Defrag Blog

The Exclusion that is a Community

by Eric Norlin on Nov.02, 2009, under Uncategorized

A caveat on this post: I hesitated to write this - mostly because I think it’s very easy for the author (me) to cross a line of being provocative for provocative-ness’ sake, and for readers/commenters (you) to misinterpret my meaning here. Please be gentle.

There were a few tweets flying around at JiveWorld last week about how social software is all about “inclusion.” I want to push back on that a bit. Mostly, because I think social software, insofar as it’s about community formation has, as it’s first act (and I’ll explain this a bit), *exclusion*.

I think it’s pretty commonly accepted in sociological circles that “communities” (ie, groups) form via an act of exclusion. That is to say that all groups define “us” as against something else (”them”) by necessity. Even in the case where a “group” tries to explicitly eschew this implicit act of exclusion, the very act of doing so (saying “we are defined by NOT being exclusionary”) is an exclusionary act.

This, of course, leaves a bit of a bad taste in people’s collective mouths. And rightfully so. None of us *wants* to be exclusionary, as our collective histories include so many atrocities and bad acts based upon severe acts of exclusion.

That said, when I heard the “social software is an inclusionary act” meme surface, my gut revolted. And for a reason. It’s simply not true. The first defining act of community is, by definition, exclusionary. This is not to say that communities can’t be “open,” only that there’s always a “them” for our “us.”

So, the next time you hear “social software” - remember, “social” often means community, and community necessarily operates via mechanisms of exclusion.

The same holds true of conferences. Conferences are exclusionary vehicles. Even unconferences - much as they’d like to be inclusionary are exclusionary (just by nature of the fact that some people aren’t there). Attendees at conferences implicitly form a community. In fact, some conferences are so conspicuous in their exclusionary practices as to be “off the record” and “invite only” (The Lobby, for instance). And the highest end tech conferences have an air of real exclusion (D and the Web2.0 Summit come to mind).

So, my friends, won’t you join our community? Everyone is welcome, but if you don’t attend, you really won’t be part of the community.

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