communities and cohorts

The question I was posed was “How do we build digital scholarly communities and/or cohorts?”

I love the topic, but how I hate and/ors! Whenever I see one, I want to pry it apart by its punctuation—rest on the “or” like a rock, and use that helpful slash as a lever to launch “and” far away.

Typography should work like that.

There’s never a real and/or. Communities and cohorts aren’t the same, and our strategies for building one may be inappropriate to the other. Let’s think of a cohort as a discrete group defined by its having shared—beginning to end, often enough—some (any!) common experience. You’re in, or you’re out, not even necessarily with awareness or meaningful consent. This works in medicine and demography, in pedagogical practice (welcome, class of 2016!), and in online collaborations just as in the Roman legions that lent the word. There’s a bright line around a cohort. A digital community, on the other hand, has porous boundaries. It must, because it is defined not by shared experiences or twists of fate, but by the value-set its members share. If not designed for openness, it’ll never coalesce.

And if you mistake a cohort for a community, be prepared: at some point it’s gonna die.


I openly admit to a conflation of terms here. Thanks for reminding us of how very different communities and cohorts are. 

Directly related to Sam's post and your mention of the class of 2016. I think of the what happens when cohorts do end. When my doctoral cohort started, we had an active cohort Facebook page reinforced by the fact that we were all in the same introductory class . Now we are all at different stages in our academic careers and pursuing a wide range of research that means we are regularly closer to people outside of that cohort. Our discussions have migrated to the PhD community page, but for that first semester it was essential to have that tighter knit community to share our frustrations and achievements. 

How do reunions and homecomings work as far as cohorts? While somewhat awkward, their continued existence defends the idea that we hope to at least temporarily reopen that cohort.

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