On ‘Inscribed’ and ‘Enacted’ Connectivity

On ‘Inscribed’ and ‘Enacted’ Connectivity

Demosthenes Akoumianakis (Department of Applied Informatics & Multimedia, Technological Education Institution of Crete, Heraklion, Crete, Greece) and Nik Bessis (School of Computing and Mathematics, University of Derby, Derby, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/jvcsn.2013040101
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Abstract

This paper serves as a tutorial introduction to the themes and concepts of the special issue on ‘Social Networking and Mining’. It is aimed to provide an overview of the type of connectivity that emerges in social media and a reflection on the papers reviewed and selected for publication in this special issue. In this vein, connectivity is approached both in its ‘inscribed’ form which anchors it as a quality feature embedded in technologies as well as in its ‘enacted’ form which entails a social accomplishment that materializes as users appropriate technologies and co-engage in a certain practice. Each form points to different issues and entails considerations rooted in various theoretical fields and scholarships. Of particular interest to the present study is how such ‘inscribed’ and ‘enacted’ connectivity is traced, revealed and experienced.
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1. Introduction

For more than a decade now, social networking services catalyze the way in which people socialize online, create shared capital and social ties. As a result, a variety of cyber-formations emerge fostering new opportunities for socializing, networking, collaborating for the advancement of scientific endeavors and professional development. Throughout this period, researchers from different disciplines have embarked on a variety of efforts to untangle intrinsic properties of these cyber-formations in an attempt to gain insight into what makes them viable, how enabling media facilitate or constrain evidence of their existence, and the extent to which they lead to new cultural practices. The intensity of these research efforts is also evidenced by a new vocabulary that comprises terms such as imagined communities (Anderson, 1983), online or virtual communities (Jones, 1997; Wellman & Gulia, 1999), knowledge communities (Lindkvist, 2005), distributed communities (Gochenour, 2006), value-creating networks (Buchel & Raub, 2002), to name but a few. In all cases, a common concern has been on togetherness ‘sensed’ in cyberspace (Blanchard and Markus, 2004) and across boundaries (Akoumianakis, 2010). More recent scholarly works advance proposals for theoretical models, tools and technical instruments in an effort to untangle intrinsic properties of these collectivities and the means through which they become stable, build cohesion and sustain momentum (e.g., Gruzd, Wellman & Takhteyev, 2011; Jacovi et al., 2011).

Although the main thrust of this research, which is informed largely by the social sciences, has made useful inroads into understanding community management in virtual settings, it dismisses or undermines the importance of the ‘practice’ these communities engage in, i.e. what members actually do online and the means they recruit for doing it. As a result, very little is known about the arti-factual properties of technologies (functional and non-functional qualities), the way in which they shape and reshape practices online and how design qualities are intertwined to implicate connectivity. Therefore, it stands to argue that in spite of recent progress, it remains difficult and challenging not only to reach agreement on the facets of connectivity but also to create a context for studying what it actually implicates and how it is implicated in practice. This introductory tutorial aims to shed light on such a debate by framing connectivity as much in technological features as in the social accomplishments enabled by appropriating technology. In doing so, it seeks to establish a baseline that facilitates an understanding of the imbrications that emerge when two distinct types of agencies – the material agency of technology and the human agency of individuals or groups – become entangled and intertwined in virtual space.

The paper is structured as follows. The next section defines the concepts of ‘inscribed’ and ‘enacted’ connectivity and relates them to recent theoretical streams of research. To this end, we draw upon works that frame connectivity as a quality attribute whose presence or absence determines how a technology is appropriated by users. We refer to this notion as ‘inscribed’ connectivity and contrast it to the form of ‘enacted’ connectivity which is widely acknowledged in information systems research and management and organizational science scholarships. Following this, an attempt is made to address aspects of traceable connectivity, the potential of digital trace data and the implications for researchers. The last section introduces the papers in this special issue and justifies their selection.

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