smalldeer: (Default)
bug ([personal profile] smalldeer) wrote2015-05-12 01:49 pm
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imagined communities

The Oxford Dictionary has the word "community" defined as "A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common". So an imagined community, then, at least according to Benedict Anderson, is when "the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion."

A strong sense of community persists in nearly every collective group of people with any one thing in common - whether it's positive or negative is not the issue. For example, supporters of a football team may agree that they can be labelled as "football fans", along with everybody else, but the knowledge that some individuals under that label can show violent tendencies or otherwise cause public disturbance can cause them to keep the label at arm's length for fear of associating. And yet the label persists, and so does the perceived community.

A modern example of this could be the phenomenon of "gamers" - or, those who play video games and identify themselves as such. The label is entirely subjective - the criteria that make a person a "gamer" can vary so wildly from viewpoint to viewpoint that the only widely agreed-upon necessity is that the person must have played a video game before.

Yet the sense of community in some circles of "gamers" can give these people such a close sense of togetherness that aggression can flare up for nearly anything perceived as a slight against the group en masse, despite individuals not having met the vast majority of it.

For instance, despite the relatively close gender ratio between male and female players (52% female, according to a study in 2014), video games are still somehow perceived as an inherently male hobby - and female gamers are, surprisingly often, viewed as a threat to the video gaming world just by existing within it. This can cause massive attrition between genders, and what should be simply an enjoyable hobby becomes almost a war within itself over whether or not women have the right to invade the space - even when they were already there from the beginning.

Recently, the "Gamergate" phenomenon exploded across the internet in full force (read about it here), and all sorts of responses cropped up from all over the web - again, of wildly varying opinions.


Some took it a little too seriously...


...and some decidedly did not.


Still, the potential for these communities to cause harm, whether they're imagined or not, is very real. The Gamergate controversy stirred up such strong feeling on both sides (most of it not very reprintable) that a feminist critic and advocate by the name of Anita Sarkeesian was even sent death threats.

One might bring to recollection the 1980s football riots, for a much older example, or to really push it, the Salem witch trials - these were, after all, started with the misguided intent of protecting their perceived community.

Imagined communities can bring people together, then, and create a strong sense of comfort as well as being a strong social network and sense of identity for some - and while this can be a very good thing, it can also cause all kinds of meltdowns, and when you get right down to it, energy and effort spent in an argument over an imagined community could perhaps be much better spent elsewhere.

Sources

  • Anderson, B. (1991). Imagined communities. London: Verso.
  • community. (2015). In: Oxford Dictionary, 2nd ed.