In his essay From Little Boxes to Loosely Bounded Networks: The Privatization and Domestication of Community (1999), Barry Wellman discusses “sparsely knit, fragmentary, loosely bounded communities.” Traditionally, he says, communities and social networks have been characterized by a way of being-together that is closely-knit and tightly bounded. Wellman argues that although traditional forms of community are becoming less and less obvious, new forms/alternative forms of community are emerging. Wellman goes on to say that “rather than being locked into one social circle [people have] about a thousand ties that spread across changing, fragmented communities.” In this sense, the community floats with the individual rather than being fixed in a specific geography.
Allison Munch (2005) utilizes Wellman’s ideas in her study called Everyone Gets to Participate: Floating Community in an Amateur Softball League. She concludes that spectators develop a collective sense of shared expectations, they collectively rear their children and they feel safe while in each other’s company. After the baseball games conclude, spectators pack up their community and disperse until the next game.
So what does all this mean? I find the notion of a floating community intriguing for a couple reasons. First, I wonder how many of the different ways of being together that people participate in could be categorized as (floating) community but are not. Badminton teams, bingo players, sports spectators, cinema goers, cab divers and their fare — the list goes on. Second, I am curious as to how we build it? Or is that even necessary/possible?
A copy of Wellman’s essay can be found here.