The End of Good Form: From Sociability to Creative Sociality, and the Consequences of this Transformation for Social Science
Sociology & Anthropology University of Windsor Windsor, Ontario, Canada
The study of play and gaming in current social media has illuminated the conditions of new kinds of virtual communities that are coalescing around the norm of 'play with communication' (Danet, 2001), and the stakes for this community are higher than ever with the rapid global growth of computer-mediated communications. Social scientific concepts have been applied to make sense of these developments but have fallen short of the mark due to the apparent fragility, borderlessness, triviality, and inconstancy of these new media forms of interaction, despite the obvious transformative impact they are having on society and communication. The argument of this paper will be that the trouble with social scientific attempts to understand these new social realities is actually intimately connected with its own preoccupation with form inherited from the neo-Kantian founders of sociology. Simmel's concept of sociability, for example, deliberately conflates play with form in order to assert the existence of a 'pure' sociability that forms the benchmark of all sociality. Thus captured by Simmel is a common notion of sociability as the pursuit of good form, which is a kind of default source of unity in the discipline of sociology, compatible as it is for example with classic anomic theories of deviance. The hypothesis I will put forward is that the ethnographic data on social interactions involving new media rather supports the notion of a kind of principled unsociability. Principled unsociability would involve a suspension of the pursuit of good form for the sake of an inventiveness or creativity that can mark a fundamental difference in life. If actors using social media are bringing about a new social norm of 'creativity' which is unlike previously conceptualized social norms inasmuch as it has doesn't generate its own teleology and attendant practices that pursue good form, then sociology has to adapt and revolutionize itself to take account of an emerging meaning of unsociability that will have to be re-thought and re-examined.