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The field affordances of personal media

December 17, 2008

This is the fifth in a series of posts on my working paper “Local leadership and personal media: a practice-theoretical approach”. See previous post here  and first post here.

Personal media (email, MySpace, mobile phones, digital cameras, etc.) provide their users with a range of communicative possibilities as well as constraints. In other words, these technologies have certain communicative affordances. These affordances, however, cannot be assumed to operate in a sociocultural or historical vaccum – they must be understood in context. For example, although it is technically possible to speak on a mobile phone in a university library’s silent study area, this activity is normally discouraged by means of prominently displayed notices and, sometimes, through verbal and other means. That is, the technical affordances of this particular personal medium are being curtailed by context-specific normative restrictions.

Similarly, in the field of residential affairs the use of personal media is shaped by the field’s pervasive collectivist (or communitarian) ethos. Although local leaders nowadays – certainly in most urban areas around the globe – are expected to own and know how to use different personal media, they are compelled to use these technologies for the greater good of ‘the community’ or face the consequences. The field of residential affairs is not fertile ground, therefore, for the growth of  ‘networked individualism’ – the reconfiguration of social relations around individuals rather than groups that some influential scholars regard as a key feature of the present era (Castells 2001: 128-9, Wellman 2002). If anything, personal media reinforce the field’s staunch collectivism in tandem with collective media such as local Web forums, mailing lists, newspapers, radio stations, and so on. Think, for instance, of a leading resident using her mobilephone camera to denounce, via a local Web forum, local council inaction over an unkempt public park or unrepaired footbridge. That same grassroots leader would be ill advised to use her personal blog to extol the virtues of individualism or the personal financial gains to be made from community projects. In fact, in this era of fast-moving Web and mobile content, leading residents must be prepared to swiftly counter any such insinuations or accusations made about them in the public domain.

Continued here


Castells, M. (2001). The Internet Galaxy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wellman, B. (2002). Little boxes, glocalization, and networked individualism. In M. Tanabe, P. van den Besselaar & T. Ishida (Eds.), Digital cities II: Computational and sociological approaches (pp. 10-25). Berlin: Springer.


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