Visions of Community: Community Informatics and the Contested Nature of a Polysemic Term for a Progressive Discipline
Community Informatics (CI) is an academic field of study that seeks to examine how information and communication technologies (ICT) such as Web 2.0 social media and mobile technologies can be deployed for the benefit of communities. Community is, however, a problematic and polysemic term, meaning different things to different people, and it has inherently political overtones. This article aims to bring to the attention of practitioners in the field of CI the contested nature of the term community, and to examine the historical origin of the term and the multiple ways in which it has been and can be used. In exploring this term, we make use of more literary, historical, and sociological approaches. Such approaches can offer new insights on the topic for audiences from more technical academic disciplines. With such discussion to assist practitioners of CI of the problematic ways in which community has been and can be used, we offer the following recommendations: (1) Use of the term community remains largely unproblematized, and we ought to be more mindful of its history; (2) community should be recognized as a locally contingent position; (3) as a term of reference, its use should be carefully considered within specific contexts; (4) a fuller exploration of the term in the CI discipline is needed; and (5) practitioners in the field of CI will require greater reflection on the term community when addressing ICT practice issues. We hope that these recommendations may lead to more reflexive practice in the progressive discipline of CI.