¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 For electronic communities to develop, there must be a greater understanding of these emerging communicative regimes, since “the organisation of knowledge… is crucially important to multimedia producers.” [Thorn 1996: 6] Turner and Boissevain both suggest models which, while they have many similarities with the dynamics of chaos theory, also show that there are a multiplicity of ways in which to conceptualise the activity of online interaction. Turner’s recognition of the phases of schism, and his identification of the liminal character of such occurrences, places his work in the context of far-from-equilibrium systems. However, for Turner, liminality was conceived of as a transition phase of a rite of passage between two stabilities, whereas complexity theory indicates that open systems undergo permanent flux. In focussing on the the marginal and the ‘in-between’, complexity theory often synthesises ideas from different fields of knowledge. But while it may be that the activity of virtual communities is complex, and that chaos theory is also complex, it does not necessarily follow that there must be an interconnectedness between them. Perhaps it is not that people are doing anything unrecognisably new, but that they are doing more of it, and in a more connected way.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Furthermore, the idea of ‘theorising liminality’ is itself problematic, suggesting a contradiction that limits discourse to the description of emergent processes. Ermarth asks whether chaos theory signals “the end to our powers to universalise or even generalise particulars as we do in formulating the laws of science and of social order?”. [1995: 103] This implies that ethnographic accounts should resist the temptation to descend into systematising the results of study into fixed patterns, since
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 “analytical techniques, by their very nature, tend to kill emergent properties, that is properties of the whole that are more than the sum of its parts. Hence the need for a more synthetic approach, in which everything systematic about a given whole is modelled as a historically emergent result of local interactions.” [De Landa 1996a: 182-3]
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Whether in accordance with the suggestion of chaos theory, or whether out of the caution required in any new undertaking, it seems that judgment should stay suspended. “Every project in phrase time is limited absolutely. Its time comes to an end, and it will not be repeated. There is less of prediction and more of improvisation, less displaced control and more precision. There is no deep structure or transcending meaning to rescue us from that finitude and from that engagement.” [Ermarth 1995: 108]
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Ermarth’s assertion of the demise of global explanation may be well founded; “some philosophers have judged technical rationality the primary mode of knowing and being, thus reversing the traditional primacy of science over technology and theory over practice.” [Escobar 1994: 214] There may be no overarching reason to venture into the digital domain; it may provide no answer to the questions that are asked, yet “despite its insufficiencies we should go into cyberspace with hope. Groundless hope, like unconditional love, may be the only one that counts.” [Barlow 1995: 11] Indeed it seems unlikely that technology builders will cease building technologies, and that consumers will stop using them. “IT affects anthropology more substantially than simply changing the way we acquire, record, transmit, publish and collaborate over data; it has the potential to change the way we think, and the discipline must follow.” [Houtman & Zeitlyn 1996: 2] The requirement of a historically emergent view of community indicates a need for long-term ethnographic research if an ‘anthropology in cyberspace’ is to have a significant influence upon the scope and nature of the technologically-mediated communities that are already underway. Anthropological understanding might not change their form, but it may deepen the experience.