Spring-Summer 2005

Book Review
Community Practice in the Network Society: Local Action/Global Interaction
Community Practice in the Network Society

Edited by Peter Day and Douglas Schuler
Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group)
London, UK and New York, NY, USA
© 2004
Order online

As a companion volume to Shaping the Network Society (previously reviewed here), this interesting collection delves deeper into the role of community technology and networking in the Network Society. Day and Schuler are particularly concerned with the lack of involvement of civil society and communities in the ICT (information and communication technologies) revolution that is primarily serving the interest of globalized commercial interests, and is a threat to true democratization. But there are signs of hope at the grass roots as communities use ICT for social networking to further their vision of a more citizen-oriented, diverse, “Civil Network Society.”

As in Shaping the Network Society, the authors divide the publication into three sections. Part I, “The network society: issues and exigencies,” lays out some historical context and current state of things. The articles make a compelling case for the challenges to democracy, civil society, and civic engagement wrought by corporate control of the Network Society, and offer some examples of initiatives that are countering these effects. In Chapter 5, “The changing online landscape,” Eszter Hargittai describes the challenges faced by non-profits fighting for a presence in the commercial web environment and suggests strategies to overcome the odds: focusing content on a target audience of stakeholders rather than trying to compete with broader-interest web sites; working in tandem with other like-minded and supportive organizations to cross-link in order to raise their respective rankings on search engines; keeping the content fresh, both to encourage return visitors and to keep up with web search engine programs that look for new material as part of their ranking criteria (she writes: “Ideal in this case would be to include a blog…on the site with nearly daily updates.”); creating interactivity on web sites; and developing email lists with messages about web site updates to encourage traffic. She also proposes the creation of a non-profit search engine initiative, but recognizes that there would still be the challenge of getting people to the web site.

Part II, “Snapshots of community practice,” focuses in on specific ICT models, including networks in Latin America facing the challenges of internal digital divide issues among elites and poor in their own countries, and a national public dialogue about ICT in El Salvador that is yielding some positive results. Chapter 9, “Social cyberpower in the everyday life of an African American community,” profiles the exciting community-building work being done with ICT at The Murchison Center in Toledo, Ohio, that will be particularly interesting to readers who want to find out more about that center covered in this issue.

Part III, “An emerging community technology research agenda,” explores the growing field of community informatics with specific case studies and theoretical constructs such as “A human rights perspective on the digital divide” (Chapter 11). In Chapter 12, “An asset-based approach to community building and community technology,” Nicol E. Turner-Lee and Randal D. Pinkett offer strong conclusions based on case study research that shows how valuable and crucial it is to view members of the community as assets that can be tapped into to identify, address and solve community problems through ICT. Their involvement is crucial to their investment in the process of social change that emerges, and is in and of itself empowering, rather than a top-down approach coming from outside the community.

In the Conclusion of the book, “Integrating practice, policy, and research,” Day and Schuler make a convincing case for academia, community groups, and advocacy organizations to work together as a powerful force for effective social change. This publication fulfills the editors' goal of providing inspiration for community practitioners and researchers to develop the field of community informatics, and to discover the strength derived from working collaboratively.

Professor_Schackman.jpg Daniel Schackman, previously a VISTA with CTCNet, is one of two VISTA Leaders with the CTC VISTA Project and Assistant Editor of the Community Technology Review.


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