I don’t really have time to blog post, but am moved to think by and recommend the talk What Digital Tribes can Learn from Native Americans. Super discussion focused in part on drawing from what some might feel are “real” tribe examples in order to inform what digital tribes are. Among the speakers Allison Aldridge-Saur (@aldsaur) pulls out several aspects such as ritual, leadership and name-giving, things she has gleaned from her own experience of being a member of a Native American Indian tribe.
As I listened I felt that the concepts/universals of “ritual” and “leadership” were missing an essential piece of the puzzle, and that is the logic of Gift Economy structures which may help negotiate issues of hierarchy or community building. Here is a modified version of the deck.ly tweet I sent as a note, but then decided to pull back and expand to this blog post – this is how blogs work right now for me, places where an idea can breathe.
@aldsaur Still listening to your wshop on Tribes. a note: I think what fleshes out your focus on ritual is that ritual allows us to relocate the places/occasions of repeat reciprocity. Leaders are only those capable of regularly displaying the surplus (gift giving) that drives the ideal example of non-exact repayment, the “gifting” binds the community in positive unpayable debt.#DgtlTribe #usguys
What do I mean by this? Let us assume as a hypothetical starting point that much of what binds tribes in the abstract – whether they be anthropologically recognized native tribes or analogically digital tribes – is a Gift Economy logic, creating a space for gift contesting and status building in the production of a community. If it is the case that many tribal structures are governed by Gift Economy logic (GEL) the two aspects of ritual and leadership become for me a little more clear. Ritual is a way of encoding and compassing occasions of gift exchange reciprocity. This is the “friendly” and unequal donation of valued items (info, yes) which help establish status via the display of surplus, the very unequal exchange that binds the community together through unpayable obligation, positive debt. Ritual allows members to repeat and locate this fundamental continuous act, and thereby re-instantiate the community and their place in it over and over, even down to the level of the gesture – Allison mentions the example of offering #coffee to other #usguys hashtag members on Twitter, a worthy real-world digital illustration.
Where leaders come in – and I part with Allison somewhat in this area I think, especially when thinking about the importance of sovereign-ness, but I’m not sure – these are people who have achieved (or inherited) the status of Gift Givers that more or less regularly symbolize the surplus and donation that secures the bonds of unequal exchange. Leaders indicate ideal action. But the degree of this indication, and the need for a cadre or singularity of such an example (individual or even group name sovereignty) in my mind does not have to be so localized. In the digital realm, what is new is the transient nature of forms in a communication of value, the way that people carry with them between media, between tribes, the history of those micro communities, marrying their future to even newer and different tribes. The hyper-tribe experience.
Strongly recommend the talk. Just put it on in the background like the radio playing, and let the ideas trickle in. Also recommend, as I have to Allison, David Graeber’s book on a theory of value informed by Gift Economy cultures.