A group is it’s own worst enemy

Read this! Clay Shirky on ‘A Group is it’s own worst enemy’. As well as containing gems like this, on the power of out-group prejudice:

groups often gravitate towards members who are the most paranoid and make them leaders, because those are the people who are best at identifying external enemies.

And, on why geocities came before weblogs:

It took a long time to figure out that people talking to one another, instead of simply uploading badly-scanned photos of their cats, would be a useful pattern.

He also has some interesting reflections on the basic patterns groups reproduce (he says sex/flirtation, outgroup animosity and religious veneration are the top three), on why structure is needed to protect groups from themselves (it is members of the group, operating within the deliberate remit of the group’s initial intention that often cause its collapse, not ‘outsiders’) and a whole lot of other stuff about social software.

And, basically, i’m not too wrapped up in the software bit of social software, i’m more interested in the social. How can we catalyse well functioning groups?

Clay says that you need some kind of privilaged group of core users, or some kinds of barriers to entry – in an internet forum a lack of these things leads to a one-person-one-vote tyranny of the majority [please read the article before getting upset about any anti-democratic sentiments you perceive here].

However for non-internet groups, I’m wonder if our problem isn’t the lack of limits to commitment, rather than lack of barriers to entry based on a minimum level of commitment. I’ve seen a lot of social and political groups which get overly swayed by the minority that have the time to commit totally and obsessively to the group – it doesn’t make for a rounded decision making process.

I’m in danger of starting an epic string of posts on the interrelation of group structure and group function, if anyone would like to head me off at the pass and recommend some reading/ideas to get my head corrected on this first i’d welcome it…

3 replies on “A group is it’s own worst enemy”

No particularly insightful comments on the ‘interelation of group function and group structure’ at the moment, but I totaly see the need for some groups to have ‘limits to commitment’ – Sheffield University Assassins Guild springs to mind, also Southampton branch of the SWP (four men, one woman and a loudspeaker. Saturday morning shopping on Southampton High Street will never be the same again).

Also, Tom, I spent last night putting photos to Dan’s techno beats and created an unwieldy, poorly edited and epilepsy inducing montage of flickering visual-techno noise. I’m scrapping that in favour of putting the pictures to somethnig much slower, probably Mysterons by Portishead. Sorry Dan, it’s just too difficult for me to match pictures to such fast beats without it becoming unwatchable…I’ll keep you posted…

I was thinking that the movie would need to go to something slower…Portishead is a good choice. I can imagine something by radiohead working as well.

Goffman, Behavior in Public Places. I can lend.

I found a bunch of this kind of stuff researching Glancing. Next time we’re over I’ll dig out papers.

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