Between the Local and the Global

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 There have been several attempts to address these issues within Anthropology. Boissevain, [1968] for example, proposed the term ‘non-groups’ to describe associations that fall between the two poles of institutions and individuals. He highlighted the ubiquity of such associations from “networks of relatives and friends and relations… to the more intimate but often temporary coalitions which are formed out of these: the cliques, interest groups and factions of which all persons are members.” [Boissevain 1968:542] ‘Non-groups’ – or as he later called them, ‘coalitions’ – remain largely unanalysed; “there is no place for them in the structural-functional view of society.” [op. cit: 544] That coalitions are temporary social relations makes analysis all the more difficult. “We are not studying a static model of structure at a given period in time, nor one which remains constant through time. We are studying the process of creation.” [op. cit: 544] This picture of the dynamic nature of coalitions reflects the need for their emergent properties to be included in the model.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Victor Turner, in his book The Ritual Process – published at much the same time as Boissevain’s articles – argues for a strikingly similar model of social relationship he calls ‘communitas’ which is neither hierarchic nor fixed; these “liminal entities are neither here nor there. They are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by custom, law, convention and ceremonial.” [Turner 1969: 81] Liminal states were originally identified as a part of the ‘rite of passage’ by Van Gennep. “Most ritual occasions are concerned with movement across social boundaries from one social status to another.” [Leach 1976: 77] Liminality is the middle of the three phases of the rite, during which time the participant is neither of one status nor the other. The period is characterised by a lack of structure; consequently (although on a larger scale) liminality implies that Turner’s “communitas emerges where social structure is not.” [Turner 1969: 113] He, like Boissevain, acknowledges the transitory nature of such social relations; “it becomes clear that social structure is intimately connected with history, because it is the way a group maintains its form over time. Structureless communitas can bind people only momentarily.” [Turner 1969: 141]

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Both the liminal ‘communitas’ and the “temporary alliance of distinct parties for a limited purpose” [Boissevain 1971: 470] that is the ‘coalition’ were models proposed long before the Internet became accessible to people outside certain institutions. On the one hand, they show that the kinds of groups the researcher finds in the digital domain do have conceptual precedents, but on the other hand, both theories lack the vocabulary to adequately represent the emergent properties of such systems. This is a problem which is by no means unique to Anthropology; David Leakey, ex-chief scientist at British Telecom describes a similar problem facing engineers. At first they dealt mainly with ‘ideal systems’ where a certain requirement led to a single solution; if a machine goes wrong, there is only one correct way to fix it. Later, as systems became more complex, the discipline entered a period when engineers had to propose ‘adequate solutions’ to system specifications; a system should do what it claimed to do. Contemporary engineering, however, must contend with continuously changing environments. There has consequently been an shift in emphasis away from solutions to problems towards continuing responses to that changing environment. [Leakey 1995] Engineers have had to deal with these situations in a very practical way, but the primary impetus for the development of a language of emergent properties has been from the field of Physics.

Page 10

Source: http://cpmu.haystack.co.uk/newbie/discourses/between-the-local-and-the-global/