I recently joined Mastodon, a developing open source and federated social media server. In particular I have come to participate in the incidence. And as this platform grows and is shaped by its users so has the discussion about community. What is community? Where does it come from? How do we foster and develop it?

What community do we want here?

And it got me thinking and reflecting back on a definition of community I worked up earlier this year, and posted on my original portfolio blog… a modified version reposted here:


I developed this visual while participating in a Constructivism in Education course. I wanted to wrap my mind around how all the different constructivisms fit together, because as I’ve mentioned before, I hate putting things nice little boxes with clean divisions. I like my world messy.

I think it does represent communities well though; and on multiple levels.

In the image you have a representation of the world individuals resided in. The world consists of both an experiential and social portion–referred to as “Experiential World” and “Social World” within the image. The social world takes up most of the image, as everything is primarily experienced through social influences, but there is a small divide there: all of the social world is experiential, but not all of the experiential world is social.

Within the social world we have a number of individuals; one individual serves as representative for all of the individuals in that the same processes going on within that individual is going on within all the individuals diagrammed. The individuals are represented as either filled circles, or empty circles, to note the difference between a foundation generation and later generations.

The concept of generations specifically comes from Social Constructionism. Here, the foundation generation–generation A/B–creates structures and processes which work for them. As the generations increase, and those structures and processes are reproduced they become institutions. Institutions have often lost meaning behind structures and processes, simply propagating behaviors and beliefs because “that’s how it’s always been.” To say it in a different way, one generation or group creates information, which gets passed on to subsequent generations/groups. As that information is passed on, it becomes assumed that the information is “Real”. Everyday life is taken as a given, so we act as if it is. Social realities are based on regularities of thoughts and actions within and between self and others, and Institutions are those regularities generalized at a society level.

Some example institutions are: racism, social classes, buying engagement ring, sport entertainment… the list goes on and on. These are fairly broad examples, but institutions can arise in much smaller situations as well, like procedures during club meetings or the way things are done in your office.

Within each institution is a community. People with similar beliefs, practices, behaviors. Of course, there is overlap between members of institutions–which is not shown in the diagram, just to keep it from being to much of a beast to interpret. And there are likely many smaller communities within the institutions shown in the diagram.
The concept remains the same though: People with some overlap in beliefs, practices, and behaviors working towards something in common; a collection of individuals influencing each other and the world they experience together.
To me that is what a community is.

Communities are inherently caught up in institutions, because communities are representations of the regularities of thoughts and actions among a collective.

So how do we shape these communities? Can we decide what actions we want to be generalized and know for? In doing so do we inadvertently become a different beast all together? As generations come and go, shift and make changes that work for them an institution and community are not stable but rather complex organisms that live and breathe with us. What can we do to be responsible members of community, curators of institutions?

Mastodon proves to be interesting further in its federations and instances. You can host your own instance, create your own community that somehow is separate but linked to the others (I’m still unsure of all the technicalities of this, so please forgive and correct me if I am wrong).  We are willing communities into existence. We are building institutions from the ground. And because it is open, we are doing it in a way that really puts it in the hands of the communities that will make it. Hopefully with everyone on a bit more equitable standing than an institution lead by a particular controlling interest (say, Twitter or Facebook).

I am interested to see where this goes; where this grows. What will we be generalized into?


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