Social Drama

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Turner noted during fieldwork among the Ndembu that “the whole group might be cloven into two conflicting factions; the quarrelling parties might comprise some but not all of its members; or disputes might be merely interpersonal in character… After a while I began to detect a pattern in these eruptions of conflict” [Turner 1957: 91] He called this the “processional form of social drama.” [op. cit. 91] Its phases, which seem to resonate with the concepts of complexity theory, can be seen in a dispute which occurred on the McLuhan List. [see Appendix 2] The crisis erupted without warning, reflecting the sensitive dependence on initial conditions that characterises strange attractors. A member of the list had accessed the membership list and sent a message to all the participants promoting a lecture series on McLuhan and a mailing list they were setting up. This “breach of regular norm-governed social relations” [op. cit: 91] provoked a vitriolic outburst from the ‘owners’ of the list describing what had been done as not only theft but ‘rape’.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Date: Sat, 4 Jan 1997 20:56:08 -0500 (EST)
To: McLuhan-List.Subscribers@astral.magic.ca
Subject: McLuhan-List "Raped" -- Your Name "Stolen"
Sender: owner-mcluhan-list@astral.magic.ca

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The argument entered its phase of mounting crisis and became increasingly heated, to the degree that what is known on the Internet as a ‘flame war’ ensued. It seemed as though there was more at stake here than simply a transgression of ‘netiquette’; there seemed to be a collision of two mindsets. The list-owners claimed they were protecting their ‘territory’, and also the size of their members’ email in-boxes. They felt that their authority had been usurped by the sender of the message:

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 At present the ONLY way you can be sure you are receiving a VALID message from THIS list is :

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 * return URL states "mclr@astral.magic.ca"; OR
* "astral.magic" in the sending ID; OR
* direct quotes from NELSON THALL in the body of the message

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 This claim to sole authorship of ‘valid’ messages is characteristic of ‘analogue’ communication regimes; “hierarchical and closed, inviting passive consumption.” [Tresilian 1995: 270] The ‘transgressor’, on the other hand, claimed to represent emerging digital cultural values;

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 I am the digital generation. I know not walls or barriers, privacy or property. We are redefining public space, and an email list is as much a room, as it is for one and all.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Your response was childish and reactionary. You cannot own a list of subscribers, and you cannot control what is posted to it. When a group of people converge in a room you cannot control what they talk about.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 The stability of the group had been disrupted and the system remained chaotic for while with a flurry of further messages being posted through the list. “Redressive Mechanisms” [Turner 1957: 91] were employed by both sides; the original message was apologised for, and the list owners became aware of the potential for this to become a fully-fledged flame war when 250Mb of data arrived at the transgressors server. They stated that they wanted to avoid this for their subscribers; “There is a lot of other “stuff” in Mr. Hirsch’s message which, in the interest of avoiding a “war of words,” we prefer not to delve into too deeply,” though there was no attempt to limit the breadth of the schism. This effectively ruled out reintegration, and the upheaval on the mailing list abated in its final phase through recognition of schism. Some members left to join the new list while others stayed; ‘bifurcation’ seemed to have occurred. The system headed for a new form of stability; an uneasy acceptance of the perpetual motion and unpredictable dynamics of cyberspacetime life.

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Source: http://cpmu.haystack.co.uk/newbie/fieldwork/social-drama/