Creating a sense of community : Experiences from a Swedish web chat

Sammanfattning: The Internet has opened up a wide range of new ways of socializing with other individuals. This is an explorative study, where the ultimate purpose can be described as to find out what web chat as activity is about. This was done through two and a half years of observations in a Swedish web chat room, and through interviews with fourteen Swedish web chat users.In web chat, users gather around subjects of conversation and activities, of which some are playful and some serious, some strictly realistic while others involve made up elements. Web chat is a dynamic and constantly shifting discourse, in which the participants make innovative use of the language, which altogether forms a bricolage of various styles and genres. Important characteristics are those of play, performance, presentation of self and support.A theme that turned out to be central in both interviews and observations is regular chat users' sense of community, which is expressed through their views of self and others, their activities, their communicative styles, and their values, ideals and norms of behavior. My analyses therefore mainly rely on theories of'community' and Goffman's theories of social interaction.In my data, issues of inclusion and exclusion and the drawing of boundaries against other types of users were also apparent. Boundaries mark the beginning and the end of a community, but are also the positions where the members of a community become aware of their community and what distinguishes it from others. For a sense of community to exist, something has to exist outside of it. In this way, exclusion is a prerequisite for the community to exist, and the members of a community need outsiders in order to become insiders.

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