Digital tribal identity

Earlier this year I published an edited volume entitled 'Connected Minds, Emerging Cultures' which was a compendium of papers written by leading theorists and practitioners in the field of learning technology. Over the next few days I will present an abridged, bite size series of exerpts from one of my chapters which was entitled: 'Digital Tribes, Virtual Clans'. I hope you enjoy it and look forward to reading your comments.

Tribes use common culture to construct group identity and will employ dialects as a shared but often exclusive form of communication. The dialect of the London East End for example, is peppered with rhyming slang, whereas just a few hundred miles away, the Geordie dialect of the North East of England is heavy with accent and vocabulary that have survived from the incursions of the Norsemen several centuries before. Such linguistic devices, although deriving from different roots, both serve to exclude outsiders who attempt to enter into the circle. Thus the shared symbolism of the slang or dialect tacitly protects the tribal culture and secures its social exclusivity for its members. Communication, including speech, clothing and actions all serve to signal our cultural identities and group membership (Pahl & Rowsell, 2006). Cultural transmission is the communication of ideas. According to Dawkins (1976) key actions and thinking patterns of members of a culture are influenced by a contagious patterns of information known as ‘memes’. Memes carry no specific rules, but in effect are adopted and shared around by the tribe as a means of perpetuating that culture.

The smaller elements with the tribe, which we call clans, also employ shared symbolism. Each clan for example, has its totem, a symbol that represents it and distinguishes it from other, possibly rival clans. In primitive clans, the totem was often a representation of an animal or tree. Durkheim suggests it is easier for clan members to project their feelings of awe toward a totem than toward something that is as complex as the clan itself (Haralambos & Holborn, 1995). For digital tribes and virtual clans, the totem – the traditional rallying point for all tribal activity – is patently the world wide web. Not only are these digital spaces objects of intense interest and rallying points for the clans, they also act as transmitters of units of cultural knowledge. Several authors have argued that digital technologies and electronic networks provide perhaps the best environment for the transmission of memes (Blackmore 1999; Adar, Zhang, Adamic & Lukose, 2004). Such new literary practices of communication (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006) rely heavily on shared spaces, shared symbolism and the viral nature of the social web.

Weber originally suggested that culture should be construed as a ‘web of significance’ that was spun by the individuals who comprised the culture (Weber, 1947). Significantly, the increasing role the World Wide Web plays in the shaping of modern tribal culture causes Weber’s notion to resonate. Until recent technological innovation, people with common tribal identity lived in geographically specific locations, and considered areas of land to be their sole territory. Such territories are now being eroded due to the emergence of new digital tribes who occupy spaces located within cyberspace – a virtual space that transgresses all traditional, social and political boundaries.

Tomorrow: The digital tribe and the network nation

Related posts

When two edu-tribes go to war (Peter Ford)
Hoe verbind jij je met andere mensen op internet? (Wilfred Rubens)


Adar, E., Zhang, L., Adamic, L. and Lukose, R. (2004) Implicit Structure and Dynamics of Blogspace. Cited in Lankshear, C. and Knobel, M. (2006) New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Classroom Learning. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Blackmore, S. (1999) The Meme Machine. Cited in Lankshear, C. and Knobel, M. (2006) New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Classroom Learning. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Haralambos, M. and Holborn, M. (1995) Sociology: Themes and Perspectives (4th Edition). London: Harper Collins.
Pahl, K. and Rowsell, J. (2006) Literacy and Education: Understanding the new literacy studies in the classroom. London: Paul Chapman Publishing.
Weber, M. (1947) The Theory of Social and Economic Organisation. New York: The Free Press.


topgold said…
What consistently amazes me in my third level classrooms is the communication barriers that emerge as a result of the age gap (36 year gap in one cohort). Vocabulary choice, elocution, and verbal syntax evolve within a half of a generation. The 36-year gap in my case ensures people on one side of the classroom need an interpreter in the middle. That's me--and I'm actually too old to be the most effective spokesman.

Then you have to add nationalities to the mix. I've seven different nationalities in front of me at present. That's wonderful as a hive for cultural exchange but challenging when the syllabus expects media objects to be sourced from Western culture.
Janshs said…
was interested in what topgold said here as well as the original post

there was a slightly heated debate on Twitter a couple of weeks ago about whether or not length of service affects a teacher's aptitude for innovation - I maintain that there is no such correlation

so how about age barriers in communication then? I think it is most likely that 'gaps' in what I suppose we might call 'cultural knowledge' must affect communication - perhaps this can work to our advantage as educators if we make a distinct effort to bridge these gaps

I am just murmuring out loud really, this needs a bit more thought on my part
Janshs said…
Hi Steve
Glad you've posted this again. I'm still thinking about it! Here's my latest 'thoughts' : Jan

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