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Processes of inclusion and the reproduction of connectivity

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Drawing from theories of participation and connectivity, this paper identifies the processes of inclusion at work in the production of membership in two public sector case studies, namely the BBC’s Action Network and Proboscis’ Urban Tapestries. Although numerous tensions emerge around conceptions of membership and practices of belonging within each case, both cases reveal a clear division between producers and users and between those who are ‘connected’ and those who are not. Building upon Etienne Wenger’s concepts of ‘communities of practice’ and Barry Wellman’s (among others) notion of ‘networked individualism’, I challenge the significance of such demarcations, questioning the organization of core and peripheral forms of membership in facilitating both participation and connectivity. The empirical evidence suggests that like Pippa Norris’ argument that new technologies tend to ‘connect the connected’, new media often facilitate the extension of existing connections, literacies and capital within existing membership networks rather than enabling entirely new forms of membership and new networks. Thus, those that are closest to the core (in terms of decision making, access to and legitimacy within public spheres) in both formal and informal membership systems, also most closely resemble ‘new media citizens’; a finding that contradicts the discursive construction of mediated citizenship in both cases. This paper argues that those who are most strongly connected to the technology in patterns of use, technologically integrated communities and the normative potentialities of each case are most capable of capitalizing on that potential. In closing, questions regarding the significance and implications of such processes of inclusion are raised, particularly within public sector citizenship initiatives and for the reproduction of connectivity. Paper prepared for the Fifth Anniversary Conference of the Department of Media and Communications, ‘Media, Communication & Humanity’, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, 21-23 September 2008.

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