Archive for March, 2010

Privacy, Personal Space and the differences between Us and Them (5th Post)   no comments

Posted at 3:55 pm in Psychology,Sociology

Personal Space

(Source: “The Environment and Social Behavior: Privacy, Personal Space, Territory, Crowding by I. Altman)

Personal Space refers to the distance that we maintain from other people, in order to feel secure and not threatened. It ensures that we are reaching a satisfactory level of privacy. A definition given by Goffman describes it as “the space surrounding an individual where within which an entering other causes the individual to feel encroaced upon, leading him to show displeasure and sometimes to withdraw.” Basic attributes of personal space are the following:

a. It is an ‘invisible’ boundary between ourself and other people.

b. It is carried everywhere a person goes.

c. In different situations the boundary of personal space is different, so the process of regulating it is a dynamic one.

d. If someone crosses the boundary of our personal space, we often feel threatened and stressed.

Edward Hall, an anthropologist, proposed the theory of proxemics, a theory that refers to the way people use space, in terms of communicating with others. He proposed 4 different spatial zones:

Intimate distance (0-6 inches – close phase, 6-18 inches – far phase);  “wrestling, comforting and protecting” distance

Personal distance (1.5-4 feet); intimate relationships

Social distance (4-12 feet); business and general social contact occur

Public distance (12-25 feet); formal occasions or public speaches

Furthermore, Hall observed that there are cultural differences in the use of space for communicating. He examined how different cultures treat personal space.

Personal space does exist online, but with a different form; people have their own virtual personal space, where they want to be able to maintain a certain distance from others, but at the same time interact with them. They log on to social networking sites to communicate with their friends, maintain their personal blogs or web sites etc. However Hall’s theory does not exist online, as there is no physical contact among people online.

Us and Them

(Source: “Thinking Sociologically” by Z. Bauman)

This chapter begins with an extremely interesting comparison between the number of people who influence our lives and the way we live and the people we actually know. There are uncountable multitudes that influence directly the way we live and we do not notice them, but there are also multitudes that put constraints to the way we live (e.g. pollution). If we now compare the number of people we know with these multitudes, we will realise that the difference is huge and that the people we know are very few.

The author separates people from his social intercourse into 3 groups:

a. People that we meet quite often and we have an intimate relationship with.

b. People that we meet on occasion (e.g. we meet our professors in the classroom for a lecture). The relationships we maintain with these people are called functional, as meeting these people serves a specific purpose of an activity. We are not interested in learning more things about these people, outside the function that they perform in our lives and we expect from them to do the same (e.g. we do not ask about the hobbies of our doctor). If they did actually ask more about ourselves, we would consider this as an intrusion of our privacy, says the author. It is a case of breaching an unwritten rule about the terms of our relationship, which is only an exchange of a particular service.

c. People that we hardly meet at all. We know their existence, but as they are not a direct part of our every day lives we do not pay particular attention to them.

As far as the second case is concerned (people we meet on occasion), I would add that this is not always how the things are. People do not always consider that being asked more personal questions is an intrusion of their privacy. For instance, if a person goes to the doctor for his annual checkup and the doctor asks him something personal (e.g. How’s your family doing?) it may not be considered by the patient that his privacy was breached. Instead he could go on and answer the question and perhaps make the same question to the doctor. This discussion may start, because people are interested into one another, or simply it may be a way to break the ice. And definitely the way people feel about being asked questions from people the meet on occasion, is affected by their cultural background (as Hall previously pointed out).

Alfred Schutz, sociologist, suggested that people can be plotted along an imaginary line, which is measured by social distance.

Taking an individual as the starting point of the line:

a. the people placed closest to that person are his consociates (direct face-to-face interactions).

b. A larger sector on this line are the person’s contemporaries (people who live at the same time as the person does).

c. The continuum, which is the more distant point from that person.

There are also the predecessors and the successors, with whom communication is one-sided and incomplete.

How do we disttinguish “us” from “them” in sociology? “We” and “They” are not just 2 different groups, they are people with entirely opposite attitudes. In our group we feel secure and trust each other, whereas the “others” cause us suspicion and fear. “They” are acting against our interests and may harm us. These two groups can be distinguished as the “in-group” and the “out-group”; there can be no “in-group” feeling without an “out-group” sentiment and vice versa. If there is a threat from the “out-group” the “in-group” members will join their forces to fight against it.

There are small “in-groups”, that consist of frequent, face-to-face interactions among the members, but there are also larger ones.

These ones are groups based on class, gender , nation etc. and are described as imaginary communities. The traits that they have in common cannot guarantee by themselves that there will be solidary action. In many cases they may be torn apart by conflicting interests. Since there is no face-to-face contact, these groups cannot become “in-groups” by themselves. Preaching of unity is indispensible in such cases. Professional spokesmen/activists are needed to perform this. In order to sustain the boundary of the group, the image of the enemy must be illustrated in every member’s mind. Fear, hostility and aggressiveness against the enemy result in prejudice.

Norbert Elias’s theory of the established and the outsiders shows great interest as well. The outsiders are a challenge to the lifestyle of the established population, no matter how little different they actually are from each other. Outsiders are regarded as aliens, as intruders and are not supposed to be there. This is also the way we feel when someone invades our personal space.

We have this notion of what our personal space consists of and if someone/an outsider goes beyond the boundary that we have set, we feel threatened.

Gregory Bateson suggested the name schismogenesis for the chain of actions and reactions that follow an intrusion from an outsider. Hostile actions are now generated and each actions calls for a still stronger reaction.

In the following weeks I will continue reading the book “Thinking Sociologically”. I will also begin reading the book “The power of Identity”.

Written by az4g09 on March 19th, 2010

Roles, norms, and cohesiveness (Part 2)   no comments

Posted at 2:30 pm in Psychology,Sociology

This post builds on what was discovered in last blog, and will be last using material from Social Psychology 5th edition, S. Brehm. It was a worthy texbook that contained plenty of background theory on groups but I have exhausted all material relevant to my review. I would like to thank Cathy Pope for taking the time to comment on my posts as it helped me perceive my reading and work from another point of view, and refocused me to task at hand. Reading the comments on others work helped me understand the nature of the IDR assignment, and its starting to make a lot more sense.

This is a longer post than usual as I wont be blogging over next week. If you only have time for quick read, you can skip right on down to the end to a nice paragraph titled “summary and conclusions” which sums up the blog posting and has some evaluation. For all others with time and some interest you will gain more by reading the whole blog posting.

On to main part of my reading for this week:

Joining a group and group development: Newcomers usually go through a period of assimilation and model their behaviour on established members, while the group accommodates the newcomer. Bruce Tuckman (1965, 1977) proposed five stages of group development:

1. Forming – group members orient themselves towards the group.

2. Storming – members try to influence the group according to their needs.

3. Norming – members try to reconcile the conflicts produced by storming.

4. Performing – members perform and maximise group’s performance

5. Adjourning – members disengage from the group.

Other theories of group development do exist however. Connie Gersick (1988, 1994) observed that groups tend to operate in series of starts and stops rather than through uniform stages. Perhaps online groups could help provide primary research material to revisit group development theories as the cost of recording group activities and developments is lower than in offline groups, and theories of Tuckman or Gersick could be given more authority or challenged.

According to Forsyth 1990, all groups can be described in terms of three components: roles, norms and cohesiveness. Robert Bales, 1958 proposed two fundamental roles that have yet to be disproved. An instrumental role is one that helps a group achieve its tasks, and an expressive role gives emotional support and keeps moral high. Roles can be formal or informal and the same person can fill each role, however roles that are ambiguous or cause conflict can lead to stress and loss of productivity.

In online groups there are often a number of different formal roles, that could be those of users, administrators and moderators. Although the title of each may imply a different role, keeping Roberts Bales idea of fundamental roles in mind it can be argued that membership doesn’t define the role. Moderators, administrators or users can each perform instrumental or expressive roles, or a combination of the two, within a group. (My own social categorisation here is open to comments – perhaps others see different roles in online groups other than my simple ‘mods, admins and users’, if you do have a different view please leave a comment at end.)

Norms establish rules and code of conduct group members should conform to. Rules can be informal or formal.

Cohesiveness refers to the forces on a group that push its members closer together. They can be internal such as group pride, number and intensity of interaction or external such as an unusual environment or threats from other groups. Cohesiveness and group performance are causally related and either can influence the other. Positive norms can improve cohesiveness and lead to increased group performance, however negative norms coupled with high cohesiveness can lead to decreased group performance. Both offline and online groups should strive to promote positive norms and improved cohesiveness if better group performance is to be realised.

In prior blog postings it was noted that a group was two or more persons perceived as related because of their interactions over time, membership within a social category or a shared fate. Using that definition, we know that humans perceive and sort objects in the world around them into groups. The process of people sorting each other into groups is known as social categorization. People often use their perceived groupings to make inferences about all group members. This is one of the formative causes for stereotyping. People tend to overestimate the differences between groups and underestimated the differences within groups.

The groups that a person identifies with are called ingroups, and a group outside of these are called outgroups. The consequence of perceiving the world as “us” and “them” leads to the phenomenon of the outgroup homogeneity effect. This effect describes how perceivers assume greater similarity between members of outgroups than between members their own groups, to the extent that members of outgroups are perceived as homogenous. One of the reasons for this is that people do not often notice subtle differences in outgroups as there is little contact with them. The media plays a big role in how we categorize social groups and people learn stereotypes through group norms, role models and their peers.

Culture can play a part in ingroupoutgroup distinctions. People from collectivist cultures often perceive ingroup homogeneity more strongly than those from individualistic cultures. Online groups are not limited by geographical boundaries and can have large numbers of members from both collectivist cultures and individual. An open question could ask how this situation affects group dynamics where some group members perceive homogeneity and others value the differences? It may be the case that endurance of online groups with members of different cultures depends heavily on conformity and rules, as otherwise different perceptions would affect cohesion and group performance adversely.

Summary and conclusions

I particularly liked the terminology of ingroups and outgroups and the definitions from the book I read last week. It put into words things myself and probably others perceive and know but never give it a name. If you have ever read or seen, Lord of the Flies or even the popular American series ‘Lost’, or at very least supported a football club, you will be familiar with the idea of “us” and “them”. Now you know it is about ingroups and outgroups, the reasons behind this categorisation, and that probably everyone makes social categorisations everyday.

Written by cm7e09 on March 19th, 2010

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Community, Deliberation, and Participation: E-Democracy (Part 2)   no comments

Posted at 11:44 am in Politics

Currently reading: Internet Politics – Andrew Chadwick

Brief overview of what has been read:

This week’s blog is a continuation of looking at Andrew Chadwick’s Internet Politics book. Last week I looked at Chadwick’s description on Conceptual tools, with this week focusing in more detail regarding E-democracy.

What will be discussed is how the Web has played a role in enhancing community cohesion, political deliberation, and participation, i.e. E-Democracy. What will be looked at is community networks, development of online political communities, and uses of online mechanisms to involve citizens.

Knowledge gained and relevance to issue:

To start with let’s looks at some theoretical foundations of E-democracy, the UK Hansard society takes the view that it is:

“The concept of e-democracy is associated with efforts to broaden political participation by enabling citizens to connect with one another and with their representatives via new information and communication technologies.”

From this, two major conceptual offshoots have formed from the many attempts to enhance political participation, the Social Capital, and the Public Sphere.
The Social capital, defined by Robert Putnam as: “the features of social organisations such as networks, norms, and trust that facilitate co-ordination and co-operation for mutual benefit”. This assumes that all groups, political or social enhance overall levels of political awareness. It is also argued that increased participation between civic associations increases the level of trust amongst citizens. Furthermore for such communities to occur, it is assumed that contributions will be reciprocated at a later stage, without this, communities would not exist.

The Public Sphere, another influential approach to understanding the role of communications in encouraging citizen’s engagement. Jurgen Habermas’s concept of Public Sphere suggested that since the early-modern capitalistic age, the new forms of communication and media has given cultural enlightenment, allowing for information to be much more freely disseminated. This level of media has allowed citizens to form political opinions. Lincoln Dahlberg used the Habermasian theory to form 6 main conditions that e-democracy schemes must try to fulfil if they are to genuinely create deliberative public spheres.
To begin with, there must be Autonomy from the state, and economic power. This means that discourse must be from citizens concerns not that of the media or corporations. Furthermore, situations or concerns must be reasons, not asserted. Another key condition is participants must reflect on their own cultural values, interests and other personal views, and also take note of the larger social context. This then implies that participants must see an argument from all viewpoints, being respectful and listening to each other. To be able to view all sides of the argument, all information and knowledge must be learned, which leads to the next consideration. Finally, all participants must be treated equally, and entitled to participate in deliberation.

Community Networks
Community networks, first appeared in the 1970’s, with relatively small numbers. But with the cost of electronic goods, during the 1990’s they began to grow tremendously. Bruce Tonn defines a Community network as:

“A Computer based system or set of systems designed to meet the social and economic needs of a spatially-defined community of individuals.”

Three main features which could be argued that are needed to form a Community network are: a high speed network, offered free of charge or at a subsidised rate, some are of centrality for the technology, i.e. servers, and thirdly, an emphasis on providing content specific to the local community.

Although modern community networks are more technologically advanced than their ancestors, they still rely on the basic principle that for people to shape the production of information about their local community, the must be willing to volunteer. Relating back to Social Capital, almost all community networking projects have been inspired by the idea that virtual community can improve geographical communities by creating new social ties and reciprocal trust.

One view is why ‘join’ citizens together who already happen to live in the same neighbourhood, instead why not encourage ‘real’ interaction. However many of the proponents of community networks come from a background in urban planning and are therefore acutely aware of the history of attempts to generate community through the physical world. It is suggested that contemporary life erodes the possibility form such ‘real’ interaction, driving the need for web based community networks. Tom Petrich suggests 5 areas of contemporary life which forms these constraints. Work-related constraints, where working hours play a large role. Another constraint is consumerism, where time is spent on goods and services, i.e. Playstation, Cinema rather than interacting. There are also social capital constraints, where local social networks are insufficient to create communities. Delving more towards the individual, there are personal constraints, confidence and skills are issues when meeting in the real world. Finally there are the constraints due to the real world, i.e. no meeting places.

Although there are hundreds of virtual communities, to begin with there was a total lack of state led virtual communities. However, central and local governments have slowly started to experiment with online forums, which have specific interest groups. A space for deliberation that are relatively unconstrained by corporate and state influence, inspired by the need for increasing citizen deliberation have opened up, some believe (Grossman) showing the true potential of the web in bringing about true participatory democracy.

Political Influence
The influence of such community networks and other forms of e-democracy has introduced the web in-to a rich set of projects, from this two broad models have been defined, Consultative and Deliberative models.

A consultative approach stresses the communication of the citizen’s opinion to the government. It is assumed that information is a resource which can be used to provide better policy and administration. Furthermore, governments can seek voters opinion from such information. A good example of use of such a model is the U.S. Federal governments e-rule making program. This was designed to allow citizens to air their opinion on specific agency rules that are being developed.
The deliberative model takes a different view on communication between the government and citizens, where a more complex multi-directional interactivity occurs. These models are thinner on the ground than their consultative counterparts.

From what has been discussed it can be seen that the impact that the Web has had on Communities, political deliberation is indeed significant. The use of the Web is a way to allow people to maintain social ties or extend them where possible. Furthermore, political interests have now started to be transferred online; furthermore the views which are being given in an online world are now transferred to an offline world.

The question of is the Web increasing Social Capital, allowing for more opportunity for public political participation? Chadwick argues that it is doing both, communities of interest tend towards being homogeneous echo chambers. However, what needs to be remembered is that individuals have more than one interest, and this creates the problem that the e-democracy is creating more complex communities, deliberation and political participation.

Written by rt506 on March 19th, 2010

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Response from Cathy   no comments

Posted at 12:27 am in Uncategorized

Those of you who have chosen sociology as a discipline should have had some individual comments from Cathy on your reading. Here are some more general comments for everyone to think about:

1. Most have chosen a mix of books ranging from the general (e.g. Giddens Sociology) to the advanced (Castells Networked Society). It is probably helpful to refer to at least one of the more basic introductory texts as well even if the specific ones look like they are more ‘on topic’ – this is because the module is about understanding what (if anything) the broad disciplines might have to offer.

2. Some of the better blogs are starting to critically appraise what they are reading. I would expect masters level students to be able to do this even when working outside their home discipline- so would encourage critical thought around this reading. i.e. just because it is in the text book does not mean it is right /useful. Within sociology there should be examples of very different/conflicting viewpoints about the same phenomena…and I would like to see some assessment of the arguments.

3. As the blogs progress hopefully they will begin to refine their questions. Many of the topics are helpfully broad at the start but the reading should help reframe the questions. I found it easier to direct this by thinking ‘how does the discipline understand x (my topic) in the offline world and how would it explain x on the web’. It is worth noting that most of the disciplines and reading will not necessarily be directed at the web.

4. the thing that is not coming across at this stage which I would hope to see in later posts is the potential areas of debate/challenge/conflict between the disciplines. Do the two chosen disciplines sit neatly next to each other and offer no challenges to each other? I’d like a sense of where the gaps are in a discipline compared with another, or the strengths of one discipline compared with another; and of any fundamental areas of disagreement (e.g. is identity explained by individual psychology alone???)

Overall I enjoyed reading the blogs – I’d encourage you to keep them going.

Written by lac on March 15th, 2010

E-democracy and the Web – Power and Democracy   no comments

Posted at 11:30 pm in Politics,Sociology

This week’s reading was focused on politics. The books that I have used are Introduction to Politics, by Garner et al and An Introduction to Politics, State and Society by James McAuley. I have organized my reading so far, so as to approach e-democracy from different angles. While in my previous posts there was an approach through society, groups and even individuals, for my first post on Politics I have chosen to have a look on the concept of State. Although the role of the State in e-democracy is potentially smaller than in ordinary politics (where it is overwhelming), it is not of less importance.

Two of the concepts that are associated with the State are power and authority. While both are used for similar purposes, that is to control behaviours, power uses coercion while authority uses consent. Power and authority are evident on the Web: due to the Web’s decentralised structure, power has been distributed possibly in a more even way than in other areas. Furthermore, authority has often been an easier (or the only) way to influence behaviours in online communities.

There are various theories that have been developed to interpret the distribution of power within a society. The pluralist theory suggest that society is composed of various groups, each with its own interests and government just act according to the balance of power of these groups, which means that all groups are represented relatively to their power within society. The exact opposite is elitism, where power is considered to be concentrated to the hands of powerful elites. Of course, the distribution of power in a society may be somewhere between pluralism and elitism. Marxist theory is similar to the elitist, with bourgeoisie being the ruling class and the proletariat being the dominated one. It is different however, in claiming that true power exists only in the economic sphere of society, and that an egalitarian society can only be established through a communist revolution.

Since measuring political power in a society can be difficult, an analysis according to each of these theories can give different results. The same is probably true for the Web, and particularly e-democracy. A pluralist could argue that the Web by default allows all groups to pursue their interests and prevents one seizing disproportionate power. However, an elitist could argue, that those having access to the Web are a de facto elite, as the digital divide suggests and also, that in some groups some individuals are more influential than others. Another possibility is that the Web could provide some groups with a lower barrier to entry, and so allowing more groups to share power (Interestingly, the existence of barriers to entry in the political system is a matter of debate between pluralists and elitists).

In a study of e-democracy, it is obviously necessary to identify what is Democracy. Since the word has acquired a positive connotation, even dictatorships have been self-proclaimed as such. So a more clear definition is needed. As the word’s etymology suggests, democracy is a political system where the people have the political power. This implies some kind of equality of political power. This was vague enough for Lively (1975) to come up with seven different possibilities. While all  have this characteristic,  three of them are not considered truly democratic, because there is no accountability of the rulers towards the ruled. The remaining four are versions of democracy, with half being cases of representative democracy and the others of direct democracy. The difference is the involvement of individuals in the decision-making process, with more involvement in the case of direct democracy.

It has been often suggested that the Web could allow a more direct version of democracy to feasible. Since the Web significantly lowers the communication costs, as can be seen for example in social networking sites, larger groups/networks can operate more efficiently. But it can be argued that lack of time is not the only reason that direct democracy has been rarely chosen. A study of relevant examples, for example classical Athens, could demonstrate the quality requirements that such a system would have to meet in order to succeed. Populism and ‘mob rule’ have been identified as disadvantages of such systems.

While the classical theory of democracy emphasises participation of citizens, the elitist theory claims that democracy and elitism aren’t mutually exclusive and that “elites sometimes can protect democracy from the authoritarian values of the masses”. According to elitism, participation is not that important. But, declining participation in elections and increasing political apathy are some of the reasons that e-democracy has been considered as an alternative. Furthermore, elitist theory has been criticised as undemocratic because of the accountability issue, and since modern democracies have elitist aspects, one could go so far as to call them “imperfect democracies”.

A development of the classical democracy is the deliberative democracy, which was mainly influenced by the ideas of J. Habermas. In addition to participation, it emphasises public discussion of matters and claims that this leads to “more rational and legitimate decision making”. It seems possible that this model could ameliorate the problems of direct democracy mentioned above, since it has been criticised on the basis that sufficient deliberation takes time. If this is true, then technologies that could help large scale real-time deliberation are needed. The Web is not any more just about information, but also about knowledge; this could prove crucial to successful implementation of such a process for decision making. Another criticism of this model has been that “it exaggerates the level of consensus that can be reached through deliberation”. With the possibility of being wrong or just too optimistic, I would suggest that agents could help break such stalemates, perhaps using game theory techniques and utilising the Semantic Web.

However, as most web scientists know (and of course sociologists), viewing social change that is caused by technology in a deterministic and linear way is wrong and can often lead to embarrassing predictions. While some ideas seem fantastic in theory, in practice they sometimes fail. Could e-democracy be such an example?

If we are to believe the elitist and Marxist theories of power distribution within society, the powerful elites are not necessarily in favour of such changes and are possibly able to prevent them. They would certainly be able to do so if the Web didn’t have such a decentralised and global structure (thanks to Tim Berners-Lee’s and others’ efforts). So, some aspects of e-democracy (for example online activism) cannot be influenced, regulated or stopped by a government. Making sure that global forces are controlled by democratic means, often called cosmopolitan democracy, could be a way to maintain the status quo, or even improve it. It would be too optimistic to assume that the Web could never be controlled by non democratic entities, it is almost like saying the Web can only be used for good.

However, for some other aspects of e-democracy, such as e-voting, the role of governments is crucial. If governments are influenced by elites, their priorities and choices in how the State will use e-democracy will be dictated by them. So the quality of an e-democracy paradigm will generally be proportionate to the quality of democracy in the State that sponsored it.

I have already read about the concept of freedom, but since the post has grown too long, I will incorporate it in next week’s post. I plan to continue next week by reading about state institutions, bureaucracy and governance, parties and elections and if there is time about civil society.

Written by el3e09 on March 14th, 2010

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Privacy of the individual in the global village of the World Wide Web (4th Post)   no comments

Posted at 2:20 pm in Psychology

This week I took the initiative to start reading a book that is not a textbook and is written by Irwin Altman, a social psychologist in the 70s. The book is called “The Environment and Social Behavior: Privacy, Personal Space, Territory, Crowding”.

In the first chapters of the book, Altman focuses on privacy. Below are some of the main points that he makes:

1. Privacy is an interpersonal boundary-control process, which paces and regulates interaction with others.

2. Privacy can be divided into desired and achieved privacy. Desired privacy refers to the ideal level of interaction with others; how much interaction we desire at a specific moment. Achieved privacy refers to the actual degree of contact that we achieve with others. If achieved privacy is less or more than the desired one a state of imbalance exists; otherwise if the two are equal to one another then an optimum state of privacy exists.

3. As a result of the above one may realise that privacy is an optimising process; the optimum state of privacy is the ideal.

4. Privacy is also a dialectic process. As Altman states “privacy is an interplay of opposing forces – that is, different balances of opening and closing the self to others.” In other words, desired privacy is something relative; sometimes we want to be in the company of others, but other times we want to be left alone.

5. Privacy is an input and output process. Regulating privacy takes place by looking at what comes in and what goes out while interacting with others.

6. Privacy may refer to a variety of social units (individuals, groups of people, families, nations etc.) and their interactions between them.

7. Finally, it is a dynamic process. Privacy boundaries may change over time and in order to analyse privacy it needs to be under continuous observation.

Later on, the author refers to the mechanisms that people use, in order to implement desired levels of privacy. These mechanisms include verbal behaviour (e.g. “keep out!”), nonverbal use of the body, environmental behaviours (e.g. personal space, territory, clothing for approachability) and culturally defined norms and practices (different cultures may have different customs to regulate between public and private).

I would like to point out that things have changed significantly since the ’70s the time when this book was written. The evolution of technology and the birth of the Web have provoked new privacy concerns, which are much more complex than the ones that existed in the ’70s. Apart from our lives our offline, our lives continue online; in the online world the situation regarding privacy is very different than in the offline world. Online there is no physical contact between people and anyone can gain access over someone else’s information. As a result, making use of the above mentioned mechanisms is rather difficult. Apart from that, private information can be available online and stored indefinitely and can be accessed by people at any moment, so none of these mechanisms can be applied in this case.

Written by az4g09 on March 13th, 2010

Roles, norms, and cohesiveness. Problems of decision making and brainstorming in groups.   no comments

Posted at 1:30 am in Psychology,Sociology

I have almost finished my reading of the book “Social Psychology”, 5th edition, S. Brehm et al and I will review material from other texts in psychology, and sociology. Mainly the textbooks already identified in the initial blog posting.

One of my aims for this week was to review some of the outputs of groups. After careful reading I decided that best approach is to review group processes and their affect on outcomes, rather than focus on outcomes. Two of main exercises that groups are engaged in are decision making and brainstorming. Decision making in groups often suffers from phenomenon known as groupthink. Groupthink describes polarization and bias in group decision making. Researchers found that group discussion usually exaggerates the initial leanings of a group. Group polarization is when group members simply find about other people’s opinions. It is an example of social comparison, when individuals forming a view of social reality by comparing themselves with others. They then distinguish themselves within the group by adopting more extreme position of the group norm. Social categorisation also plays part in groupthink. People want to be part of ingroup, distinguish their own group, and so they stay away from arguments or taking a stance that would leave them in a position of being viewed as part of an outgroup.

Creative ideas are second outputs of a group I will discuss. Group members who interact face to face actually produce fewer creative ideas when brainstorming than nominal groups (several individuals working alone). Computers making use of the network of the Internet offer promising improvements to group brainstorming. They combine freedom of being alone at a PC with the stimulation of new ideas over the Internet. Some recent studies of online groups have shown that in many cases online groups are even better at brainstorming than nominal groups.

In regards to projects, groups are even more prone to feeling entrapped by previous commitments and are less likely to withhold investments from failing projects. One other phenomena which I found very interesting was the resource dilemma. This describes when larger groups are more likely to exhibit selfish behaviour in a situation with limited resources than smaller groups. This occurs partly because in a larger group establishing norms of co-operation are less likely, people are less committed to each other and perceive that their actions have less impact. Do online groups suffer as much from resource dilemma than offline groups? Arguably less so and many have even referred to the Internet as the “Copying Machine” for digital artefacts. I had some difficulty finding cases of resource dilemma in online groups and it would be an interesting exercise for any Web Sicentist to find examples of this and document them. Scarcity of digital material or resources on Internet isn’t usually an issue. Bits are easily copied and easily reproduced, much to the angst of rightsholders who have problems with the “copy and share” mentality of filesharing groups. I may come to look at online and offline groups who engage in file sharing as this seems to be a highly debated and hot topic at moment, especially as Digital Economy Bill has several proposals to tackle groups and individuals engaged in this activity.

Written by cm7e09 on March 13th, 2010

Media made criminality (4th post)   no comments

Posted at 10:08 pm in Criminology,Uncategorized

Two competing anxieties can be discerned in public debate and both are reflected in a large research literature. On the one hand the media are often seen as fundamentally subversive threat to law, on the other as a more or less subtle form of social control. Some researchers tacitly imply that media images of crime do not have significant implications because the establishment of the causal relationship between images and effects is too complicated.

Content of media images of crime

Deviant news

Richard Ericsson and his colleagues: their concern was “social deviance and how journalists participate in defining and shaping it”. Deviance in its broadest meaning, can be defined as “the behaviour of a thing or person that strays from the normal…not only..criminal acts, but also..straying from organisational procedures and violations of common-sense knowledge”. More importantly, deviance is the essence of news and which journalists consider newsworthy.  It can also be questioned on what is included in common-sense knowledge which directly affects the representation of crime reported.

Ericsson et al. also found that “popular” media focused overwhelmingly more often on “interpersonal” conflicts and deviance, but “quality” ones included many items on such official deviance as rights violations, or on policy debates about criminal justice or corporate conduct.

The pattern of crime news

Content analyses have found systematic differences between the pattern of offences, victims, and offenders represented by the news and in official crime statistics or crime surveys. Whilst statistics and surveys may represent the “real” world of crime, they are open for interpretation, depending on the context.

An implicit assumption that the gap between media representations of crime and the actuality supposedly disclosed by official statistics causes significant problems – they are accused of exaggerating the risks of crime, cultivating an image of the world that is “scary” and “mean”.

Fear of crime and the coping strategies it leads to (such as not venturing out at night) are deemed disproportionate to the actual risks, and thus irrational and problematic in themselves (Sparks 1992).

Success of police and criminal justice: there is also the exaggeration of police success in clearing-up crime (resulting largely from Press reliance on police sources for stories). Summed up in a review of fifty-six content analyses in fifteen different countries between 1960 and 1988, “the over-representation of violent crime stories was advantageous to the police…because the police are more successful in solving violent crimes than property crimes”. The media generally present a very positive image of the success and integrity of the police and criminal justice more generally.

Characteristics of offender: there is a clear pattern to news media portrayal of the characteristics of offenders and victims. Most studies find that offenders featuring in news reports are typically older and higher-status offenders than those processed by the criminal justice system.

Characteristics of victims: there is a clear trend for victims to become the pivotal focus of news stories in the last three decades. This parallels the increasing centrality of victims in criminal justice and criminology. News stories exaggerate the risks faced by higher status, white, female adults of becoming victims of crime, although child victims do feature prominently. The most common victims of violence according to official crime statistics and victim surveys are poor, young, black males. However, they figure in news reporting predominantly as perpetrators.

There is a predominance of stories about criminal incidents, rather than analyses of crime patterns or the possible causes of crime. There is a concentration of events rather than exploration of the underlying causes. As summed up in one survey of the literature, “crime stories in news papers consist primarily of belief accounts of discrete events, with few details and little background material. There are very few attempts to discuss causes of or remedies for crime or to put the problem of crime into a larger perspective”.

Content of crime fiction

Frequency of crime fiction: while there have been important changes over time in how crime is represented in fictional narratives, crime stories have always been a prominent part of popular entertainment, usually accounting for about 25% of output.

The pattern of crime in fiction

While crime fiction presents property crime less frequently than the reality suggested by crime statistics, the crimes it portrays are far more serious than most recorded offences.

The clear-up rate is also high in fictional crime. Overwhelmingly majority of crimes are cleared up by the police but an increasing majority where they fail.

Consequences of media images of crime

Most research has sought to measure two possible consequences of media representations: criminal behaviour (especially violence) and fear of crime.

There are several logically necessary preconditions for a crime to occur and the media play a part in each of these, thus can affect levels of crime in a variety of ways. The preconditions are as follows:

  1. Labelling: for an act to be labelled as “criminal”, the act has to be perceived as “criminal” by the citizens and the law enforcement officers. The media plays an important role in shaping the conceptual boundaries and recorded volumes of crime. The role of the media in helping to develop new (and erode old) categories of crime has been emphasised in most classic studies of shifting boundaries of criminal law within the “labelling” tradition. The media shape the boundaries of deviance and criminality, by creating new categories of offence, or changing the perceptions and sensitivities, leading to fluctuations in apparent crime.
  2. Motive:
    1. Social anomie theory: the media are pivotal in presenting for universal emulation images of affluent life-styles, which accentuate relative deprivation and generate pressures to acquire ever higher levels of material success regardless of the legitimacy of the means used.
    2. Psychological theory: it has been claimed that the images of crime and violence presented by the media are a form of social learning, and may encourage crime by imitation or arousal effects. It has also been argued that the media erode internalised control by desensitisation through witnessing repeated representations of deviance.
    3. Means: it has been alleged that the media act as an open university of crime, spreading knowledge of criminal techniques. However, the evidence available to support this allegation remains weak.
    4. Opportunity: the media may increase opportunities to commit offences by contributing to the development of a consumerist ethos. The domestic hardware/software of mass media use e.g. TVs, radios, PCs, have become common targets of property crime and their increase in popularity has been an important aspect of the spread of criminal opportunities.
    5. The absence of controls: external control – police, law-enforcement officers; internal control – small voice of conscience; both of which may be enough to deter a ready-to-commit offender from offending. A regular recurring theme of respectable anxieties about the consequence of media images of crime is that they erode the efficacy of both external and internal controls. E.g. ridiculing law-enforcement agents, negative representation of criminal justice or potential offender’s perception of the probability of sanctions.

The media and fear of crime

Signoriello (1990): Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures – both political and religious. They may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities and other anxieties. That is the deeper problem of violence-laden television.

Causes of media images of crime

The immediate source of news content was the ideology of the reporter, personal and professional and this view is supported by most of the earlier studies. However, a variety of organisational and professional imperatives exerted pressure for the production of news with the characteristics identified by content analyses:

  1. The political ideology of the Press: majority of the press intend to remain politically neutrality. Traditional crime reporters explicitly saw it as their responsibility to present the police and the criminal justice system in as favourable a light as possible. However, the characteristics of crime reporting were more immediately the product of a professional sense of news values rather than any explicitly political ideology.
  2. The elements of “newsworthiness”: the core elements of “newsworthiness” are: immediacy, dramatisation, personalisation, titillation and novelty (hence, most news are about deviance). This explains the predominant emphasis on violent and sex offences, and the concentration on higher-status offenders and victims, especially celebrities.
  3. Structural determinants of new-making:   e.g. concentrating personnel on courts is economical use of resources but has the consequence of covering cleared-up cases, creating a misleading sense of police effectiveness. The police and criminal justice system control much of the information on which crime reporters rely and this gives them a degree of power as essential accredited sources.

Relevance to cybercrime

Deviance is the essence of news; it is the key virtue that makes something newsworthy. This means that the selection of reported incidents depend heavily on how the media’s definition of deviance. In addition, the success of police, the characteristics of the offender(s) and victim(s) involved in the incident are major factors that affects the amount of coverage an incident will receive in the media.

With regards to cybercrimes, it is interesting to find out the difference between the amount of coverage of cybercrimes in the media and the actual number of incidents in cybercrime statistics. My guess is that cybercrimes are heavily under-reported and the reasons for this under-reporting are made apparent by the findings given above. Cybercrimes are often carried out by more than one offender on a global scale and often anonymous. In some cases, they are carried out by highly-skilled but ordinary looking males (who are usually classified as social excluded or “geeks”) with little valuable newsworthy characteristics. The victims of cybercrimes most often are not aware they have become victims or the impact is so insignificant that it is not newsworthy. In other words, it is hard for the media to find newsworthy stories to tell with regards to the victims of cybercrimes (with the exception of online child offences).  In addition, I believe that people are generally not interested in cybercrime-related news items because there is an a-priory assumption that cybercrime issues are too difficult to gain a visualisation in their head, as one would normally see in a picture capturing an act of violence for example.

This part has given me new insights into looking at the failure in promoting awareness of cybercrime in a climate where crime is often exaggerated by the media. Traditional crimes such as theft and violence are often exaggerated to an extent that the level of fear is irrational. Yet, the attitude towards cybercrime is opposite. The level of fear and the precautionary measures in response to the fear is not enough for the average internet users to protect themselves sufficiently. I strongly believe that content analysis of news reports is an important area in the research into raising public awareness to cybercrime.

Written by my2e09 on March 12th, 2010

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Technological and Social Determinism (part 1)   no comments

Posted at 6:05 pm in Politics,Sociology

Currently reading: Internet Politics – Andrew Chadwick

Brief overview of what has been read:

As mentioned in my last blog, this week a selection of more focused subjects regarding politics on the web will be studied. Andrew Chadwick’s Internet Politics (Although really Web Politics) discusses the impact of new communication technologies on political parties, pressure groups, social movements etc.
There has been two major aspects with has been studied, conceptual tools and theories for Internet Politics, and also Community, Deliberation and Participation, formally known as E-Democracy. Although a very narrow selection of topics which are discussed within the book, it seemed a good starting point to help direct the reading towards the issue trying to be addressed.

The chapters being discussed are:
• Chapter 2: Conceptual Tools
• Chapter 5: Community, Deliberation, and Participation: E-Democracy

Knowledge gained and relevance to issue:

As a good introduction to the area of Internet Politics two major concepts were introduced, Technological determinism (TD) and social determinism (SD). Technological determinism, as Chadwick suggested has a long history, with it being argued that Marxism is TD. It is based on the notion that the material basis of society is the primary motor of social, economic and ultimately political change; however Marxism is limited in its ability to understand how humans mold technological change. Furthermore, Webster argued that the new communication technologies have ushered in a new age, an information society which differs fundamentally from the social orders of the past. This suggests that whatever the content of the technology, they have their own inherent properties that human intervention cannot change; these properties can be therefore used to predict future social, economic and political change.

Oh the other hand, Social Determinism, which is also known as “social shaping of technology”, supported by many post-war writers such as Lewis Mumford, argues the case that specific technologies do not in themselves matter. What social scientists believe is that they merely need to reconstruct the social context of technological change to explain all that is considered to be important. In the case of the Web: Nothing is particularly new or distinctive, and that we make sense of its effects by referring to pre-existing models of social and political change. As technology is presumed to be nothing special, SD suggests that only social forces need to be examined, such as power struggles, groups, classes and institutions. Technology therefore becomes another policy area.

However what is suggested is that on the Web, neither Technological nor Social determinism can be seen, it is rather a mix of the two. Where technologies have political properties while simultaneously placing their use in political contexts. Landon Winner argues that there are two senses in which technologies can have political properties. Winner defines the first as:

“the invention, design or arrangement of a specific technical device or system becomes a way of settling an issue in the affairs of a particular community”

This is arguing that technological structures sometimes inhibit types of social and political action. Winner’s second view is:

“Some technologies are by their very nature political in a specific way”

This is suggesting that some technologies are inherently political, and are strongly compatible with particular kinds of political relationships; this therefore suggests that the technologies are inflexible, as only performing specific duties.

Furthermore, there are cases where understanding the political nature of technologies may not help, for instance, sometimes the technology may not be political at all, but instead examine the situation in a SD fashion, seeing the power struggle take place external to the technology. Alternatively, there may be the case where a failure to see how the technology is shaping society can occur.

Another key topic that was read was looking at the theoretical approaches to political impact. Philip Agre outlines 8 key conceptual themes:
• Decentralisation
o The use of networks to reduce the claim to expert knowledge
• Participation
o Everyone has their place on the Web, people coming together and forming discussion
• Community
o The political debates occurring on the Web could not occur without communities
• Globalisation
o David Held – “a process (or set of processes) which embodies a transformation in the spatial organisations of social relations and transactions, generating transcontinental or interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction and power”
o Basic terms, it is seen as a set of processes rather than any final state.
• Post industrialisation
o Western societies witness a decline in the authority of traditional institutions, individuals retreat further into their own private spheres, becoming less obviously politically engaged in the sense of participating in the large-scale structures of liberal democracy
• Rationalalisation
o The way the web is generating new, more efficient forms of social control
o Refers to a set of ideas which inspired the emergence of rules-based organisations that generally require individual adherence to formal rules rather than the expression of emotion or creativity
o A dominant force in contemporary life
• Governance
o Power struggles can no longer understood by a narrow focus on the core execution and the traditional institutions of central government
The state has changed
o Governance covers the whole range of institutions and relationships involved in the process of governing
o Main question is “how the centre of government interacts with society to reach mutually acceptable decisions, or whether society actually does more self-steering rather than depending upon guidance from government” (Peters)
• Libertarianisation
o Advocates the maximisation of the individuals liberty in thought and action and the minimisation or even abolition of the state
o Many see this as the default ideology of the Web
These eight key themes draw upon sociology political science, business, management, and all have one aspect in common, which is to arrive at a richer conceptual understanding of the impact of the Web.

Part 2 will conclude with looking at Community, Deliberation and participation, including disucssion on Social Capital and Public Sphere.

Written by rt506 on March 12th, 2010

Trust and Relationships – Focus on the Personality (4th Post)   no comments

Posted at 11:57 am in Psychology,Sociology

In terms of the psychology aspect of the topic, one of the more fundamental traits of theories of personality is the realisation and enactment of central traits. Galen was the first person to examine the issue of personality and the way in which it is formed and according to him the individual was made up of four different chambers and the extent to which these chambers interacted with one another represented the way in which the individual’s personality was formed.

The theory now reads that people cannot be put into discrete categories that they neatly fall into and instead everybody has some traits and the personality is made up of the degree to which those traits are exposed. What has been noted is that people react differently in different types of situations, so where in one types of situation you have a particular trait in any other situation, another trait becomes more expressive and dominant and as a result your perceived personality changes.

Identification of Personality Traits

There have been a number of theories of the identification of personality traits one of which was Allport’s Search for Traits where essentially Allport found people with a particular trait react similarly across situations because they experience a unique sense of similarity across those situations that guides their feelings, behaviours and thoughts. It is interesting when you relate this to the web and our usage of the web. With the web our ability to interact with people like minded with us has increased; you can now find those people that you share things in common with that you could not have found pre the web. The fact that the web gives us so much more choice just in the field of say entertainment alone is example of this.

In this sense the identification and deployment of personality trait can be far greater than it has in the past with us being able to find people in more ways tan previously and as a result the ability to build relations with others is far greater on the web than it can be otherwise.

Another aspect that he highlighted were cardinal traits; those traits that experienced a strong unifying influence on a person’s behaviour. He believed that these traits were rare in people but that when they did appear that these would help to get the person and have them stand out of the crowd, for example Hitler. If you relate this to the Web it is interesting because in theory the web seems to provide individuals with greater ability to take heed of their wants and wishes and that as a result. In theory therefore what we should expect is more people expressing their cardinal traits and standing out from the crowd. By proxy however it could also be suggested that with more people being out in the public domain and being visible to others that you will not stand out from the crowd. The fact that the web allows everyone to be able to express themselves and broadcast themselves would suggest that actually people would not be able to stand out in the way that they do otherwise.

Eysenck 3 Factors

Eysenck highlighted three factors that he felt were the key in developing the person; extroversion, neurotisicism and psychoticism. He argued that in general a person’s personality in determined by these 3 factors and the way in which they interact with each other in the same way that a combination of the three primary colours leads to the creation of any other colours.

The 5 Factor Model

This model presupposes that the personality is composed of five areas: neuroticism, extroversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness. A body of evidence suggests that there is a high degree of heritability in respect of the five factors involved. DeNeve and Cooper showed that the five factors could be used to predict subjective well being in a person’s personality and Vollrath found that there was moderate predictability to responses to daily hassles of people’s lives.

It is interesting when you see these five factors and the way in which they interact with one another and the way in which when you are on the web, you can be a different person and as a result your level of openness and agreeableness for sure can be determined by what you want.

Symbolic Interactionism

In respect of the sociological research one of the more interesting things that I have found has been the theory of symbolic interactionism with Goffmann going against this and suggesting that our lives are made up of ‘performances’; we put on a performance with different roles when we are put in front of audiences when in different occasions. He highlighted that there was a difference between the backstage area (where nobody gets to see) and the performance area.

I would suggest that actually the web allows for amore interesting way to see this differentiation. The screen is almost that boundary or performance stage behind which you are in the prepatory area with the screen being the stage on which you perform. In turn the greater exposure allows you to carry out your performance to a greater number of persons than before because of its wider reach and therefore you have to playa a lot more persons.

He highlighted that there was a key difference in the performance that you give in real life and that on the stage; in the latter every word has to be perfect where as in the former you can allow for mistakes because interruptions re a part of everyday life. However on the web, this might seem at slight odds because as it might be seen a prepatory area it is not expected that everything that you do is flawless and perfect.

Written by shrk106 on March 12th, 2010