Visuality and the Difficult Differences in Networked Knowledge Communities

Visuality and the Difficult Differences in Networked Knowledge Communities

Anita August (Sacred Heart University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4757-2.ch014
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This chapter argues that as Networked Knowledge Communities (NKCs) become increasingly the way knowledge is constructed, represented, and circulated, visuality in information-based societies is also being shaped, and shaped by, the interactive and collective ideologies of digital technology environments. Like the written text, which constructs and imposes hegemonic ideals of identity through discursive practices, visual representations of identities also serve as powerful discursive reservoirs of subordinating representations. By focusing on NKCs as an epistemic space that reflects, recirculates, and reacts to bodies of knowledge produced by the institutions of power in the larger social culture, this chapter examines the vulnerability of subjugated identities to normative processes of identity formation in digital networked communities. This inquiry positions visuality not as a subordinate and incomprehensible form of discourse to the written text, but as a symmetrical and understandable discursive practice and democratizing pedagogy imbued with all the possibilities and inadequacies that come with interpreting identity and the difficult differences. Without question, globalization is a key factor in this debate despite the lack of transparency in its meaning and use. However, despite its resistance to a comprehensive definition, globalization will provide an important ideological framing from which to begin this argument given its loosening of sociopolitical, cultural, economic, and technological borders.
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It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences. – Audre Lorde

The view that NKCs are unaffected by the same institutional hierarchies of identity formation because culture jammers disrupt dominant ideologies is damaging both to the ethos and ethics of NKCs. Further, it is equally dangerous to presume that digital natives (Palfrey & Grasser, 2008) whose identities are the most socially constructed in the digital visual culture (Bentkowska-Kafel, Cashen, & Gardiner, 2009) do not reimagine the old tyrannies of individualism in class-based learning environments into new tyrannies of NKCs, which aims to democratize learning by collaboration pedagogies. Therefore, it is important to take a critical and explicit inquiry into the development of new bodies of knowledge in NKCs with particular consideration to the social construction of the visual (Duncum, 2001; Tavin, 2003), which anchors subjugated identities into dominant discourses of identity construction for definition and representation. With this view, visuality, which embodies and inscribes the experience of seeing in historical and canonical discourses, unites in NKCs two meaningful and engaging conversations. The first one considers the difficult differences (race, gender, ethnicity, religion, language, culture, sexual identification, and disability) in relation to the shaping and articulation of identities within NKCs. The second one examines NKCs as sites of social justice where democratizing pedagogies can dismantle artificially imposed notions of self, to a technological space where the agent can exercise authorial control over the shaping of an authentically ascribed notion of self.

This chapter is divided into five sections with the overarching goal of examining the visuality of subjugated identities in the sphere of NKCs, and characterizing the interconnectedness of NKCs, self-fashioning, and the power of democratizing pedagogies of resistance. First, I identify the difficult differences that are challenges to the subjugated agent’s authorship and agency in NKCs to include digital natives. Second, I describe rhetorical and political strategies agents can invoke to resist and dismantle a canonical expericence of seeing. Third, I bring into focus the ideology of NKCs as disruptive epistemic spaces to hegemonic modes of knowledge construction. Fourth, I describe NKCs as a scopic regime and the new rhetoric as an argument strategy that enables countervisualizing the difficult differences. Finally, I conclude the chapter by identifying a democratizing pedagogy of resistance for visualizing the difficult differences within NKCs.

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