Saturday, February 19, 2011

'Cyber Racism' and Identity Studies, A Model?

In chapter four of Cyber Racism, Daniels considers the role of the internet as a space in which white supremacist communities may be formed. What he argues is that these white supremacist communities are not necessarily geographically particular but instead may be articulated across national boundaries, that they not necessarily a politically viable threat, that is they my never produce a political candidate, they do function as spaces in which these racist frameworks may find support. However, his final point is that not all users who view these white supremacist websites are necessarily experiencing them in the same way; rather some users may run the site or contribute while others simply participate or only watch. Furthermore, some of the users on these sites may be actively opposed to the message of the group.

This Discussion is interesting on a number of levels but what I find most intriguing is the reading of community practice and the articulation of the function of these sites which Daniels offers. While Daniels’s approach is obviously useful for a discussion of racism or racist identity on the internet it also offers a framework for the consideration of various other relationships formed over the internet.

Daniels refers frequently to the work Manuel Castells, particularly Castells’s study of the patriot movement. Among the critiques of Castells’s study that Daniels presents is the suggestion that the internet functions as more than just a space for linkages between groups or between individuals. That is the internet des not just connect these groups but actively produces racist identity. Daniels first suggests that these interactions occur without regulation or without gate keeping, allowing racist discourse to validate racist discourse. Second, rather than having to actively recruit members, these sites naturalize and promote racist identity via recurring interaction. Although these observations are essential to his argument about racism, the capacity to promote certain identifications or ideologies through recurring, fleeting encounters or through unchallenged repetitive discourse is an interesting proposition. I wonder if the preponderance of homophobic dialogue in online gaming has similar consequences.

What I was really impressed by in this chapter was Daniels discussion of forum participation and “lurkers.” While I am sure this is not a new concept, the analysis of the ‘lurker’ as a particular type of user or particular user practice opposed to other more active interaction is quite interesting. Daniels addresses the “lurker” in order to suggest that users of the racist websites cannot simply be lumped together. Rather, he proposes that we must acknowledge how the user engages the site rather than just that a user engages the site in order to fully recognize the sites function. Obviously this complicates the way we read these white supremacist sites but this could also be used to complicate how we consider any kind of internet based participatory space. Perhaps this question of users’ activity/passivity could be useful in a consideration of affective engagements with internet space?

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