Archive for March 19th, 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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