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What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world
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What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world

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This talk reveals a snapshot of my dissertation project in its current, pre-proposal form. Today, all kinds of subcultures are coalescing online—from from support groups to, fan groups, to activist …

This talk reveals a snapshot of my dissertation project in its current, pre-proposal form. Today, all kinds of subcultures are coalescing online—from from support groups to, fan groups, to activist groups, to hobby guilds, to political parties, to tinkerer groups, to philanthropy groups, etc. Prior to industrialization, humans largely lived in and made sense of the world through an association to a tribe or small group, so this tendency may not be surprising. The reasons people are drawn into subcultural associations today, however, are different from before. In addition to kinship ties, styles of dress, and language, today, shared technological practice acts to identify members as part of a subculture. The dynamic process of subcultural boundary-making through technology use will be illuminated in this project by drawing on ethnographic data collected on preliminary site visits to Indiana Amish communities. The Amish provide a particularly illustrative example of the dynamic mechanisms that govern subcultural boundary-making today because of their history of developing (often enigmatic) rules about technology use that govern their interactions with people outside their subculture.

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  • Today, I’ll be presenting a snapshot of my dissertation project in its current pre-proposal stage. I’m currently working on conceptualizing all of the pieces of the project so that I can assemble and defend my proposal and begin fieldwork. It’s all still very much a work in progress, so feedback, is obviously welcome!
  • Prior to industrialization humans made sense of the world in small groups. People worked in small villages and were identified by the family they were born into. It was only with the rise of the nation-state in the 18th and 19th centuries that many people — often by force rather than choice — began primarily identifying themselves by nationality rather than local ethnic group. Now that national borders are crumbling, the tribal mind is once again coming to the fore. Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1096430,00.html#ixzz2DRWhege1Theorists like sociologist Emile Durkheim have noted that industrialization created a sense of anomie for people. No longer were individuals mutually dependent on one another for survival, they could go out into the workforce and earn a living on their own.
  • Durkheim introduced the concept of anomie to describe the mismatch of collective guild labour to evolving societal needs.Durkheim suggested that anomie was characterized by an associated feeling of alienation and purposelessness. He believed that anomie is common when the surrounding society has undergone significant changes in its economic fortunes, whether for good or for worse and, more generally, when there is a significant discrepancy between the ideological theories and values commonly professed and what was actually achievable in everyday life.
  • Sociologists refer to these as discrete social formations. The first patrimonial and the second bureaucratic. In a patrimonial structure, you’re born into a community and defined by your family’s economic and social status. In a bureaucratic structure, you’re born to a family, but are trained to ignore your allegience to them and forge one with a nation-state and perform a function in the larger global economy.
  • I would like to argue, then, that as individuals today we are faced with a bi-level challenge. On one level, we face the challenge of finding and establishing ourselves in subcultures that make us feel rooted, known and give us purpose. On the other, we must navigate the tendency for corporations and government bureaucracies to reduce us to a number making us feel alienated while still taking what we need to survive and be happy from them. I feel there is a balance here, we have to achieve. So, the challenge, we face today is how to negotiate living a healthy social life where we can be part of the subcultures that help us survive and make us happy while utilizing but placing limits on those that make us feel fragmented, alienated and purposeless.
  • If we don’t, there are a couple of different kinds of problems that can occur. First, we might feel socially out of balance and don’t have roots holding us in place.
  • And, second, we may feel like we have a split personality or we are fragmented as individuals.
  • Other new media researchers have noted more specific versions of these problems in their critiques of how new media are changing us and our social world. Although make us aware of very important potential hurdles, I think these arguments are short-sighted. They do not grasp the larger picture nor account for the multi-dimensional impact that new technologies have on human sociality. Simply suggesting that we unplug at this point is unrealistic and perhaps also irresponsible. More research is necessary to understand the complexity of human experiences in the mediated society we live in today.
  • One approach is to focus on the subcultural affordances made possible, or at least, amplified by new media like the internet, social media, mobile devices, etc. In other words, and so far it looks like this is where my future research is headed, is I want to understand what the dynamics are that enable these subcultures to form, what binds people together in them, what social function they serve, if any, and specifically, I’d like to see how communication technologies are used and how they influence these phenomena.
  • So, why do boundaries matter? I would argue that without boundaries, it is impossible to analyze these groups and understand what the groups dynamics are, why people are motivated to join them, etc. If there are no boundaries, we don’t really have subcultures, from an analytical standpoint. The boundaries of the group give it definition and as we recall from the beginning of the talk, association in a tribe, historically has been associated with ensuring that a person does not feel alienated, and fragmented but feels rooted, with purpose. So, there’s an ethical social imperative, I think, to figure out where these start and stop so we can understand how they work. Note, there are probably potential problems with subcultures too. I’m not suggesting that the fact that they exist is inherently good or bad for us as individuals or society.
  • Most people know the Amish for their rejection of modern technologies and old fashioned style of dress. Though, the Amish in the United States are an incredibly diverse group of about 180,000 people and growing, most of them do not have electricity in the home. They don’t have TVs, listen to the radio, surf the internet or drive cars. They adhere to a very strict set of religious beliefs which govern their communities and everyday way of living. Withinthe Amish community, deference to God and each other are one and the same. Over time, the /Ordnung//,/ a dynamic, living document, has been developed by members of the community to govern social relationships and encourage submission of the individual to the group. The document varies from district to district, containing specific rules about how members should dress, what technologies are acceptable and which behaviors are unacceptable. All of these are techniques for maintaining group coherence. The /Ordnung /is not written down but is communicated through lived behavior. It is intended to augment the Bible and help extend its relevance for life in today's world. Showing disregard to the Ordnung/, signals an individual's disregard for God and the community. Their religious philosophies encourage members of the community to be humble and resist the allures of modernity. They do this because they believe that they cannot serve two masters at once. The community is also privileged over the individual, as they feel that living a life that is favorable in God’s eyes is very difficult to do and a person cannot do it on his or her own. He or she needs a community to succeed. [Their philosophies are based on the teachings of Jesus who, in his Sermon on the Mount, told followers that it is impossible to serve two masters. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and God will provide for your needs." (Matthew 6:33) This has primed the Amish for survival in a changing and tumultuous world. They are taught to direct their desires on spiritual priorities and all of their other concerns, they believe, will be resolved by God.]
  • Most importantly their relevance to the discussion of subcultures, is that they care a great deal about boundaries; about marking themselves as a distinct community. Their boundary-drawing process is also public and communal which makes it easy to identify. Also, the ways in which they draw boundaries is complex. This is evident in the decisions they make about communication technologies as these are entry and exit points to their community. While other subcultures have complex processes for determining who is in and who is out, they often do not have explicit processes for drawing boundaries. This makes the Amish very unique.The inspiration for drawing boundaries between themselves and outsiders is a shared set of philosophies and values about living simply and humbly for God. Their boundary-drawing is intended to protect this way of life from the complex and disjointed world they observe outside their community.It is a myth that Amish people flatly reject new technologies. They are actually quite sophisticated in the ways that they adopt and use technologies. For example. The Amish use scooters, and bikes in some districts, diesel generators to power electric tools, and charge cell phones and answering machines. I also came across this advertisement for an Amish computer which performs word processing but does not connect to the internet.These decisions are not haphazard.Deciding not to have electricity in the home reflects a shared value: that people in the community will rely less on each other if their homes are connected to the electrical grid and open to the media streams that flow over them. They pay taxes but reject social security for the same reason. Rejecting electricity and social security are ways in which the Amish ensure that members of the community will care for and inform one another instead of relying on governments and corporations to do this, thus strengthening the group’s coherence over time.
  • And here are some more examples of the sophisticated work-arounds they have put together.
  • Because of a changing economic landscape for many Amish communities, currently conversations among church leaders across the country are taking place about how to navigate protecting the group’s foundational values and traditional way of life, while at the same time, maintaining economic stability in today’s fast-paced economy
  • Note: they often compromise by making the use of tools that they feel might destroy their community more difficult or cumbersome for themselves instead of outlawing it altogether.
  • In the ways that Amish draw boundaries through the decisions they make about technology, there’s always a dynamic interaction between the outside and inside.  The agreed-upon technological practice, then, is always compromise between protecting the internal values and surviving in a fast paced economy.  It’s not where the boundary is, necessarily, that makes the Amish a good case for exploring this phenomenon. But, it is their public and communal negotiation and active drawing and redrawing the boundaries between themselves and the outside that I think are important, that we know very little about and that would be very difficult to identify by studying the kinds of subcultures we see coalescing around us today.
  • These are speculations, of course, at this point, but are worth laying out already in the planning phases I think to drive inquiry and fieldwork as it is conducted.
  • Amish people are well known in the United States for leading simple lives and resisting the allure of modernity. They are christians who believe that their religious beliefs cannot be separated from their everyday way of life. Thus, they live humbly for God privileging the community over the individual. In order to suppress the expression of individuality,they wear simple homemade clothes and work the land; living very similar to their nineteenth century ancestors. Still today many do not have electricity in their homes, do not drive cars, do not listen to radios nor have televisions and only have access to telephones that are shared with neighbors and reside outside the home. The Amish community in the United States is growing rapidly. About 90% of Amish youth decide to stay in the Amish church and lead Amish lives. Large families and a shortage of land in the eastern United States (where the oldest and largest Amish communities are located) have required many Amish people to migrate west and take up work in non-agriculture based trades to which they are, as yet, largely unaccustomed. These changes have pushed more and more Amish people into situations where they must interact with non-Amish through the use of modern communication technologies in order for their communities to sustain themselves.
  • That these subcultures exist is in part a result of and a determining factor in the design of sites like facebook and google. Then, there are groups with their own platforms like hacktivist group Anonymous. And you have groups like ravelry which is a group consisting of individuals who share hobbies and professions. And even within this group, there are subgroups that gather in order to discuss particular phenomena, techniques or issues. Then, there are groups like this one that share a technological skillset or tool in common who come together to discuss how to use the tool, to share the things they built, provide tech support, etc. And then you have fan groups and online gaming leagues like fantasy football in which members are all broken up into small leagues of players. Then, there are physical and mental health support groups of all kinds. This just skims the surface, of course. But I wanted to give you an idea of what kinds of groups I have in mind.
  • Using tools the wrong way will put you on the outside. Even being associated to someone who uses the technology wrong threatens your subcultural membership.
  • Transcript

    • 1. What’s in a boundary? Exploring thesubcultural dynamics that protect the Amish wayof life in a high-tech world.Lindsay Ems
    • 2. Prior toindustrialization wemade sense of theworld in smallgroups “For all their claims to antiquity, many of the nations of Europe have been nations for only the briefest of times. For most of history they were rivalrous territories, kingdoms, duchies, principalities, and city-states. They were bound by language and culture—and riven by tribalism.” Peter Coy, Businessweek, 09.19.12
    • 3. With industrialization, came anomie Anomie describes a lack of social norms and the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and their community; an absence of accepted social standards or values. -Emile Durkheim, Suicide (1897)Anomie was characterized by anassociated feeling of alienationand purposelessness.
    • 4. In today’s world, we are members of numerous pseudo-tribes and, at the same time, are still “just a number”
    • 5. Patrimonial vs. Bureaucratic
    • 6. Today’s bi-level challenge:
    • 7. Problem 1: Equilibrium not found/maintained
    • 8. Problem 2: Disjointed sense of self
    • 9. Pessimistic researchers say, new technologies : -Cause us to underestimate our own worth in relation to others (Markway & Markway 2012). -Weaken our sense of what is real (Gold & Gold 2012) -Act as substitutes for, and complicate, authentic human emotional and cognitive connection (Turkle 2011). -Weaken our ties to each other as well as our individual moral character (Sennett 1998). -Subject intimate relationships to government and corporate surveillance, helping to generate profits and ensure social control. (Morozov 2011).
    • 10. Where I’m headed:-Out of what dynamics do these kinds of subcultures take shape?-What binds people together in them?-What social function do they serve, if any?-How are communication technologies used and how do they influence these phenomena?
    • 11. Boundaries are hard to define in today’s subcultures subculture individual subculture subculture Why are boundaries important? Anomie = fractured individuals, purposelessness
    • 12. Enter, the Amish.
    • 13. But, why the Amish? They draw real boundaries in complex ways.
    • 14. Decisions about technology use are manifestations oftheir subcultural boundary in a changing world. Andthe boundary is a manifestation of deeper dynamics. selling online (and using cell phones) today is “a matter of survival.”
    • 15. Their decisions about what to acceptand what to reject are not haphazard,but based on a complex logic.This logic represents a compromisebetween protecting religiousphilosophies and traditions andmaintaining financial viability as theoutside economy changes .
    • 16. My dissertation will investigate the dynamic process of boundary-drawing in Amish subcultures. In particular, I will focus on the role new technologies play in the definition of these boundaries.Non-Amish world Amish subculture
    • 17. Additionally, I want to understand how the underlying dynamics result in a boundary being drawn or re-drawn.Non-Amish world Amish subculture
    • 18. How will I do this? In the working sphere of Amish life, they are most likely to come into contact with the outside world and, thus, use new technologies to do so. So, I will study the Amish where they work. Ethnographic methods: -Participant-observation -Interviews -Work alongside Amish in a business, store or shop. I will travel around the U.S. (hopefully, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Iowa, at least) and make contact with members of different Amish communities. I will ask about their technological practices and observe them as well. I have already started doing this in Shipshewanna, Indiana and Daiviess County Indiana. I realize there will be issues in gaining access to the Amish. So far, I have not had much trouble. Much of my data collection work, will involve making connections and arranging to speak with and observe members of different Amish communities.
    • 19. What are some potential contributions of this project? - An understanding of how a distinct subculture is defined and maintained over time - New language or analytics with which to begin making sense of the dynamic process that binds people together into groups that help them avoid feeling alienated, fractured or off balance and give them a sense of being rooted and having purpose in today’s socio-technical world. - A fresh understanding of how the Amish are adapting to a changing economy and what their technology use looks like today. - An exploration of the ways that technologies and subcultures impact the process of work and the quality of the product or service being produced.
    • 20. Thank you!lems@indiana.edu
    • 21. Who are the Amish? - Diverse Christian religious community mostly living in the United States - Privilege community over individual- wear simple homemade clothes - Men work the land, women do housework and raise children - Live similarly to 19th century ancestors - No electricity, TV, radio, cars. Telephones reside outside the home - After given a choice, 90% of Amish youth decide to lead Amish lives - Those who do not are banned from communicating with Amish family and friends - Today, the economy is changing and pushing Amish from small farms to work in the tourism industry– putting them in closer contact with the outside world.
    • 22. Technologically enhanced/afforded subcultures
    • 23. Subcultures What all of these have in common though, is group membership is identified by adherenceWe used to know who is in or out by: to a specific set of socio-technical practices -Kinship ties -Shared norms/values -Dress -Language use Today, members of many of these groups are also drawn together by specific topical interests: - beer - travel - civil liberties - knitting - tinkering - sports - illnesses

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