On Developing Networked Communities

I dropped what a friend of mine referred to as a “Twitter bomb” this morning, spurred on by a question raised by Tim Hutchings:

My thoughts have gotten a bit of attention, and in order to ensure that they’re not lost to the passage of time (and to do the editing that Twitter won’t permit), I thought I’d capture them here.

I’ve heard the concern about the way we named Humanities Commons a few times, and I have taken it to heart. I’ve tried, as much as I can, to put aside my somewhat knee-jerk desire to point out that few have complained about the ways that projects with “science” in their names limit their address. Because there’s a real point being made here: naming the humanities limits our reach. And to a significant extent, that’s purposeful.

The humanities have long been underserved by digital infrastructure projects. Scientists have loads of open science networks available to them. Social scientists have had SSRN. And given that Humanities Commons began with the MLA, and MLA Commons, it seemed only natural that we should serve our own constituency first.

But: First. Platforming outward from MLA Commons to Humanities Commons has been one step in a process. And more steps are to come.

It’s hard to develop community by simply throwing open the doors, though. Much as I resist the Facebook analogy (as I wouldn’t want a scholarly commons to take it as a model), it’s worth considering how the platform grew. First, they established internally-focused networks within individual institutions, enabling members to connect with people they already knew. Then they created means of connecting across those networks. And only once there was a critical mass of participation did they open the doors to everyone.

One of the mistakes that’s been made repeatedly in open scholarly communication projects has been the attempt to create the bucket of everything. Sometimes that bucket has been journal-shaped, and sometimes it’s been social network shaped. But they all face the same challenge: getting individual scholars who identify with their field or subfield and who want to speak with their colleagues to recognize themselves in “everybody.”

So Humanities Commons has begun with communities of practice — but they’re just a place to start. We welcome the involvement of new communities of practice, and we look forward to growing the network in organic, collaborative ways.

8 thoughts on “On Developing Networked Communities

  1. Thank you for this! You ae absolutely right. This is simply smart design/development and informed practice from feminist methodologies. The objectivist-all-knowing-all-encompassing-view-from-nowhere-and-all-connected is false, and it’s a dangerous falsehood because it posits something that doesn’t exist, and that wouldn’t help if it did. People and communities are situated. We can be connected across fields and across the world, but we exist in a real and not abstracted manner. For technologies and systems to support people, they have to be developed with humanity in mind. Creating a great big box for stuff that isn’t situated and then connected provides a technological answer, but that’s incomplete because the community has expressed/exhibited a socio-technical need. We have to be able to listen, respond, and continute the dialogue as part of expanding and connecting, leveraging the tools and capacities of the digital age to support and enrich our work. Otherwise, it doesn’t work, and it doesn’t make sense. Humanities Commons is important and doing tremendous work because it is situated. From that position, it can be made meaningful for/with our communities and grown and connected. Thank you for recognizing and championing this!

    1. Thank you, Laurie! That situatedness is key. I am hopeful that we’ll be able to connect more communities, but we really have to find ways to focus on what makes them communities before we can do so. I’ll look forward to seeing how we can develop from here.

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