[Air-l] Reflections on flame wars.

Eva Ekeblad eva.ekeblad at goteborg.utfors.se
Tue Jan 15 05:32:49 PST 2002

At 14.48 -0800 02-01-14, robert m. tynes scrobe:
>Boy, ask a simple question and get a bevy of great stuff!

The simpler the question, the better :-)

>From Eva *quoting Nancy* and adding her own two öre:
>re definitions of flaming ...
> "best so far" is not bad at all
>> >name calling, swearing, insults, impolite statements, threats and
>> >crude flirtations of a demeaning or sexually explicit nature, and
>>attacks on
>> >groups or individuals
>> = flaming on the Net will be conflict carried out by linguistic means as
>> above, Net conflict carried out by more elegant use of language will be
>> something else, even if there is evidence of emotional involvement.
>I like this. Does anyone else want to modify, or propose what's missing?

Or is the topic exhausted?
Even so, I think we have actually reached something of a conclusion this

>I'm especially fascinated by the conflict-as-essential-group formation
>concept, first mentioned on aoir by Nancy White, I think. Theory-man Georg
>Simmel comes to mind.

Yes. This is good. Though my own particular interest might be towards the
perceptual -experiential -emotional dynamics of individuals and collectives.

>So what's going on in a "flame"?
>Crossing unspoken netiquette boundaries

Snipping here so as not to exceed my quota. Yes. I would say that flaming
makes visible where the boundaries of a particular group-as-community ARE -
where exactly they are and will be is of course under contest in any
episode of flaming. So where there is flame there is not only heat but also
(flickering) light!

I would not frame this in terms of mental maps (but let's not debate that
;-) - but I really like the idea of regarding flaming (or electronic group
dynamics in general) in terms of feedback systems. Well, what you're saying
there is pretty much what I said above, about light being thrown on where
the boundaries of group norms are and will be.

>To flame is to cross into someone
>else's territory, possibly to lay claim to their discursive body. Hence,
>the name-calling and character assasinating and sexual text-groping.

That's a very inspirational way of putting it, when you're interested in
how participation in text-based groups meshes into the rest of our lives.
You're right that the rhetorical features of flaming constitute sallies
into the textual territory of targeted contributors. So pushing the
boundaries of group norms is, in the case of flaming, a skirmish about the
rules for internal division of the textual space of the group! This can be
made very concrete in quite simple terms by studying things like the
distribution of posting frequency between contributors.

>Of course, flaming is deemed "bad" and abusive. But is that because it
>causes real, measurable harm, or is it because it breaks with the
>traditional Western Socratic rational dialogue form?

Well, it can of course be debated whether a shift in posting frequency from
one definable group to another is a case of harm. But I don't think it
would be rare to find that such changes are the result of outbursts of

I'm not so sure that flaming always breaks with "traditional Western
Socratic rational dialogue form", either. In my personal experience there
is often a quite strong link between a rationalist rhetoric and features of
flaming - like Ken reminded us, the tradition of scholarly debate contains
a lot of heat. In less scholarly electronic group contexts (like the SFF
lists I've been on for fun) it usually has the effect of a flame when
participants get into a rationalist mode, dissecting the logic of targeted
postings. In less playful contexts I have observed that there is a type of
contributor whose textual tactics involve a heavy use of rational argument
and logical analysis, spiked with the occasional employment of more overt
flaming features. The effect is very pernicious. (I'm discussing with my
shrink why I am so personally vulnerable when confronted with this strategy
;-) Fortunately the fullblown tokens of this type are fairly infrequent.
Less than one-in-every-list. But I have certainly encountered more than one.

Hoping we're not exhausting the air-l participants before we exhaust the topic!

Eva Ekeblad

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