Kurt Reymers, Ph.D.

Doctoral Dissertation

Title: Communitarianism on the Internet: An Ethnographic Analysis of the USENET newsgroup tpy2k, 1996-2004.

For over a century, sociologists have been debating the meaning of the term “community.” One reason a consensus has never been reached can be found in the changing nature of society itself. Changes in the political, economic, cultural or technological structure of a society can have a clear relationship to the types of community that are built (Tonnies 1957, Durkheim 1951, 1954). It is argued that contemporary changes in technology have fostered such social changes (Baym 1998, Jones 1998, Wellman 2001). The dissertation examines this argument more closely by investigating an online forum that emerged in 1996 to facilitate technical solutions to the year 2000 computer problem. The USENET forum, named “tech.problems.year2000,” or tpy2k for short, is evaluated in terms of its communitarian potential. Communitarianism (Etzioni 1993, 1999) states that a balance is necessary between individual rights and social responsibility in order for a community to function well and produce public goods. The dissertation asks the question, “can a Usenet newsgroup strike a balance between individual and group needs, and does it produce a demonstrable public good?” Analysis of the evidence suggests that, despite remarkable incivility in the newsgroup, the “networked individualism” described by Wellman (2003) and a “cooperative anarchy” (Tepper 1997) that balances individual freedom with the conscientiousness of community appears to exist.