Archive for March 5th, 2010
As planned I have spent this week reading Social Psychology, 5th Edition, S. Brehm et al, and I found to be a good introductory textbook on the subject.
We will start by defining a group as a set of individuals having at least one of these characteristics:
(1) direct interactions with others over a period of time
(2) joint membership in a social category based on sex, race or other attributes
(3) a shared common fate, identity or set of goals.
This set of characteristics should be sufficient to define a group in offline and online world, and by understanding characteristics it should allow us to see that groups can be as little as two people or over 1000 as long as they satisfy one of the above criteria. The interesting thing I would like to look at is why people choose the particulat groups they want to be part of and be affiliated with.
The need for affiliation -is a social motivation, humans are drawn to each other. Everyone has a different strength of need for affiliation and they will be motivated to set up a optimum balance of social contact, sometimes wanting company of others and sometimes wanting to be alone. Affiliation can also satisfy other needs such as: attention, stimulation, information and emotional support.
Affiliation is a necessary first step in forming a social relationship. I wrote in my last blog about social facilitation and will now add that being in presence of others can lead to increased arousal and increases an individuals tendency to make a dominant response. This dominant response is the reaction elicited most quickly and easily by a stimulus. Usually dominant response will only be successful / correct whenever task they must respond to is easy or they are well practiced at doing it. This means that in presence of others, a person who is well practiced can perform at their best when aroused by presence of pthers and the opposite is also true. People need presence of other people – to celebrate, share news, commiserate, learn from or just chat. People can also be at their best, or worse when in a groups. Through groups individuals can form communities that can pool resources and share in success, and it is through groups frustration can turn into mob violence, conflicts turn into wars. Most big decisions are made by groups such as governments, businesses and other organisations that and we don’t imagine such decisions being left to any individual. By working in a group people can produce great performances or achievements – such as orchestra concert or ballet performance. Conversely groups working against each other can lead to violence, death and destruction. While this book on social psychology deals mainly with physical “real-world” groups I found most of the ideas could equally be applied to online groups. Online groups have made some good collective achievements such as wikipedia, open source software, or annotating free maps, but they also have led to flame wars, and denial of service attacks.
One other key theme that kept re-occuring when I was researching existing online communities was that they can come to an end or be destroyed – in many cases Spam has been cited as a contributing factor.
social loafing: describes the reduction in individual output on easy tasks where contributions are pooled in a group. The example the book gives is that studies have shown people do not cheer louder or clap harder with increasing group sizes, instead individual contribution becomes less, social loafing phenomenon.
This ties in neatly with the collective effort model which asserts that individuals work harder on a collective task when they believe their efforts will help achieve an outcome they personally value.
Some of studies of social psychology have highlighted some troubling effects of presence of others – chiefly deindividuation, that often leads to a person losing control. The book did mention that people may be motivated if there is the possibility of being evaluated. In the offline world it could take careful observation of individuals within a group to accurately evaluate their contribution, whereas in online groups most interactions are facilitated by technology, can be recorded and made instantly available. This could then be quickly analysed and simple evaluation of an individuals activity and contributions could be presented to the group and could act as deterrent to social loafing.
Deindividuation is a persons loss of individuality and reduction in normal constrainst on deviant behaviour, and most most investigators found this phenomenon to only occurs in the presence of others. They found that arousal, anonymity, and reduced feelings of responsibility together contribute to de-individuation. When reading this I particularly thought that online groups are at more risk of deviant behaviour occuring since Internet provides instantly two contributing factors: anonymity and feelings of reduced responsibility.
Finally, one of main questions I wanted to review was why join a group? Social psychology gives several reasons such as it provides affiliation, protection or sense of security. Also fro reasons of social status and identity, Some simply join because they like members and want to interact with them. Usually people will join because they are optimistic about the benefits they will get from belonging to a particular group, and one of main reasons people leave or disengage from activities whithin a group is when the benefits don’t outweigh the costs.
Next week I will focus on roles within groups, and the outputs of groups.
This week I am still reading and studying the basic concepts of sociology and the essential element in the society.
According to the author, work can be considered as ‘the carrying out of tasks which enable people to make a living within the environment in which they find themselves’. In the real world, human beings are different from any other animal as they can work to deal with the problems arising from the scarcity of resources in the environment. Therefore, it can be seen clearly work gives the identity to human beings and it is one of the essential elements for people to form society. However, the notion of ‘making a living’ does not only show that the aim of working is to produce the material products to guarantee the physical survival. In fact, the ‘making a living’ is mentioning both the material and the cultural aspects of people’s existence.
Let us move on to the virtual society, Web. As the book mentioned above, work is an essential element to tell human beings from any other animal and form the human society. Then, how about the virtual society? Is work still important for people to live in the virtual world? The answer is absolutely yes. Although in the environment, physical survival is no longer a problem for people. But they still need to work in the social networking to be bound up with their conception of self. In this manner, work has the same meaning for people to live either in the real society or in the virtual society. For my issue, user-generated content in the social networking is a kind of work for people in some extent. People write the blog or twitter as a way in which they can be self-identified. Therefore, there easily will be a motivation for people ongoing to do such job online.
It is another important aspect for the aim of work. In this book, Culture is ‘The system of meanings which are shared by members of a human grouping and which define what is good and bad, right and wrong and what are the appropriate ways for members of that grouping to think and behave.‘ There is no difference in culture between online society and real society. People in the world are seeking to deal with the same issue about the problems of human existence wherever it happened in virtual world or real. There are still the same existential problems in both societies: the meanings of death; the nature of obligation; the character of love. Good thing is that in the virtual society, people can be provided an extensive environment to express and discuss. Moreover, it is a nice place to engage people.
This week I have studied an important element within society that is work. The meaning of work for people is given and connected with the virtual society, finding out the common things.
The book is Sociology work and industry by Tony J.Watson
Below you may find some notes that I have written, while reading a book entitled
Exploring Social Psychology 4th Edition, by R. A. Baron, D. Byrne and B. T. Johnson
What is Social Psychology about?
Understanding how and why individuals behave, think and feel as they do in situations involving other persons.
-Often, in the offline world, social behaviour can be affected by temporary factors (changing mood, fatigue etc.). In such situations we pay attention to people’s nonverbal behaviour (changes in facial expressions, eye contact, posture, body movement etc.).
However, in the online world such an interpretation is not available as people do not come face to face physically. When our privacy is breached we can never use the nonverbal behaviour of the attacker, as we have no direct contact to him and in many cases we have no idea who the attacker is.
- In the offline world, we usually want to understand what attitudes and traits underlie a person’s behaviour; we want to understand the reasons why that person has acted in a particular way. The process through we seek all this information is known as attribution. How do we accomplish this? We focus our attention on the most likely to be informative behaviours.
In the online world attribution takes place when people search for information about others on the Web. For instance, people quite often search a person’s personal page to learn more about their lives and their personality. In addition to this, people often use social networking sites, in order to retrieve information about others. They search for their profiles and if these are open, they can easily check their information and photos. But is that an example of privacy breach? Apart from individuals, many companies also use this method in the hiring process or when they just want to spy on their employees’ private life.
- Of great interest is the fact that attribution is in many cases subject to errors; errors which may lead to wrong assumptions about other people’s behaviour. We have the tendency to put labels on other people, by saying that someone is ‘that kind of person’, rather than try and seek for the external factors that may have affected someone’s behaviour.
On the Web this happens quite often. People say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in many cases the picture itself may lead to wrong assumptions, as it only represents only one second from a specific moment. For instance, it may show a person falling of a chair; however we do not know how that person managed to fall of the hill. He may have done intentionally or it might have happened by mistake.
In that sense, information that we often find online can be misleading and we may perceive a person’s action differently than it actually is.
- A study that took place in 1994 revealed that Americans are more keen in generating trust than Japanese.
Japanese have high levels of mutual assurance, i.e. the belief that other people will act in predictable ways, because they have a long-term and stable relationship with each other. On the other hand, Americans assume that even strangers to them are likely to behave in an honest manner and with good intentions.
What is noticeable here, is that this research took place 16 years ago, so the findings are very likely to have changed by now. Furthermore, during the last years the Web has changed significantly the way people trust each other. From the moment that people began posting personal data online, trust and faith in other people’s good intentions is not as it used to be. As people’s trust between one another declines, more things do they consider to be private rather than public.
- Gender refers to all the attributes associated with being male or female, whether determined by biology or by culture. As people develop, they acquire gender identity by learning to label themselves as female or male. The gender role that they adopt reflects what they do and how other people respond to them. In many cases gender stereotypes are born and interpersonal behaviours may be influenced.
As there are many gender differences between men and women the same applies to their perception of privacy. Something that a woman may regard as private, a man may regard it as public.
What are attitudes?
Attitudes are defined as evaluations of virtually any aspect of the social world. That means that attitudes refer to how positive or negative we are about some object or entity. Attitudes are very important as they influence the way we think about and process social information and as they influence our behaviour.
Our attitude regarding privacy is not something that we were born with, but something that we obtained while growing up and based on our experiences. The opinion that hold on this subject definitely affects our behaviour.
How do we develop the views we hold?
Attitudes are mostly being developed through our experiences, though some are influenced by genetic factors. One source of our attitudes is the interaction with others (called social learning). Another source is social comparison; comparing ourselves with others in order to determine whether our view of social reality is correct or not.
When do attitudes influence behaviour?
In some case people cannot express their attitudes, because it is against the norms in a given social situation. (Norms are rules indicating the way people are supposed to behave in a given situation.)
A case when people usually express their attitudes is when they are under time pressure, as they have no time to think over the consequences of their behaviour and tend to use their attitudes as an easy solution.
Moreover, people’s attitudes tend to determine whether they are going to enter a certain situation or not. For example, if someone is against posting personal data online, he is more likely to attend a meeting regarding this subject. When someone is very passionate about this matter ( i.e. has very strong attitudes about it) he is more likely to commit himself to this.
How do attitudes influence behaviour?
There are 2 mechanisms through which attitudes shape behaviour. The first takes place in situations where we need to think carefully about our attitudes and their implications for our behaviour. In these situations we tend to think about how others will evaluate our behaviour and whether this behaviour is difficult to accomplish. The second mechanism takes place when we have time pressure and have to be very quick, where our attitudes are instantly activated and influence our behaviour.
What is persuasion?
It is the process of changing attitudes and can be divided in 2 mechanisms. Systematic Processing refers to careful consideration of the message content. People think about the matter, evaluate the strength of the arguments and finally either resist persuasion or not. Heuristic Processing refers to the use of heuristics on the acceptance or denial of persuasion.
When the first blog was created how did people react upon persuasion? Most people were very eager to create and maintain their own blog. When the ‘NewsFeed’ feature in Facebook was created why did people react against it? In this case the process of persuasion inititally did not work successfully, as it was against people’s attitudes.
Currently reading: Introduction to Politics and Society – Shaun Best
Brief overview of what has been read:
Following my reading from last week, which looked at the core fundamentals of Sociology and the key academics such as Weber, Durkheim and Marx, I have been reading about the key concepts in Political Science and the contemporary world. Shaun Best’s book looks at power, authority, coercion, surveillance, and legitimacy, based on the ideas of many key academics such as Weber, Marx, and Habermas.
This week’s reading was focused around two major topics within the book:
• Chapter 1 – Power Authority and the State:
• Chapter 6 – New Social Movements
These topics seem relevant to the issue which is trying to be addressed, from looking at how the government uses it power, how bureaucracy takes place and also the struggles within society. Furthermore, New social movements, such that of Women’s liberation movement and other similar social movements and the theories behind their cause may prove to demonstrate similarities which can be seen on the web (petitions, forums, etc).
Knowledge gained and relevance to issue:
To begin with, examining chapter 1 states that the key question of sociology in politics is “How is power exercised?”. Anthony Giddens suggests that power is related to ‘resources’, which are either Allocative (physical) or Authoritative (people etc). Furthermore he suggests that collecting information on people is essential to maintaining the power of the modern ‘nation-state’. This view is also supported by Joanne Fuinkelstein, who also suggests that appearance can be seen as a social passport, improving power.
An interesting argument which could suggest why certain people within a web community may have more power (or influence) than others. For instance, in an online forum, why should a User with a High post count (also denoted by a associated tag, Pro, or star rating) be perceived as someone with a lot of power?
Weber suggests that authority is the legitimate use of power, and that Coercion occurs to force people into action either by action, threat or violence. Also he suggests that there are 3 types of legitimate rule, Charismatic, Traditional and Rational, the later being one with a set of legal rules. The question was also asked, why do people obey them? Is this through Natural law, or Fear?
Weber also looked at bureaucracy and argued that there were two types: either by consent, where rules were formed by process of agreement, or punishment centred, where the imposition of rules were forced. Richard Sennet suggested that this theory was not only applicable to political organisations.
A good definition of a Bureaucracy by Martin Albrow is as follows:
“social units in which individuals are conscious of their membership and legitimise their cooperative activities primarily by reference to attainment of impersonal goals rather than moral standards”
Furthermore, Albrow also puts organisations into 4 groups, Total institutions, Voluntary associations, postmodern organisations and formal and information organisations.
Building on the ideas of bureaucracy, Steven Lukes suggests that power within has three dimensions of appearance: decision-making, Non-decision making and shaping desires. From this Michel Foucault developed a capillary model of power, looking at the relation of Struggle and resistance. Where struggles usually share similar characteristics, such as resisting the role of the government.
Jurgen Habermas further develops the area of bureaucracy and the problems which occur by looking at the core structures of society and identifying the 3 areas causing crisis: Economic, Political, and Social-cultural, which are brought on by a combination of Social and System Integration Habermas also suggests that if the social and system break down, not only will the social system loose legitimacy but it also may collapse.
Expanding these ideas of such academics out to the issue which is trying to be tacked (implications of the webs increased methods of communication between government and society), it could be suggested that the struggles which once were seen actively demonstrated in public has now gone digital, through mediums such as Forums, petitions, even group emails. What needs to be discussed is the dangers that these ‘even more public’ demonstrations have on society?
Richard Sennett argues that authority need to be legitimate in the eyes of the population, and that imposing fear is also a form of authoritative power. He also suggests authority is a emotional connection amongst people, and at the same time it is a constraint. In summary he suggests that people have fear of freedom? Is this the case for the Web, do people really have a fear for freedom, or are they indulging in the lack of power and constraint, with no centralised power or authority dictating what they can or can’t do?
Another key area which was read was New Social Movements (NSM), which is defined by Sztompka as: “loosely organised collectivities acting together in a non-institutionalised manner in order to produce change in their society”. This is in opposition to an old social movement (OSM) which tended to be largely class-based movements and focus upon the state as the target for their collective activities.
Paul Bagguley distinguishes between the two, OSM;s are influenced by economic factors, and supported by the working class, and try to influence important people. They are also formally organised with a central bureaucracy. NSM’s are ‘post-materialist’, concerned with issues such as peace, environment etc. They are supported by the new middle class, and are largely informal, mainly networks of connections. NSM’s also have common factors, such as protests take place with direct action, and are mainly an formed due to failure of traditional political parties.
Claus Offe suggest that the rise of NSM’s may be down to certain factors: Capitalism is becoming more bureaucratic, there is a shift in techniques for managerial control at work, and importantly, the class-based system of political representation has broken down. ‘Disorganised capitalism’, the rise of NSM’s also has resulted from markets being less effectively regulated, and a decline in size of industrial working class.
Mario Diani found 4 trends which can help classify a NSM, to begin with, collective behaviour is one. Where there is no clearly defined membership / leadership. It is informal and based on networks of communications. Secondly, Diani introduced the ‘Resource mobilisation theory;, where ‘a set of opinions and beliefs which represents preferences for changing some elements of the social structures and/or reward distribution of a society. Thirdly, another trend is the political process, where there is social unrest, where the NSM is trying to change distribution of power, through forms of public demonstrations. Finally, the structural and social changes in society, where new contradictions of the middle and working class form.
Some of these key factors can be seen within the web, such as groups forming through networks of connections with a shared ideology, however no structure of leadership is in place.
Habermas asks some key questions about NSM’s including what they express: particularistic values, or universalistic values, affecting a small domain or the entire population respectively? postmodernists clearly argue that NSM’s support particularistic values, where as universalistic values build upon grand narratives. Habermas introduced the ideal speech situation, defined as “A form of shared communication between people who want to resolve their differences”.
Anthony Giddens, another key academic looking at NSM’s suggests that political/ social movements operate will follow 4 dimensions, capitalism, industrialism, centralised administrative power, and centralised control of military power. He also suggests that social movements play a key role in transition from modernity to postmodernity (‘utopian realism’). Furthermore Giddens suggests that social movements have the ability to exercise countervailing powers, and that all people should have greater opportunity to exercise power. He also suggests that NSM’s have important democratic qualities, allowing a space form public dialogue, allowing to enhance the knowledge of ones self, but due to this casts doubt upon expert systems, therefore produces a loss of trust within the social order.
What Giddens suggests here, that NSM’s give society a public voice, where all members should have equal opportunity to exercise power can be extracted to the issue trying to be discussed. Does the new forms of communications on the Web really give all members equal opportunity to exercise their power? Although any user can add a post to a forum, or sign a petition, could an admin just not remove such a vote?
From this reading it can be seen that there is much to be discussed between the theories of politics and the implications that it is having on the web.