Online communities are a thriving space for the production of digital materialities 

By Rachel-Ann Charles on August 28th, 2020

A version of this appears in the NEW THINKING #3.7 pamphlet.

As a Caribbean national residing in the United Kingdom, my way of life for much of the past 15 years has been played out online and is centred mainly around digital “stuff” exchanged through online platforms. The digital artefacts exchanged online range from images to videos all of which are closely connected to significant life events such as birthdays, graduations, weddings and funerals. For some, these digital exchanges or stuff are merely everyday experiences; however, I interpret them as a form of materiality. Although traditional thinkers may argue that a “pure realist conceptualisation of materiality” consists of a type of matter (Sondergaard, 2011), my lived experiences are entangled between types of materiality that are digital and offline (Morizio, 2014). As such, the following paragraphs reflect on those experiences particularly in relation to issues around religion, activism, and identity.

The first area I reflect on is the evolving way that I have practiced Christianity within recent years which has been primarily online and this connects with discussions around the intangible nature of digital religion. For example, a lot of traditional Christians, I have encountered, have frowned upon the idea of an online church, often citing Hebrews 10:25 (Holman, 2015) to support their myth. In a recent collection on Religion and Materiality scholars such as Narayanan (2020) have debunked this untruth held by many parishioners. This body of work highlights the negotiation of digital religion particularly in the 21st century, which sheds further light on the type of materiality amassed within these spaces. Evidently, many Christians have been forced to reconsider their own prejudices held against online spaces particularly during times of pandemic. Who would have taught that an online space could possibly be positioned side by side and in many cases replace the physical church in meaningful ways? It is within the practice of digital religion I get a sense of the way these intangible experiences matter though they are without “matter.”

Image by Alexandra Koch from Pixabay.

The second area I mulled over, is on the way social distancing measures during the 2020 pandemic led to interesting ways of activism for me, especially as it brought the offline and online space together in new ways. This space once and still considered dark has now produced some of the most crucial and historical digital materiality observed in decades particularly around Covid-19 and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. A case in point, is on June 4th I viewed George Floyd’s memorial, fighting back the tears brought on by a combination of systemic racism and my own internal struggles surrounding the issue. Never thought that I would be standing in silence and solidarity, as part of a global community, for a total of 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the time it took for a white police officer to murder a black man named George Floyd. The totality of these intangible experiences matter though they are without “matter.”  

The final point of reflection is on the positionality of a life that is lived on the margins of the global and local; and I often question whether I belong there or here? As an Afro-Caribbean immigrant woman working and residing in the United Kingdom I primarily have a connection with the Caribbean Diaspora through online spaces. As the boarders closed around the world during the pandemic, I wondered if it was safe to stay in the UK or if I should seek repatriation? I began to think deeply about my sense of belonging and “nationhood” (Fox and Miller-Idriss, 2008). Although I live within a locale, and from what I have heard the people are very warm here, my sense of belonging seems very remote yet unidentifiable.  These intangible experiences matter though they are without “matter.”

As an overall response to my reflections, I have created a space where members of the Caribbean Diaspora could talk about the things that matter in the form of a podcast. Conversations with the Caribbean Diaspora is an online safe space for members of the Caribbean to have open dialogues about their experiences and about what matters whilst navigating this imagined space. It is hoped that through this platform I can begin to theorise about the emerging culture but most importantly, the types of materiality found within this space.


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