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Lucas Introna (Lancaster University). PrimaVera seminar.

Event details of Presence and Absence: On the social and ethical conditions of virtual communities
Date 12 November 2004
Time 11:30 -13:00

If you would like to attend this seminar, please confirm your attendance by sending an e-mail. If necessary, we can reserve a parking space for you. Lunch will be available to those who confirmed their attendance in advance.

This paper tries to move away from the traditional virtual/real dualism by exploring the social and ethical conditions of virtual communities through the work of Martin Heidegger and Emmanuel Levinas. It argues with Heidegger that communities are communities because they already share concerns and as such a world a meaningful horizon of ongoing being. With Levinas the paper explores the conflict between the demands of ethics (the Other) and justice (the third). It argues with Levinas that ethics and justice incessantly impose on, and interpenetrate each other in a way that turns morality into an ongoing existential burden that needs to be 'worked out' again and again. The paper proceeds with a discussion of virtual communities. It argues that 'thick' authentic online communities are possible but difficult to maintain. It argues that these communities always face an insider/outsider problem that mirrors Levinas' tension between ethics and justice. It concludes that as we respond to the insider, the trusted companion that we face so often, that 'facing' is perpetually disturbed by the excluded outsider equally worthy of our responsibility. For morality to happen the boundary of ethics (insider) and justice (outsider) must continually disturb each other. Online communities raise the possibility for the crossing and questioning of these boundaries. Unfortunately they may also merely confirm these boundaries.

In the seminar I will explore some of the implications of these ideas for online collaborative practices and virtual communities of practice.