Frances Bell

home at last – for all the mes


Intentionality, Cliques and Agency

Banksy No Loitrin detail by Chris Devers

Banksy No Loitrin detail by Chris Devers  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I read two posts about in/exclusion recently : one from sava singh about cliquenomics; and one from Maha Bali on Intentionality, Community, and When Open Isn’t Open. I really like the way that sava captures an observational view of community and how it can include and exclude. She identifies that although people can have malicious intent, cliques can be a byproduct of our zeal for belonging

“clique economies” – exclusive clubs for the special few, the practice of which I will call cliqueonomics. sava singh

Maha has signalled her intent to focus on intentionality in her forthcoming OER17 keynote and seems to flag up cliques as having a power dynamic that intentionally denies access. She gives a comparison within  VConnecting of the close-knit communities that form on Slack and the public Twitter and Google Hangouts. That caught my attention because I have done a lot of wondering about the relationships between behind the scenes and public interactions in general, and specifically relating to some current work on network-building.  I think that a qualitative study from in-community and ex-community perspectives of this would be interesting and could contribute to critical perspectives on openness.

All of this made me think about some research that Jenny Mackness, Mariana Funes and I did that looked at qualitative contributions/survey data and quantitative activity data across different tech platforms on one MOOC. We found that community could be a confusing idea for participants who espoused heterogeneity and that platform design could also have an impact. We can think of intentionality as relating to the agency of individuals or as an emergent property of groups but if we take a post-human perspective on intentionality then intentionality and agency can be shared between humans and non-humans such as the platforms. I think this view could be helpful.

I am not really sure that participants who felt excluded by the lash up of individuals, groups and tech would feel reassured that this did not meet a particular definition of a clique. Like community, clique is a term that I use fairly sparingly now after some mixed experiences. Both terms seem to me to provoke strong emotions, and can get in the way of sustaining difference without exclusion. It would be good to look at cliques as something that we can all contribute to despite our best intentions and working on understanding what’s going on is a worthwhile enterprise.

#OER17communicationcommunitypowerresearchsocial media

francesbell • December 7, 2016

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  1. Maha Bali December 7, 2016 - 5:37 pm Reply

    “sustaining difference without exclusion” – I love that.

    And I agree on the value of a qualitative study that looks at in-community and ex-community (and possibly, when it’s a permeable community that looks cliquish, a study of travelers who cross the semi-permeable membranes in or out!).

    I also agree that all of can end up contributing to cliques despite best intentions. My question is always: but what are you DOING about it?

    I owe u and ur research… Even though i never learned what specifically was not going right, I learned (through that vagueness) to interrogate “what if” what seems good/ok to me could be hurting others. This isn’t a veiled insult to your work (in case it seems like that). It’s a thank you for helping me think and modify my praxis without pointing specific fingers but shedding light on specific dissonances. I have learned so much from you despite our differences. Xoxo
    P.S. I know u already know this lol

  2. francesbell December 7, 2016 - 6:59 pm Reply

    I am trying to decode what you are saying here Maha – and for the benefit of passers by who would find this even more difficult 🙂 When you say “Even though i never learned what specifically was not going right, I learned (through that vagueness) to interrogate “what if” what seems good/ok to me could be hurting others. ” I think you are talking about our survey data on Rhizo14 where some people expressed a different view from the vocal majority (relates to what sava said). That makes me think about something that I have learned from being an observer of #blacklivesmatter about whose responsibility is education. I found it very frustrating during the research that some rhizo14 people felt affronted by the anonymity of people who felt excluded.
    Audre Lorde expresses it beautifully in the context of racism and sexism
    “Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future.”

    • Maha Bali December 7, 2016 - 9:15 pm Reply

      I was never one (i think!) who found the anonymity of the individuals problematic. I understood the value of it even when non-anonymity felt important for what i was doing for different reasons. I could totally see how certain things needed safe spaces to be anonymous/confidential spaces.

      The vagueness I refer to is that (possibly in order to preserve anonymity) there were no specifics of how exactly hurt/exclusion was happening. And that was a difficult starting point but a pedagogical one.

      As a woman and person from where I am in the world (not the dominant, privileged part)…that quote from Audre Lorde (whom I admire) just derailed the convo for me. That’s where you’re right now, you just did this and I don’t think you noticed yourself doing it. This intersectionality of this. As soon as you shift the example to that, it becomes a problem for me, because I am that person from that part of the world who was trying to explain why rhizo14 was empowering for me…and there could be people w power in other ways (including btw being a POC or descendant of immigrants in the West or just white) but who were marginal in less visible ways… And it… Yeah like right now, I can’t explain it or educate others about it. But I am also not going to assume people will understand it if I don’t speak up, either. I know you’re observant and you probably observed how my language has shifted over time to help me get my voice heard more clearly so I could say what I want better and offend less (this comment notwithstanding – it’s incredibly incoherent even to me). I keep saying “I” and talking about myself because… But I mean in general. Yes it’s gonna be harder for the less dominant to be understood. Yes sometimes they don’t want to keep explaining themselves. But what on earth are you to do? Really, because just not speaking up isn’t going to get anyone anywhere. So yes it’s harder work. And even harder if there’s cliquishness involved.

      I don’t know if i am making any sense. I’m gonna post the comment and come back later. Just the Lorde quote triggered me. I don’t think u meant to do that 🙂

  3. francesbell December 7, 2016 - 9:58 pm Reply

    I can see that the Lorde quote triggered you and I am very sorry about that. I did it consciously but not trying to collapse it to rhizo14 or to shifting some sort of blame to you. Believe it or not, I work really hard to help intersectionality inform my growth and what I think.
    My recollection is that you did find the anonymity problematic but that’s not important just now.
    For me the Lorde quote teaches me about why I can’t expect PoC to teach me and I can understand that better from thinking about why I don’t feel responsible for teaching men about sexism. It doesn’t mean that I equate my experience of sexism with black people’s experience of racism. There’s no comparison for me. Racism is experienced differently in different societies, and I have virtually no experience of racism exceptthrough my family history.

  4. Simon Ensor December 8, 2016 - 12:34 am Reply

    Hi Frances! Interesting post. Clique, community, congregation, club…would be interested in investigating how these terms are used by “outsiders” or “members”. They seem rather like flags of territory that one lays claim to or one plants – a territory with variable and inconsistent boundaries depending on whose speaking at a given time.

    Am thinking about being accepted as a member of a Jewish group one evening in Manchester. Remembering the tightness of community,cultural references, and language. Remembering feeling alien, remembering apparent closing of ranks and sudden exclusion.

    Thinking now of varying attention to potential threat of those who don’t belong.

    Thinkîng of the word “protection”.

    I don’t think that group was a clique.

    Thinking of a conversation with a Quaker friend about friends…

    • francesbell December 8, 2016 - 4:15 pm Reply

      It’s interesting that you felt accepted and alien at the same time. What interested me most in the research that I referred to was not the intentionality or lack of it by participants but the role of Facebook in making some participants less visible to others.

  5. Catherine Cronin December 12, 2016 - 11:06 pm Reply

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post. I also loved the related posts by sava and Maha – I read and shared both but have only found a moment right here, right now to post a comment. As someone immersed in critical and qualitative research just now, your suggestion re: research resonated: “a qualitative study from in-community and ex-community perspectives of this… could contribute to critical perspectives on openness”. And as you so often highlight, Frances (and Maha notes also) the spectrum of perspectives between in- and ex-community would be immensely interesting space to explore.
    Frances and Maha, I read your conversation in the comments above with deep interest also. I didn’t participate in rhizo14, so I’m not an “insider” who can contextualise these comments. I simply saw rhizo14 activity on Twitter when it was active and read the papers by Frances, Jenny & Mariana. As an observer (and white western woman) I see your conversation here as mostly agreeing, but also stepping into a space to share your thoughts about inclusion/exclusion/power. This is often fraught space. The fact that you both stepped into that space, willing to be both vulnerable and honest — well, to me this shows a way forward but also how challenging it can be. This is not easy work. I’m not sure how your conversation finished — I would hate to think it was in silence! I hope there was continued direct communication between you both.
    So… insider/outsider dynamics. This is, truly, the nature of working in the open. Those of us who want to make open, networked spaces more inclusive cannot ignore this challenging work. For me, the three of you (Frances, Maha, sava) are models of doing this with insight and sensitivity. We don’t always get it “right” (as I well know!) — we’ll make missteps along the way. But listening, learning and moving forward is vital, not just for us as individuals, but for a healthier and more inclusive networked culture.
    Thanks very much for opening up my thinking on this 🙂

    • Maha Bali December 13, 2016 - 4:16 am Reply

      Was just thinking yday that an onlooker would see this conversation and think it stopped there. It didn’t (as Catherine seems to have sensed/hoped) – we continued via DM. Because, I now realize, of course some difficult conversations are incredibly difficult to have in public. And we share a lot of history (and a lot of information that we wouldn’t share publicly) sometimes in order to understand each other. I was also having a sort of “moment” where i was having trouble expressing myself clearly in words, but needed to communicate. It was a strange moment (but good for empathizing with others who have trouble w self-expression more frequently) and a great conversation came out of it. I think 🙂 I hope it’s ok that I shared that here, Frances 🙂

  6. francesbell December 13, 2016 - 8:29 am Reply

    I am touched by your comments @Catherine and @Maha – this feels like real work both on this comment thread and in private spaces. I had wondered how the comment thread would look to someone who was unaware that Maha and I had continued to talk but I resisted the temptation to nudge Maha into smoothing things over publicly 🙂 And then kindness finds a way:) We three have done something good here that may even ripple out beyond this space.

    • Catherine Cronin December 13, 2016 - 12:16 pm Reply

      @Frances and @Maha, thank you both 🙂

  7. Helen Beetham December 13, 2016 - 3:13 pm Reply

    A very thoughtful and heartful post and thread: thank you.
    I am currently drafting some self-reflective statements for learners to assess themselves against – to help them think about their own digital practices. I’m trying to include in there issues of access and inclusion, respect, and engagement with other cultures, voices, ideas etc in digital spaces, and to make those ideas central and not bolted on to the side. One of the statements I had was ‘I often use private channels in public digital spaces (DM, yammer, IM etc)’. And I think that is a good one to keep in, as it captures an awareness of public/private and tact.
    I’m also mindful that I have been on panels with students where I have been extolling open pedagogies and they have been saying ‘really we want closed spaces where we feel safe, and we can see who’s there and what’s being given to us, and what’s being asked’. Classes. Cliques.
    So a reflection: we have to undo so much ‘self’ to step out of those safe, privileged spaces. On the one hand, if we do, it is a sign we have done difficult work. And on the other hand, it is a sign that we have the personal resources to allow it (we might step back inside our privilege: we are carrying that choice with us as another layer of privilege). The fact of being born in an unjust, unequal world goes all the way through and out the other side. There is no particular virtue or vice in how I am placed, it seems to me, there is only the difficult, blameful, never-resolved work of building solidarity.

  8. francesbell December 13, 2016 - 3:49 pm Reply

    Thanks Helen – I agree about the need to undo ‘self’. I always try to remind myself that I make mistakes all of the time and that helps me bear occasions when I feel like a victim. One conundrum for me is the private organisation of public solidarity and support. That is a powerful tool but could, used in the wrong way be very damaging. That’s why we need self-awareness and ethics.

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