“While a mosaic respects the diversity of the elements of which it is made up, it brings them together in an organic unity greater than the sum of its parts.”
As in a mosaic, the world is represented by the diversity of its numerous habitants who somehow interact with each others and tend to create the unity of spaces where to promote similar passions and curiosities. In the postmodernity, the desire of identification and belonging to a social community (either online or offline), in which a group can share common interests and affinities, is increasing day by day. This powerful return to “the impulse to community and of the need of collective emotion” is what Maffesoli calls “neo-tribalism” (Maffesoli, 1988). A single person becomes plural by indentifying her/himself with a number of tribes that have same tastes and roots. These tribes are seen as relative and relational since the self is part of a network that relates to others. The self, as Maffesoli highlights, “is effectively performed through its relationships with others, and through a tribe’s relations with other tribes”. It goes without saying that the tribes are furthered by social media platforms, such as Facebook.
Why do people want to be part of a community/tribe? How does this strong desire/feeling influence their lives? The tendency of becoming a member of a group is related to the need of people to find themselves. The importance of sharing common feelings/ideas in transitive/temporary communities can be, in fact, understood through the concept “postmodern sociability”, which leads to the fragmetantion of both the individual and the society and no longer to a distinction between them (as in the modernity). This postmodern sociability basically represents the grounds of being-together in everyday life. The self is fragmented and unstable, and this fragmentation (tribalism) is even more expanded by social media, within which individuals search their ‘identity’ as provisional members of overlapping groups/tribes. The single person fragments in order to become part of a larger Self: the Self of the tribe. The relationships within the tribes and with other tribes play, therefore, an essential role. The idea of the ‘fragmentation of society’ indicates the ways in which individuals come together so as to form open communities, “within and between which they interact with the other” (From society to tribal communities, Maffesoli, 2016).
Online communities vs. offline communities
From a sociological point of view, it is possible to say that the territory, besides the sharing of common interests, is a fundamental characteristic of the tribal phenomenon. The territory is the safe place where the members of the tribe find themselves and communicate. For istance, joining a group on Facebook can create a sense of community and produce a specific digital space of common grounds. People sharing the territory (online) protect and defend it from the world outside (offline). Thus, the term ‘tribe’ is litteraly used to express the way in which the group members struggle together against “the many forms of adversity so generously provided by the jungle”.
The online connections can, however, cause isolation from the offline world. Facebook can be considered as a sort of virtual community, which lets people create common internet spaces and value them. But while Facebook promotes these kinds of interconnections between peers, it also allows an inclination to isolation. This can be examplified by the case of Alana, a student who lives in the close-knit community (village of Santa Ana) Trinidad and interviewed by Miller (Tales from Facebook, Miller, 2011). From the experience of this girl, it is evident that Facebook is used as an escape from the jungle (also known as world). She uses this social network in order to interact with different students who can help her with the homeworks, but she uses it especially because she would prefer to spend her free time on the computer rather than go outside for a walk.
Personally, I am a member of different study groups on Facebook, all related to my different University subjects. I found these online groups potentially helpful so as to find useful information and connect with other students who share my same interests or have to pass the same exam (fingers crossed). Nevertheless, I have to say that my feeling of belonging to these online communities is not as strong as the feeling of being part of an offline community. For instance, I am currently an official member of a study association of Leiden University, called Le tre corone, formed by Dutch students who are learning Italian and Italian students who are studying Dutch. I honestly think that this association is a potential way of creating not only a community but also solid relationships and friendships between the members, who are always there to help each other and improve together. Furthermore, the connection which you can have through communication on live, in the actual presence of the members of that offline community, has nothing to do with the online platforms. It gives you something more, such as the possibility to see who is sharing with you the same ‘territory’.
Introduction to Maffesoli’s From Society to Tribal Communities, Dawes, 2016
From society to tribal communities, Maffesoli, The Sociological Review, 2016
Tales from Facebook, Miller, Community, 2011