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Fernback Jan & Brad Thompson

Virtual Communities: Abort, Retry, Failure?


Community is an important aspect of life for most people. Cooley (1983) says that all normal humans have a natural affinity for community. He suggests that the primary factor inhibiting the formation of communities, no matter what their scale, is that they are difficult to organize. Extending the moral ideals inherent in nearly all individuals to the notion of community requires a system or institutional framework. The development and maintenance of such institutions sap the energy of the members of the would-be community and confuse the moral ideals inherent in the notion of community with the project of the institution itself. Thus enervated, the people lose their focus on the moral order they were trying to achieve.

The structural process that is associated with community is communication. Without communication there can be no action to organize social relations. The intimate nature of this relationship is best illustrated in the words community and communications. Both words stem from same Latin root word, communis, which means common. Communis is a paired formation of the Latin etymons for either apparently there is some disagreement together (cum) and obligation (munis) or together and one (unus). By the time it appeared in English, common had a meaning that was in contradistinction to togetherness. For example, common lands or the commons or even commoners was contrasted with the lords and nobility or their holdings. Eventually, common came to mean "ordinary" or "vulgar." Somewhat in contrast with common, community has only favorable connotations and lacks an antithetical counterpart. (Williams, 1983) What makes this etymology interesting and pertinent is that discourses surrounding communication and community often revolve around the issues of bringing people closer together or exacerbating social divisions, and the root word common contains elements of both.