Community without propinquity revisited: Communications technology and the transformation of the urban public sphere

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Abstract

Recent discussions of the Internet have touted "virtual community" and a capacity to enhance citizen power in democracies. The present essay (a) calls for a more rigorous understanding of community; (b) suggests that relationships forged with the aid of electronic technology may do more to foster "categorical identities" than they do dense, multiplex, and systematic networks of relationships; and (c) argues that an emphasis on community needs to be complemented by more direct attention to the social bases of discursive publics that engage people across lines of basic difference in collective identities. Previous protest movements have shown that communications media have an ambiguous mix of effects. They do facilitate popular mobilization, but they also make it easy for relatively ephemeral protest activity to outstrip organizational roots. They also encourage governments to avoid concentrating their power in specific spatial locations and thus make revolution in some ways more difficult.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)373-397
Number of pages25
JournalSociological Inquiry
Volume68
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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