«How to import the concept of conviviality to web communities Patrice Caire Department of Computer Science and Communications, University of ...»
Int. J. Web Based Communities, Vol. 6, No. 1, 2010 99
How to import the concept of conviviality to web
Department of Computer Science and Communications,
University of Luxembourg,
6 Rue Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi,
L-1359 Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
Fax: 352 46 66 44 5 500
Abstract: While conviviality has simultaneously been defined in the literature
as individual freedom realised in personal interdependence, rational and cooperative behaviour and normative instrument, no model has yet been proposed for computer science. In this article, we raise the question of how to import the concept of conviviality to web communities. Firstly, we analyse the concept of conviviality for social science, multi-agent systems and intelligent interface; we show the distinction among various kinds of use of conviviality, the positive outcomes such as social cohesion, trust and participation but also the negative aspects that emerged when conviviality becomes an instrument of power relations. Secondly, we look at the challenges conviviality raises for computer science, starting with a discussion on the misconceptions about conviviality. We then discuss the role of conviviality in multi-agent systems, for example, as a useful high-level modelling concept for organisations and communities. Thirdly, we consider conviviality for computer science environments and discuss the role of awareness, also pointed out by mixed-initiative interaction design; furthermore, we discuss the importance of guidelines to address privacy challenges raised by new technologies. Fourthly, we look at the normative aspect of conviviality as described in the literature, and find that social norms for conviviality parallel legal and institutional norms for digital cities. Finally, we introduce the idea of conviviality measures based on agents’ interdependencies.
Keywords: conviviality; multi-agent systems; MAS; normative systems; social computing; digital cities; web-based communities.
Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Caire, P. (2010) ‘How to import the concept of conviviality to web communities’, Int. J. Web Based Communities, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp.99–113.
Biographical notes: Patrice Caire is a PhD candidate under Prof. Leon van der Torre and a Teaching Assistant in the Computer Sciences Department of Luxembourg University. Her research interests are related to normative multi-agent systems, social computing, conviviality and digital cities. She received her Master of Science in Computer Science from the New York University Media Lab. under Prof. Jack Schwartz with research topics related to non-verbal communication over the internet. She has six years industrial experience at Stanford Research Institute, Scient, Netscape and AOL. She is a member of IEEE, ACM, SIGCHI and has published research papers at national and international conference proceedings.
Copyright © 2010 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.
100 P. Caire 1 Introduction The concept of conviviality often comes up in the context of web communities to describe both sociable relations between members, and user-friendly software and hardware. However, the concept of conviviality also arises in institutional contexts to denote values usually attached to concepts such as eDemocracy.
Generally speaking, a convivial place or group is one in which individuals are welcome and feel at ease (Ackermann, 2005; Sipitakiat, 2001; Schechter, 2004), but definitions in literature spread from individual freedom realised in personal interdependence (Illich, 1974) to rational and cooperative behaviour (Sadek et al., 1997) to normative instrument when in the hands of power at play (Taylor, 2004). In 1998, the European Community developed a research theme called Societe de l’Information Conviviale (Weyrich, 1999), translated by User-Friendly Information Society, as part of its Fifth Framework research program to promote shared social values. The terms user-friendly and convivial are often used as synonymous, particularly in the area of human computer interaction (HCI). However, the distinction between user-friendliness and conviviality increases when such factors as, the user's emotional experience and the user's state of enjoyment, are taken into consideration. Today, user-friendly refers more specifically to a human-machine relation and to qualities, such as ease-of-use, compliance to ergonomics standards and usability heuristics.
In contrast, conviviality relates to social interaction and following Illich’s definition, to ‘individual freedom realised in personal interdependence’. Moreover, the concept of conviviality is finding new meaning in developing fields, such as adaptive systems, augmented cognition, and ambient intelligence. We therefore think that a thorough analysis of the concept of conviviality is useful and timely.
The European Community directives to incorporate conviviality into the information society of tomorrow drew attention to the relevance of conviviality for the online communities, such as digital cities; it also ensured that conviviality would be part of the specification and design of digital cities. This echoed Sadek et al.’s (1997) claim, that conviviality is the essential and global characteristic that emerges from the intelligence of a system rather than from a set of local characteristics that vary depending upon the application contexts and the types of users. The authors further add that a list of criteria will by itself not suffice to express conviviality, because in fact, the critical factor is the relations that bind these criteria together and the way these relations are perceived by individuals.
In this article, we raise the following question: How to bring the concept of conviviality to web communities? The literature shows that there is a challenge and our main question is that, assuming we use conviviality, what are the challenges in the computer science environment. Our main question breaks down into the following research questions: first, what is distinct in computer science? Second, what are the challenges with bringing the concept of conviviality to the field of computer science?
Third, how can we define conviviality for computer science environments? And finally, can we use the social norm concept and measures? The methodology we follow for this article is a literature review in the areas of semiotics, philosophy, sociology, computer science, agent theory and human computer interaction. We then proceed with critical discussions. The layout of this article is as follows. In Section 2, we present a survey on the concept of conviviality in social science highlighting the challenges in literature; in How to import the concept of conviviality to web communities 101 Section 3, we look at what is distinct in computer science. In Section 4, we discuss how we can define conviviality for computer science environments and in Section 5, we discuss the use of the social norm concept, normative systems and measures.
2 Conviviality First, we note that the many definitions of conviviality remain vague and not technical (Table 1). We further note that the concept can be related to other non-technical socio-cognitive concepts, such as trust and power, that have acquired more technical interpretation in multi-agent systems (MAS) for example.
Table 1 Definitions of conviviality
Etymological and domain specific definitions 15th century ‘convivial’, from Latin, convivere ‘to live together with, to eat together with’ French Academy Dictionary (Dictionnaire de l’Academie Francaise, 2000) Adj. convivial: (of an atmosphere, society, relations or event) friendly and lively, (of a person) cheerfully sociable (Oxford English Dictionary, 2007) Technology: quality pertaining to a software or hardware easy and pleasant to use and understand even for a beginner. User friendly, usability by extension also reliable and efficient (Le Grand Dictionnaire Terminologique, 2007) Sociology: set of positive relations between the people and the groups that form a society, with an emphasis on community life and equality rather than hierarchical functions (Le Grand Dictionnaire Terminologique, 2007)
2.1 Individuals vs. groups First used in a scientific and philosophical context (Polanyi, 1974), in 1964, as synonymous with empathy, conviviality allows individuals to identify with each other thereby experiencing each other’s feelings, thoughts and attitudes. By extension, a community is convivial when it aims at sharing knowledge: Members trust each other, share commitments and interests and make mutual efforts to build conviviality and preserve it. A convivial learning experience is based on role swapping (Illich, 1971), teacher role alternating with learner role, emphasising the concept of reciprocity as key component and creating concepts such as learning webs, skill exchange networks and peer-matching communication, later expanded by Papert and the Constructionists with concepts such as learning-by-making (Papert and Harel, 1991).
Conviviality is then described as a social form of human interaction, a way to reinforce group cohesion through the recognition of common values. The sharing of habits and customs, for example the sharing of certain types of food or drinks, create and reinforce a community through a ‘positive feeling of togetherness’; individuals become part of the community which in turn, reinforces the community’ awareness of its identity.
The physical experience of conviviality is transformed into knowledge sharing experience: ‘to know is to understand in a certain manner that can be shared by others who form with you a community of understanding’ (Schecter, 2004).
102 P. Caire
2.2 From groups to institutions Illich (1974) further develop the concept of conviviality with his notion of ‘individual freedom realised in personal interdependence’. Conviviality should then be the foundation for a new society, one that gives its members the means, referred to as tools, for achieving their personal goals: ‘a convivial society would be the result of social arrangements that guarantee for each member the most ample and free access to the tools of the community and limit this freedom only in favour of another member’s equal freedom’. Conviviality is then seen by Putnam as an enhancement to social capital, a condition for the civil society where communities are characterised by political equality, civic engagement, solidarity, trust, tolerance and strong associative life (Putnam, 2000), therefore tightly linking the performance of political institutions to the character of civil life (Putnam, 1988). These ideas are further developed by Lamizet (2004) who characterises conviviality as both ‘institutional structures that facilitate social relations and technological processes that are easy to control and pleasurable to use’. An important use for conviviality today is for digital cities as a mechanism to reinforce social cohesion and as a tool to reduce miscoordinations between individuals (Caire and van der Torre, 2009a; Caire, 2009; Caire, 2008).
2.3 The darker side of conviviality However, a negative side of conviviality emerges when it is instrumentalised, one group being favoured at the expense of another. Ashby argues that “truth realities about minorities are built from the perspective of the majority via template token instances in which conflict is highlighted and resolution is achieved through minority assimilation to majority norms […] Conviviality is achieved for the majority, but only through a process by which non-conviviality is reinforced for the minority.” (Ashby, 2004) Taylor further added to this negative side the idea that conviviality can be used to mask the power relationships and social structures that govern communities. Taylor asks the question “whether it is possible for convivial institutions to exist, other than by simply creating another set of power relationships and social orders that, during the moment of involvement, appear to allow free rein to individual expression […].
Community members may experience a sense of conviviality which is deceptive and which disappears as soon as the members return to the alienation of their fragmented lives.” (Taylor, 2004)
We summarised, from different sources, positive and negative aspects of conviviality and present, as examples, some excerpts (Table 2): The emphasis is on sharing of common grounds and inclusiveness for positive side, on division and coercive behaviours for negative side.
How to import the concept of conviviality to web communities 103 Table 2 Different aspects of conviviality
3 Challenges After looking at the multiple and broad range definitions and uses of conviviality in social sciences and noting the number and depth of ethical issues discussed in social science regarding the concept of conviviality, we recognise that conviviality raises a challenge for computer science. Which issues are relevant in computer science? How can the positive aspects of conviviality be used in computer science environment? What is distinct in computer science? How should the negative aspects of conviviality be taken into account?
3.1 Misconceptions First, the various definitions of the notion of conviviality are notoriously vague. The definition of the Grand Dictionnaire Terminologique requires that various other vague concepts are made more precise, such as ‘positive relations’, ‘community life’ and ‘equality’. Second, the concept of conviviality is not technical and therefore not applicable for agent technology. Third, it is unclear how the concept of conviviality can be used for MAS. Before we present our case why we believe the concept of conviviality should play a role in MAS, we like to present some counterarguments.
First, we believe that the ambiguity and vagueness of conviviality is not a valid reason to discard it together with its associated social science literature, because this ambiguity and vagueness holds for most other social-cognitive concepts studied in MAS. Moreover, the existence of various definitions makes it possible to choose one which fits best the interests on the MAS community and, as we show in this paper, it is possible to make the vague definitions much more precise.