Bowling Together, Virtually

(Updated 3/25/09: program description revised.)

I’m working on a program proposal for the Netroots Nation conference this August in Pittsburgh.  For those who aren’t politics geeks, here is what Netroots Nation is about:

Netroots Nation amplifies progressive voices by providing an online and in-person campus for exchanging ideas and learning how to be more effective in using technology to influence the public debate. Through our annual convention and a series of regional salons held throughout the year, we strengthen our community, inspire action and serve as an incubator for ideas that challenge the status quo and ultimately affect change in the public sphere.

The fourth annual gathering of the Netroots (formerly known as the YearlyKos Convention) will be held August 13–16 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, PA. Netroots Nation 2009 will include panels led by national and international experts; a progressive film screening series; practical training sessions and workshops; and the most concentrated gathering of progressive bloggers to date.

I’m hoping to broaden the discussion a bit by looking at the value of online communities that are not at all political, at least in an traditional sense.  There is still political value in the idea of online community itself; it’s important that online space for personal and community expression remain open.

I need your ideas for examples–and potential speakers.  Do you know of a knitting forum where people talk about organic sheep farming?  An online book club that makes a bit of extra effort to be diverse and inclusive, not just in the books they read, but in their membership?  A cooking Ning group where people are open to discussion of sustainable fishing?  Let me know.  Here is the description I’m working on:

Bowling Together, Virtually: Building Social Capital in Online Communities

The netroots can encompass more than those who do explicitly political blogging.  Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone traced the harmful effects of the fragmentation of local civil society.  Now online voluntary communities are forming around bowling, knitting, and other personal interests, occupations, and hobbies.  While not explicitly political, such activities have political value: with their global reach, they bring together individuals from diverse locations and backgrounds and promote profound relationships among people who would not otherwise interact.  Is there a latent potential for growth of political awareness in these sorts of communities, as people meet online to share those things they have in common? Is the formation of communities, independent of political boundaries or corporate mediation, itself a political activity?

Ideas are welcome, ideally before next Tuesday.  Thanks!

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1 thought on “Bowling Together, Virtually”

  1. Hi Jim–
    Most of the communities that I belong to, online and otherwise, welcome diversity. I have to be honest though, we tend to attract our own (argh!!) That said, I might recommend the English Companion ning as a great community to check out. Jim Burke invited English teacherly types to join sometime around December, and it is a thriving community with quite a bit of diversity….take a peek? http://www.englishcompanion.ning.com

    Don’t know if this is what you were looking for….good luck!

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