Conceptualizing Social Interactions in Networked Spaces

Conceptualizing Social Interactions in Networked Spaces

Jenny Kennedy (Swinburne University of Technology, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-338-6.ch002
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This chapter proposes the concept of “networked spaces” as a strategy for resolving the problematic binary of online and offline. Networked spaces are dynamic, and the contexts or narratives within them, relational. It is through the lived experiences of interactions in these spaces that the contexts of social interactions are suggested to be best examined.
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Digital interactions cannot be considered in isolation from social frameworks (Parikka, 2007). In their study of Trinidadian internet users, Daniel Miller and Don Slater (2000) identify that the internet is in fact embedded within existing social practices (p. 2). They argue that: “we need to treat internet media as continuous with and embedded in other social spaces, that they happen within mundane social structures and relations that they may transform but that they cannot escape into a self-enclosed cyberian apartness” (p. 5).

Similarly Lori Kendall (1999) argues that awareness of the offline context of online social interactions is important to the analysis of such interactions (p.71). While this conclusion has been reached by researchers repeatedly over the past decade, it appears that there is still a continuing inclination to separate online activity to offline (Beer, 2009). There is a historical and disciplinary inclination for online/offline activities to be divided while a synergistic approach is what is required. Leah Lievrouw and Sonia Livingstone (2009) argue that the challenge to the discourse of online/offline division is still there to be had (p. 4).

Far from being distinct singular activities, interactions that occur online have synchronistic contexts offline. The relations between synchronistic activities produce the spaces in which social activity is situated. Increasingly then, new media scholars are questioning the strict binary of ‘online’ and ‘offline’. Situating social interactions discursively as online or offline is problematic because people are always one and often both at the same time. I argue that there is a need to reconsider the spatial context and the embodiment of interactions in current discourse to account for this.

Although this chapter seeks to transgress the online/offline divide it does not dismiss or ignore that there is a distinction between online and offline. Taking into consideration existing literature on the internet in everyday life (Haythornwhaite & Wellman, 2002; Bakardjieva, 2005), it seeks to situate the everyday practices of subjects so that the relations between online and offline contexts can be identified. Taking a phenomenological approach enables actions or interactions to be examined in context with attention given to the embodied condition of all interactions. Examining in context means to identify the intersecting relations that also bear on interactions taking place and contribute to producing the space in which interactions are situated.

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