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Hypermedia Online Publishing: the Transformation of the Scholarly Journal

2.4.1 Definitions

A community is defined by Agre as

the set of people who occupy a given structural location in an institution or society. ... Most communities engage in some degree of collective cognition -- the interactions through which they learn from one another's experiences, set common strategies, develop a shared vocabulary, and evolve a distinctive way of thinking. [Agre1995b.]

In the context of scholarship, a very broad application of community might be all scholars. A narrow definition might be a particular discipline such as physics or a narrow sub-discipline like string-theory cosmology.

Communities are not isolated constructs. Community implies "shared forms of activity within a particular institutional logic" [Agre1995c]. According to Agre

'activities' include both the physical actions (sitting, writing, talking, looking, turning pages, pushing buttons, etc.) and the cognitive and emotional processes (identifying with characters, figuring out what's important, wondering what the professor thinks is important, catching the allusions, etc.). The genre needs to 'fit' with the whole complex of 'external' and 'internal' aspects of the activity. [Agre1995b].

Scholarly activities include writing and reading articles, conference papers and books, taking part in the processes of journal publishing by refereeing and editing, teaching, researching, collaborating with other scholars, communicating with the wider community, applying for grants, and administration.

Communities express themselves in shared patterns of activity, but the sense of community comes from the quality of shared relationships within that community.

Many of the characteristic activities of a community either directly involve these relationships (asking for a loan, writing a report, casting a vote, holding a meeting, and so on) or are heavily influenced by them (learning skills, gathering ammo, making oneself presentable, thinking about analogous relationships in others' lives, and so on). [Agre1995b]

The links that bind scholarly communities together include those that derive from the university system of education (graduates from particular departments, protégès of a particular researcher), those that come from membership in formally constituted scholarly societies, informal networks that often form or are renewed at conferences, and membership of mailing lists. Members of such scholarly communities are in turn linked to publishers through activities like refereeing and editing.

Media are defined as the "specific technical means of communication" [Agre1995b] used in activities. Agre notes that the affordances of the medium condition how it will be used.

For example, it is difficult to carry a VHS playback system, it is physically painful to read a long text on a computer screen, radio is much easier to use while driving than television, overhead transparencies can be projected better onto whiteboards than chalkboards, email requires net access, face-to-face conversation requires travel, and so on. But media should not be confused with genres. [Agre1995b]

A genre is a "relatively stable, expectable form of communication" [Agre1995b]. In Agre's analysis, genres are intimately embedded into his framework for thinking about new media: they are designed or have evolved for specific communities and "fit into particular activities in the lives of that community's members" [Agre1995b]. They are also usually closely linked to a particular medium:

A novel might not change its words in the transition from paper to CD-ROM, but nobody really knows whether anyone has any use for a novel on a CD-ROM, or whether CD-ROM's need new genres that can participate in the activities for which the CD-ROM medium can actually be useful to the members of a particular community. [Agre1995b]

Consistent with Kaufer and Carley's theme of an evolving ecology of communicative transactions, Agre argues that "it helps to think of a genre in historical terms as the product of an ongoing process of coevolution between its producers and consumers" [Agre1995b]. Genres coevolve with the network of practices in which they participate, they shape the activities of members of communities, and they are shaped by those activities in turn [Agre1995c, p. 227].

Other researchers have also found this idea of genres very fruitful. Levy argues that "each genre has a characteristic rhythm of fixity and fluidity" [Levy, 1994]. Nunberg has discussed (in the context of applying genre theory to electronic newspapers) that genres mold their environment [Nunberg, 1993]. Furuta and Marshall have discussed the way in which genres can act as a reflection of the underlying technology in the context of Web homepages [Furuta and Marshall, 1995]. Yates and Sumner argue that "the new burden for providing fixity in communications is being met by increased reliance on genre" [Yates and Sumner, 1997, p. 3].

Last modified: Monday, 11-Dec-2017 14:39:36 AEDT

© Andrew Treloar, 2001. * http://andrew.treloar.net/ * andrew.treloar@gmail.com