I am sure I am not alone wondering about the recurring pattern of the decay of on-line communities. It seems that it is unevitable that after they grow into becoming some significant force they always deteriorate into nasty politics or a total melt-down. A glimpse of an answer I found in the theory mimetic rivalry developed by Rene Girard – who shows how easily conflict can develop in any human group. According to his theory the pattern is universal and institutions and religion were developed to contain it.
This rivalry and resentment process is what happens to on-line communities and it is also a powerful argument against the Peak Hierarchy idea, but I have not yet seen this kind of analysis applied to contemporary organisations. Organization as containment of acquisitive mimetic rivalry: the contribution of Renre Girard by John Desmond and Donncha Kavanagh is the first research article I have found that explores these ideas and proposes a research agenda. I believe it is an important direction – not to deterr us from creating online communities – but for understanding the difficulties that we encounter.
The quote below is an example of the analysis of the unconscious forces that work under the surface in even the most common human group set ups:
Another factor worthy of more research is the role played by ritual in mediating mimetic rivalry within organizational contexts. We might tentatively suggest that in general ritual seems to direct symbolic and actual violence in directions that further the goals of the organization and which prevents the outbreak of acquisitive mimetic rivalry. For example Ackroyd & Crowdy (1990) offer examples to show that the targets for “practical jokes” in the slaughterhouse that formed the basis of their study were usually hose who were slower and less efficient at tasks than the perpetrators.
Discussing the general role of insults in organization Gabriel (1998), argues that this is a political process that establishes a kind of “pecking order”, thus restricting rivalry to the next slot available in the hierarchy. These arguments support the view that mimetic behaviour is ever present in organizational contexts but that this rarely escalates to acquisitive mimetic rivalry.
Compare that with The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman.