How to conceptualize online sociability in the 21st century? To answer this question, Communities at a Crossroads looks back at the mid-2000s. With the burst of the creative-entrepreneur alliance, the territorialisation of the internet and the commercialization of interpersonal ties, that period constituted a turning point for digital communitarian cultures. Many of the techno-libertarian culture’s utopias underpinning the ideas for online sociability faced systematic counter evidence. This change in paradigm has still consequences today.
Avoiding both empty invocations of community and swift conclusions of doom, Annalisa Pelizza investigates the theories of actions that have underpinned the development of techno-social digital assemblages after the ‘golden age’ of online communities. Communities at a Crossroads draws upon the analysis of Ars Electronica’s Digital Communities archive, which is the largest of its kind worldwide, and in doing so presents a multi-faceted picture of internet sociability between the two centuries.
Privileging an anti-essentialist, performative approach over sociological understandings of online communities, Communities at a Crossroads proposes a radical epistemological turn. It argues that in order to conceptualize contemporary online sociability, we need first to abandon the techno-libertarian communalist rhetoric. Then, it is necessary to move beyond the foundational distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, and adopt a material semiotic approach. In the end, we might have to relinquish the effort to define online or digital communities and engage in more meaningful mapping exercises.