what kind of community is anthro-l?

Candice Bradley (Candice.Bradley@LAWRENCE.EDU)
Sun, 12 Mar 1995 20:31:47 -0600

There are subtexts to the debate about whether or not a person (any person)
should be removed from Anthro-L. One of these subtexts is about what kind of a
community individuals on Anthro-L imagine it to be. I see two extremes.

On one end, some individuals might imagine Anthro-L to be a completely open
community. As such, members of the community would include anyone who wished
to participate, including any interested person with an account at CompuServe
or American Online. In this kind of community, freedom to post would be a
right, and it would be perceived as wrong to prevent anyone from posting, no
matter how uninitiated their posts might be. To violate this rule by removing
a person would then be perceived as "wrong" and perhaps even a violation of
that person's first amendment rights.

This might be comparable to the right to post messages in forums on CompuServe
or AOL. You pay your $8.95 and your connect charges, and by virtue of having
done this, you have the right to participate. You can "join" a CompuServe
forum, read the rules, enter, and post. In reality there are "rules"
in specific CompuServe forums that can be violated, and these vary with the
specific "culture" of the forum. People can also be thrown off or have their
posts moved to topic 0 where they will not be readable. I inadvertently
violated the cultural rules of a forum by telling a member I did not appreciate
his replies to my posts, and I was promptly reprimanted publicly and at length
by a SYSOP, who told me she would move my comments to topic 0. I was surprized
because my response to this guy was s.o.p. in other forums; but then again I am
an anthropologist and I got that I'd violated some specific rules. In
CompuServe's diabetes forum, the list owner is constantly on the lookout for
reps of the various drug companies (Lilly and Novo to be exact) and if they
post, he goes to CompuServe and complains that they are "advertisers" even if
they are acting as individuals. So there is no complete freedom of speech
here either.

The other extreme position is that Anthro-L is like a senior commons room with
a community composed of like individuals who gather to have conversations of a
particular sort. This kind of community would exclude outsiders and neophytes.
It would be a professional haven. In this environment, an outsider might be
perceived as an undergraduate running naked through the senior commons room
with a sign, perhaps with the words "colonizers!" emblazoned in red, chanting.

The List as Senior Commons Room model is not unusual on the net. I'm on a
couple of small lists composed exclusively of sets of people who share a
particular interest. Neophytes are present but they only lurk or ask questions.
They do not run through naked shouting accusations. Exclusive little lists
proliferate. At one point I wanted to join a Kenyan list and was told I was
the wrong nationality. I protested and lost anyway.

It seems to me that we have people on this list of both sorts -- ones who want
to have conversations only with colleagues, and ones who want everyone to
participate. I do not think there is some great moral right or wrong in either
interpretation. The perceptions of right and wrong, rather, emerge from the
way the community is imagined. Since this is Hugh's list, he can decide which
model to choose.

(Appleton, WI)