Extremism on the Web – Thinking Sociologically   no comments

Posted at 2:54 pm in Psychology,Sociology

Last week I read selected chapters of Thinking Sociologically by Zygmunt Bauman.  Although I have not read as much as I plan to yet, I have picked up some interesting and relevant topics, especially from the chapter “Nature and Culture”.  I have selected some quotes and will explain why they are relevant:

“The environment of my and anybody else’s individual life-processes consists in no small measure of other individuals with motives and purposes of their own – and thus the ‘normative regulation’ of individual motives and patterns of conduct is an important factor in the overall regularity and predictability of the environment.” pg 146

Here Bauman explains that one’s social norms and behaviour is governed mainly by the others that we observe.  Individuals regulate their behaviour in a social context by the behaviour of others within that context.  In the area of extremism on the web this partially explains why people within extremist groups share a relatively monotonous behaviour pattern.

“… most of our behaviour is learned.  We memorize those of our past actions which proved successful: brought the desired effect, the pleasure, approval and praise of people around us.” pg 147

Similar to the statement above; Bauman states that we behave in a way that is approved of in the current social context.

“If I confuse things, and behave in a way suitable for one context in circumstances which this conduct does not fit, I am likely to feel embarrassed or guilty … I may feel ashamed – as if I’ve let out some secret truth about my ‘real self'” pg 148

Here, Zauman shows that we learn separate behaviour patterns for different social situations; for instance one would not behave in the same way while having a formal meeting as they would while meeting for drinks with close friends.  These are two individual social settings where the expected behaviour has been learned from personal experience and shared experience through media such as television and the web.

“culturally trained individuals are structured – that is ‘articulated’, with the help of oppositions, into separate social contexts calling for distinctive conduct and separate patterns of behaviour suitable for distinctive social contexts – and the two articulations [are isomorphic].” pg 150

So our structured behaviour patterns are enforced with positive and negative responses until we meet the expected behaviour for the situation.  Online there is little enforcement of social expectations of behaviour, web 2.0 sites allow communal filtering, commenting and rating which helps this, but extremist groups reside in corners of the web which remain unchecked such as private newsgroups, forums or IRC channels which can have restricted access.  Here there are no pointers to expected behaviour patterns in the wider context, but expected behaviour is judged by the other members of these closed groups, creating a self-maintaining extremist community.

“The device which secures this .. correspondence between structures of social reality and of culturally regulated behaviour is called the cultural code.”  pg 150

Bauman goes on to say that this code is represented by signs: visual, olfactory, colours, dress, tones of voice etc.  It is clear that almost all of these signs are not present in the online world, so one must transfer one’s offline cultural code to the online space.  This may or may not be a conscious decision, some may consciously decide to ignore previously known code and treat the online world as one where ‘anything goes’.  This will allow people who have extremist views but do not express them in the offline world to speak freely online.

Written by Simon Hearne on March 11th, 2010

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