultural identities, ethnic or religious belongings, unbalanced economies.
My focus is on how to use media (and new media in particular) where there
aren't shared values, norms or an effective power, at least. The objective
is to understand how social cohesion is affected by media and find if there
is any norm in that. The general objective is to understand what role may
have communication where there is no common sense and/or no common law.
This knowledge is useful even to improve communication in social groups that
only use media to create and maintain social relations.

Then it would be interesting to situate mutual effects between
communications and social networks in contemporary societies.

The theoretical part of the research is made up of different disciplines,
notions and outlooks useful to understand the problem and to guide practical
activity; a wide range of theories, studies, concepts are focused on a field
of application. Thomas' theorem, anthropological and microsociological
theories are useful tools to understand how people image situation they live
in. From a sociological point of view, ethnometodolgy, communities of
practice and accountability theories are stressed to understand how
information technologies and social groups are related, not considering
technical development a force external to society. So that, technology
evaluation theories could be enriched by perspectives that consider social
and cultural changes not only as effects.
Wittgenstein and Austin perspective help to maintain a pragmatic view on the
subject and to consider communication in general -not only languages- as a
practical skill, not as a formal structure.
A theoretical and practical analysis could exploit relational and
informational aspects of communication, necessary to create common outlook
and social cohesion. Sense-making could be stimulated even with
not-alphabetical languages, it depends on chosen situations.
It is important to focus on social environments, the contexts in which
communication is possible. Because of variety of cases, I don't think it's
possible to create a general model applicable everywhere. More suitable
would be to prepare a methodology that could help in different situations.
How do persons become a group, give similar meanings to situations, share
objectives? How to give coherence and unity to environment in which they
act? How do other people's actions become understandable/foreseeable? Can
new media support strong social groups that don't lie on offline
organisations? These are questions I hope to answer and that may lead to a
kind of social ergonomics. Cases related to media and e-government present
interesting issues about adapting global technology to local requirements,
applications and adaptations to local circumstances, where proximity and
remoteness are cultural rather than geographical.

Open questions are:
- if communities of practice are self-referential cultural systems which
prevent their members from comparing their implicit beliefs, can intentional
evolution take place?
- as there is discontinuity among different practices, is it necessary to go
beyond this way of organisation in order to obtain bigger groups?
- what is the relation between practices and meanings actors give to things
of the world they live in?

The first part is descriptive. I'm looking for at least two cases of study,
compare them and analyse how social cohesion is been affected by other
social-relevant changes in communication. The second part aims to use
knowledge and hypothesis arose from those descriptions to prepare a project.
Effects of this activities will help in evaluating theories.
Fragmented societies are quite frequent in less developed countries (but
cultural variety is remarkable in western societies as Europe or USA), so
that it could be a good choice to find cases there. The second step is to
consider all the actors involved in chosen social situations (local
population, government, civil-society, N.G.O., investors...) and what are
their activities and interests. Then is to be noted how they try to direct
social situations and what results are achieved. It's important to analyse
communities of practice in chosen groups. Special attention is to be
addressed to how private, common and public places are used and what social
functions are carried out there.
As any communication need a common area to be performed, the first grade is
letting different groups to find it, not to manage contents. Next steps need
to be decided on the basis of feed-back.
In planning the practical project, instead of focusing on media, it's better
to define beginning and expected social situations. If chosen media are not
already present in local mediascape, communication tools design has to be
consequent. To fit a particular setting, participatory design is a good
manner to let people to develop their own way to use communication. This
could prove if personal and free use of media is a way to obtain that social
actors believe in mediated relations. On the other hand, it's to be proved
if pre-defined systems can be understood or accepted and how they can affect
practices and purposes of social groups.
Examples of communication to employ can be divided into two types: uses of
media to promote cultural interchange and systems that make as impersonal as
possible social relations. Local newspapers collaboratively made (and
translated in different languages if necessary), production and release of
videos or documentaries, shows... are to meet and understand different
social groups. Systems that make relationships impersonal are useful when
the task is to apply formal rules. Co-ordination of different strategies is
fundamental. Can new media facilitate meetings, dialogue, realisation?
Practical achievement is the strengthening of information and communication
technologies employment in social, cultural and economic development.

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