In this post I will mention what I want to look at for the pre-writing assignment. It will be an off-load of initial thoughts so that I can move on to the systematic process that Jeff suggested. The reason why I want to do this is to define a position and a purpose to give context and guidance to the pre-writing activities. Please jump in, comment, and help me with any thoughts you have.

I want to look at the possible ways social interaction takes place on online forums. Particularly, I will pull http://www.allepposoft.net as an exemplar, and specifically the participation of two members on that forum. My main focus is attempting to illustrate what the forum possibly meant to these two members and how they participated, projected themselves and clashed.

Alepposoft is a forum for college students in the school of Computer Science where I went for my undergrad studies. It was established around 2004 and serves mainly as a platform for hosting conversations, sharing documents, exchanging information about lectures and events, and the casual entertaining chit-chat.

The two members I’m considering were two students at the School of Computer Science at the University of Aleppo. One of them (A) was among the founders and an administrator, while the other (B) was mostly a critical voice (both at the school and on the forum). Even if risking to oversimplify I will go ahead and make an analogy of the first member (A) being a “dominant” and the second (B) being a “rogue”.

As mentioned above, my main focus is to go down to the personal experience of these two members to explain their online interaction and how the forum “hosted” their online experience and facilitated, influenced, and inhibited aspects of their interaction. As I tried to justify in a previous post, I will not completely commit to a theory (and I need your feedback on this). This is further justified, I think, by my intent to come up with statements on participation, performance, and marginalization through conversation on online platforms. This means that I have a kind of an argument to make – an argument about how features of technology facilitate and inhibit aspects of our interaction, and how this relates to physical presence when both are co-occurring (in my example of the forum, people interacted both in school and on the online forum). This sketchy argument will help guide, filter, and appropriate statements made by relevant theories… I’m thus oriented by a position and a set of questions rather than by a theory.

So what theories I am going to draw from to guide, phrase, and interpret observations? Again, my orientation is to understand a small subset of personal experiences. Gadamer’s (and Heiedgger’s) work on horizons and lifeworlds would serve to justify this and helps in examining the lifeworlds of the two members on the forum. Also, since all online interactions are mediated by technical features, I believe that at least a simple artifact analysis would make sense to give context to these individual experiences. To further elaborate on that context , and since the experiences of these two members are inherently social, social forces should be taken into account (norms, power structures). To that Hebdige and Polhemus seem to be informative in linking formal features to meaning in social contexts. Finally, and most importantly, McCarthy & Wright, Dewey, and Bakhtin would help stitch together all the bits and pieces in composing a unified vision with personal experience in the center.

To summarize, the outcome would be an understanding of what this forum stands for for its users and how they experience it in light of their lifeworlds. This would further illuminate how such socio-technical systems support certain forms of expressions and inhibit others in relation to technical features and social contexts.

I’m interested in knowing your thoughts on this!

Some keywords: social norms, marginalized individuals, religion, politics, history, personal history, conflict, values, power relations, dominance, resistance

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