Cường Phạm: đoàn thân – conversations around communities in cyberspace


Recently I have been obsessed with lexicon, the words of my mother-tongue. Being a diaspora child it’s been a constant struggle to piece together words, compounds to form coherent sentences. The word đoàn comes from the word Sino-Vietnamese word 團, the dictionary entry lists one of the meanings as tập hợp lại which means to regroup. The word thể 体 also Sino-Vietnamese means bodies, physical, objective, instrumental body. These two characters form the compound word đoàn thể which means community. Yet there’s a coldness to the word thể, for instance cơ thể which has a scientific almost soulless meaning of body. Contrast this with thân 身 which can be translated as body-person, where the self is animate and sensual. Người thân is the collective form for family, extended family, next of kin, close friends.

Transnationalising community

I wanted to interrogate how networks have been formed with the assistance of technological tools. These new modes of online and transnational community and network, do not rely on a physical space in order to connect or share. In doing so I connected to/with trans(itional+national) spaces where virtual inanimate bodies (re)group.

Our communities being fundamentally shaped by technology can sometimes feel like a recent phenomenon, only after a little digging did I find out that ways we interact, work, and play have been digital earlier than what I imagined. 

In 1992, two Vietnamese Americans, Hoanh Tran and Tin Le founded VNForum, one of the first transnational Vietnam networks. It was hosted on a Usenet system, a technology that predates the World Wide Web, and is still in use today. Early users of VN Forum overseas Vietnamese intellectuals, professionals, international scholars, and Vietnamese government affiliates. This allowed for the exchange of knowledge, for example, providing some of the first Vietnamese computer scientists training support in the United States. The Usernet technology is now largely inaccessible to large numbers of online users and has now since given way to the World Wide Web. I also was interested in how technology allowed us to hyper-customise our interactions and thus affects how we move within online spaces. Then there are the questions of legacy, making me question how permanent the internet is, what is the life expectancy of our digital footprint, what happens to our digital digital estate, do we need to start thinking about archiving our online lives? 

In researching online communities I came across a quote that made me think about how the we we connect in the last few months have suddenly shifted: 

“Communities rarely exist exclusively in cyberspace. It is important to investigate the ways in which social groups in cyberspace spill out into the `real’ world and vice versa” (Kollock and Smith).

In the post-Covid-19 world, with lockdowns, travel restrictions, and quarantining regulations amongst others perpendicular to this is the explosion in affordable, widespread, and user friendly technology suddenly our relationships have shifted away from ‘real world’ to virtual spaces, sometimes they are used in parallel. Kollock and Smith’s book, ‘Communities in Cyberspace’, was published over 20 years ago, do virtual world interactions have to be played out in the ‘real world’, what happens to how our communities interact if and when Covid-19 is consigned to history? Can we go from URL to IRL…

These are some of the questions that served a departure point for conversations with Eastern Margins, Eternal Dragonz, and Overseas Vietnamese.

Eternal Dragonz

Click here or here to access the rest of the conversation between AAA & EDZ.

Overseas Vietnamese

Click here or here to access the rest of the conversation between AAA & OV.

Eastern Margins

You can listen to the conversation with Eastern Margins through our VR space here.

Click through to read more about Cuong Pham and click here to register for the roundtable where these conversations continue.

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