Hubs, Hives, and the Paradox of Social Innovation

Any place or program designed to foster connections between people can facilitate the formation of an exclusionary bubble. This is one of the curious paradoxes of intentional communities. A socially ‘sticky’ group runs the risk of becoming a victim of its success. When we humans meaningfully connect with one another, we tend to congeal. We tribalize and clubify. As a result, even our best-intentioned efforts to create places for human relationships can seamlessly morph into socially impenetrable fortresses of their own.

Sure, in theory, we love the idea of clique crushing, silo squishing, and bubble bursting places where we can find common cause with one another. But once we have identified our allies and compatriots, and settled down to work together, it is far easier to batten down the hatches than to practice an open door policy indefinitely. Out-groups are guaranteed, unavoidable byproducts of social cohesion.

Sociologically speaking, cliques are a normal part of human social behaviour. But the critical question for today’s waves of ‘social innovation’ communities to address is: who is specifically marginalized or excluded in the process of establishing collectives that purport to exist for the broader social good?

Humans have needs that can make only be met by membership in an ‘us’ — which inherently requires there to be a ‘them’ out there somewhere. The question is not, ‘Is anyone structurally marginalized or excluded by our community?’ but ‘Who is structurally marginalized and excluded from our community?’ The challenge for every would-be hub of social good and connectivity is to figure out how to become more like a public library and less like a golf club.

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