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DigiCULT
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10
B
Y
J
OOST VAN
K
ASTEREN
, D
IGI
CULT
J
OURNALIST
`The virtual community I have in mind is
a marketplace where people barter know-
ledge, ideas, news and narratives.
Intrinsically a social place where people
gather with a common sense of purpose, a
shared value system and a tacit understan-
ding of the group dynamic,' says Susan
Hazan, Curator of New Media and Head
of the Internet Office at the Israel
Museum, Jerusalem. `For museums, as
interpreters of museum collections it can
be very rewarding to take part in such
informal educational scenarios.'
According to Hazan there is some confu-
sion about virtual communities, because
the different categories of communities are
often vague. `There are digital marketpla-
ces,' she says, `for business-to-business com-
munication, and learning communities
where teachers and students come together
around a certain topic or course. Other
communities evolve to satisfy a specific
cultural or social goal.They perhaps fall
into the same category as a hobby an
activity you are prepared to invest in,
because it fulfils a social or cultural need,
not because you have to.'
Virtual communities can be compared to
embodied or real life communities but
`instead of gathering around the water
cooler for a chat or dropping into the pub,
you can join a community at the click of a
mouse from the comfort of your armchair.'
A N
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ARKETPLACE OF
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ARNESSING
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IRTUAL
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OMMUNITIES TO
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AZAN
and give voice to new interpretations of
the objects.These evolving social clusters
can give rise to what the American literary
theorist Stanley Fish calls "interpretive
communities",
2
communities that coalesce
around a certain reading of a literary text
in Fish's case or for that matter to life
itself.' Such an interpretive community was
identified by Janice Radway in her ethno-
graphic study of a group of women
romance novel readers.
3
Although the
number of possible interpretations of the
stories was virtually infinite, the women
used the texts in specific ways that were
meaningful to them, often using the narra-
tives in a surprisingly oppositional way.
Virtual communities extend this metaphor
and draw participants into long-term,
sustained discussion and interaction.Virtual
communities now span the globe, cross
geographical and cultural boundaries and
reaffirm trans-national and diasporic con-
nections through a common language and
shared experiences. At the same time, other
communities connect people from diffe-
rent cultural backgrounds across cyberspace
to exchange ideas and stories around the
same mutual passion may it be snuff
boxes, trilobites or Picasso.
The invisible crossing of national or cultu-
ral borders in virtual communities creates
new opportunities for museums. Hazan:
`Through discussions around the digital
artefacts, i.e. photographs, audio files, or
short movies and narratives, museums
forge new connections to the collections
2Stanley Fish: Is There a Text in This Class?:The Authority
of Interpretive Communities. Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1980.
3Janice A. Radway: Reading the Romance:Women,
Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill, NC:
University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
2004,
Photo
g
raph,
Amit Gal