Curious Case of Sociality Revisited
Monday last week, a subset of the Maatschap was invited (including me, Bolke de Bruin and Mark Nijssen) to present at the ICT Societeit Zoetermeer, a platform where entrepreneurs with an interest in new technologies, especially social software in this case, can meet. There we did a recap of the presentation done by Wim Bouman and René Jansen given at the Social Media Congress. However, we gave it a slightly different twist in the end.
This presentation highlights the importance of the concept of object-centered sociality to explain the apparent natural behavior of its users, being active on social media, to provide guidance for designers. This includes avoiding over- and under socialized stereotyping by offering more realistic – in concreto post humanistic – perspectives.
In this triptych, the first part illuminates the concept and importance of sociality, being the tendency to associate or form groups. By doing this we also attempt to shift the focus from functionality towards sociality as the design objective in social media.
The second part about sociality also forms our rationale to explain why we actually engage in constructing and reproducing our social relations (on blogs, wiki’s and other forms of social media).
The third and last part explains the layered structure of constructing and renegotiating meaning (popularly devised as “nowledge sharing” in social media. In case of facilitating knowledge workers via social software, which was the central theme of the ICT Societeit, we hold that the construction and reproduction of “social” relations is pre-conditional for any knowledge construction to take place, which we can see evolving on forums, comment sections of popular blogs or on discussions around photo-editing techniques on Flickr. As social relations are pre-conditional to “knowledge sharing”, which also illuminates why intranets with their over socialized image of “enabling everybody to contributed to the collective” will not work, because of their lack of focus on the relation. Yet, we tend to stretch this stance even a bit further, by claiming that we hold that the construction and reproduction of relations is only viable in case we acknowledge the role of non-human objects involved. Stated differently: In order for an association between two or more people to bound, via interaction, objects are needed as “social glue”. Yet, in order for the glue to remain sticky, and to not dry out, we do not need commodity objects as glue, but knowledge objects (Knorr-Cetina, 2001).
In this case knowledge objects are open-ended and question generating, by their unfolding objects are partial representations of that object, in which the partial leads to the feeling of lacks and wants – being called structures of lacks and structures of wants – which trigger those involved in or around that object to fix those lacks, which requires them to discover new “partials” of that object. These partials can be seen as the layers of an onion that is being peeled, with every layer unraveling new information and the views on that object, which ultimately are “matters of concern”, that enable discussion, interaction and negotiation of meaning. Thus in to facilitate durable relations, that let us engage in epistemic practices in which we actually learn, we need knowledge objects for the stickiness.
Although not part of this presentation, if we extend our predominantly Knorr-Cetinian line of reasoning towards a more Latourian line of reasoning, the emphasis on objects will increase. Furthermore,the differences in standings of objects and subjects should then need to be nullified, and we should even talk about human and non-human objects. Furthermore, the discussion also bring into question the agency of objects and even the actor-network in which these objects play a role: The social is a unique constellation of non-human objects (for instance social software), human objects (sometimes referred to as subjects) or other objects (which also everything that plays a role in that moment in your relation, thus including context as an actant -as Latour would phrase it – or the tables we sit on, the computer actually facilitating us at the moment et cetera) that is only visible in group formation. However, these ideas need some further pondering…
We hope this presentation will inspire others… and thanks to the ICT Societeit for inviting us to their platform.
It can be viewed directly on slideshare, via Curious Case of Sociality (Revisited for ICT Societeit Zoetermeer)