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Josh Braun’s Blog // I have it written down somewhere . . .

Thoughts on Discourse and Technology Jan 13, 2011

Here’s a comment I posted recently on Nieman Lab in response to a post by C.W. Anderson on the manner in which the taboo term, “blood libel” made its way into the national conversation surrounding the Tucson massacre.  The part that struck me was his conclusion, in which he put his thoughts into terms very similar to the ones in which I’ve been thinking:

[T]he general path “blood libel” took over the past few days shines some light on how particular terms move within the digital media ecosystem, and how the use of language that seems strange to many — as it did to many commentators, judging on their reactions to it — can appear “normal” to others who are operating within a different discursive community. That’s not to make another lamentation of “cyber-balkanization” or another call for the return of the “mass public sphere” where everyone read and thought the same thing. It is just a reminder, though, that our digital house has many rooms.

I decided to take the opportunity to put down a few of my own thoughts on the way content and discourse travel online.  I’m reprinting the comment below, partly because I wanted to share it, but also because I wanted to preserve it here.


square peg in a round holeI like this analysis a lot. In my dissertation, I use the term “epistemic interoperability” to think about some of these issues—the notion that different “discursive communities” are selectively inter-permeable. Ideas and assumptions move more easily between some than others, in a manner analogous, but not identical to technological interoperability, in which some devices and software work together selectively.

If you’ve ever tried to convert a stubborn filetype generated by one program to one usable by another application and had to go through several steps, or even use several programs to make the conversion, you have an idea of what I’m talking about. Of course, data and discourses aren’t the same thing—there are lots of additional constructs out there, like trading zones and boundary objects [PDF], that help us to better understand the latter.

The most interesting thing to me, though, is how epistemic and architectural interoperability work in tandem to shape our exposure to and experience of new content and ideas—and the manner in which this process is “engineered” on both fronts by institutions and discussants.

Anyhow, I’ve run on. Suffice to say it’ll all be in a readable form by this summer. The embryonic and somewhat abstract version is here for anyone who’s interested.

[Image Credit: Square Peg in a Round Hole]

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