Context Collapse: A Literature Review
May 15, 2015 1:56 PM   Subscribe

This is not a typical blog post. It has far too many words–many of which are jargony– no images, and formal citations where readers would expect/prefer hyperlinks. Rather, this is a literature review.
A dry recapitulation of the often formulaic work of established scholars, forged by two low-on-the-totem-pole bloggers with the hope of acceptance into the scholarly realm through professionally recognized channels–in this case, the American Sociological Association annual meetings. Nathan Jurgenson and I are working to further theorize context collapse. To do so, however, we need to fully understand how the concept is being and has been used. Below we offer such an account, and ask readers to point out anything we’ve missed or perhaps misrepresented. In short, we hope to share our labors, and invite readers to tell us how we can do better.
posted by infini (23 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
For people not familiar with the term (I wasn't):

"In [...] bounded interactions, people adjust their tone and presentation to fit social context. In context collapse, this adjusting becomes impossible (perhaps is even considered irrelevant by some). Behaviours and materials intended for a limited audience can suddenly clash with parts of a wider whole."
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:08 PM on May 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Can someone elevator pitch this?

The pull quote basically just says, Watch out, this is dry and insider-y -- doesn't even say what the topic is (which, thanks showbiz_liz). But even knowing what it is broadly about I don't get this.
posted by grobstein at 2:13 PM on May 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

Also, a helpful round up of terms and links: Context collapse, performance piety and civil inattention – the web concepts you need to understand in 2015 [The Guardian]
Context Collapse:
The problem of communicating online is that, no matter what your intended audience is, your actual audience is everyone. The researchers Danah Boyd and Alice Marwick put it like this: “We may understand that the Twitter or Facebook audience is potentially limitless, but we often act as if it were bounded.”

So, that tasteless joke your best Facebook friend will definitely get? Not so funny when it ends up on a BuzzFeed round-up of The Year’s Biggest Bigots and you get fired. That dating profile where you described yourself as “like Casanova, only with a degree in computing”? Not so winsome when it lands you on Shit I’ve Seen On Tinder and no one believes that you were being sarcastic. On a more serious level, context collapse is behind some “trolling” prosecutions: is it really the role of the state to prosecute people for saying offensive, unpleasant things about news stories in front of other people who have freely chosen to be their friends on Facebook? I don’t think so.
posted by Fizz at 2:20 PM on May 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

grobstein, I'd put the whole piece out front but I think a mod might have cleaned it up for the mobile first folks.
posted by infini at 2:30 PM on May 15, 2015

We have varying contexts with which we present ourselves. The way that we behave around friends at a pool hall is different than how we behave in church with our neighbors. Social networking sites thrive in their ability to mesh previously disparate networks together. In general terms we have a single feed which is presented to our followers (and to the Internet as a whole if the site is entirely front-facing, like Twitter). By combining the disparate networks into a single combined network, the contexts are 'collapsed' upon one another. boyd's recent mainstream, book-length ethnography with teens It's Complicated goes over this, and other central frictions in networked life, in a very accessible and interesting way that still manages to be academically rigorous and well theorized. Even though the focus is on "networked teens," I think it has something to say about anyone who spends time online.
posted by codacorolla at 2:37 PM on May 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

grobstein, I'd put the whole piece out front but I think a mod might have cleaned it up for the mobile first folks.

[For what it's worth, I think grobstein posted his comment before I edited the post, but for the record, yeah, that's a big big blockquote so I tucked some under the fold.]

posted by cortex at 2:40 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

codacorolla, this was my first introduction to this entire body of research, thank you for that lucid explanation. (Perhaps that's why I wasn't able to do much more than just grab the intro)

I have a question. 5 years ago, someone, a professional, said Oh I don't separate my personal life and professional life online, I'm ONE person on Facebook. This was in response to something I'd said about keeping the two separate online (and probably why so many of us GRAR here under our various chosen usernames). How is this playing out now, given the exponential growth and ubiquity of everything since then?
posted by infini at 2:45 PM on May 15, 2015

Interesting little review of the concepts involved, but the writing lacks clarity. I guess they kind of set that out in the beginning, that it's a "jargony," "dry recapitulation" of "formulaic work." Quite accurate, but the ideas and terminology are good to think about if you take the time to pick through the prose.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:48 PM on May 15, 2015

This is not a typical blog post.
Typical blog posts are NEVER MetaFilter post-worthy.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:55 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by ethansr at 4:15 PM on May 15, 2015

Why is it that, the harder a writer tries to ensure that their argument is crystal-clear, the harder it is to understand? Does this have something to do with Heisenberg?
posted by rankfreudlite at 4:39 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Why is it that, the harder a writer tries to ensure that their argument is crystal-clear, the harder it is to understand?

One common scenario is that the writer's actual goal is precision, not clarity as such.

(I don't know if that's the situation here. Also, I don't mean to suggest that that goal is wrong to have, even when it's at the expense of clarity.)
posted by stebulus at 4:49 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

infini - can you expand "GRAR" for me. No comprende.
posted by hwestiii at 4:54 PM on May 15, 2015

I've had this sitting in Pocket for ages. I know it's tied to Hauntology somewhat, and I probably found it via Phil Sandifer or Mindless Ones. I like dense, jargon-filled blogs. At best they teach me another way of looking at the world and at worst their distance from 'clarity' is also a distance from the mundane facts of death. I like hiding in webs of words and perceptions, and MeFi's sometime hostility to such things is sad.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:21 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

'Tis the word, and nothing more
posted by Mblue at 5:23 PM on May 15, 2015

infini - can you expand "GRAR" for me.

It's not an acronym, it's a (MeFi-specific?) term for angry, combative commenting.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:47 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

One common scenario is that the writer's actual goal is precision, not clarity as such.

Thank you for clarifying my question. Precision is a much better term.
posted by rankfreudlite at 8:35 PM on May 15, 2015

This seems like a fairly decently written lit review (maybe even towards the better end of the spectrum). Interestingly, coming into the FPP and expecting a straightforward popular press article and getting an academic lit review is exactly what context collapse is referring to. To the point that it may even be an intentional rhetorical move by the authors.
posted by codacorolla at 8:44 PM on May 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

The first time I came across "context collapse": Context Collapse, Architecture, and Plows
We all know what context is in our lives. The same thing we do with our friends can be horrifying to think about doing with our bosses or families. This isn’t because we’re all massive hypocrites, it’s because context matters in culture. One of the major problems with online space is that the wrong people see us hanging out with our friends, and suddenly decontextualize our actions. This makes them wholly different and often unintended actions.
Quinn Norton references Marwick and boyd's paper: I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience [PDF]. I think Norton gives too much credence to claims by men who serially harass women, but it's an ok starting point.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:05 PM on May 15, 2015

Metafilter's own AliceTiara is really the academic most associated with this term.
As someone who frequently writes about context collapse I'd say this blog post isn't that useful.
posted by k8t at 9:20 PM on May 15, 2015

infini - can you expand "GRAR" for me. No comprende.

Going Round And Round - its an acronym that became short hand for what Horace Rumpole describes and it emerges, I think, from some of the more infamous 2000 or 3000 comment threads in a lesser known region called the grey.*

*which, if you're using professional white, may not make sense
posted by infini at 12:35 AM on May 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

If anyone wants to chat about context collapse I'm happy to discuss the research! But honestly, it's not a super complicated term, and while I love a good lit review this seems like overkill.
posted by alicetiara at 1:34 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

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