Rasa Smite doctoral thesis defence

In sociology network has been used as a metaphor for over a century yet, with the end of the 20th century and along the emergence of the Internet the term network has not only gained a new meaning, but also a new image – networks have become sophisticated socio-technical systems. The complex relationships emerged within such environment are referred to as socio-technical formations – network communities being also one of them constitute the object of this study.

With the aim to investigate the meaning of the social action, the new social dynamics as well as forms of social organization I carried out a research on creative network communities – by which I refer to those formations of self-organization that emerged during the early stages of the Internet (during the second half of the 1990s) and whose participants were mostly creative and socially active individuals (artists, theorists, programmers, electronic activists, etc.). Also, I made a comparison with social networks of nowadays, namely – networks that are based on contemporary social media platforms of web 2.0.

This study also develops a theoretical foundation and terminology in order to consider different interpretations of network concept as well as relations between the terms of network and community; thus serving the basis for the empirical research. Case studies were used as a main research strategy. It combined different methods – interviews with network founders, participants and experts, network mapping, analysing of mailinglist dynamics, etc. On the whole 5 translocal and 2 local creative network cases were analysed, including: Nettime – mailinglist for the critical discourse of net culture, Faces – cyberfeminist mailinglist; Syndicate – European media art collaboration network, 7-11 – net.art project, Xchange – global Internet radio community, Open and E-Lab – local community networks for alternative and digital culture in Latvia.
Closing part of the study provides conclusions concerning the meaning of social action of network communities and their contribution in network society's development. It also hypothetically argues that a network community research can serve as a reference phenomenon through which to perceive those changes in the social structure of today’s society that are occurring under the influence of socio-technical transformations.

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