Archive for March, 2010

Extremism on the Web – Introduction to Social Psychology   no comments

Posted at 3:21 pm in Psychology,Sociology

I’ve thought of a title for the paper: “Understanding the Proliferation of Extremism on the Web”.

This week I have been reading Introduction to Social Psychology (2nd ed.) by Hewstone, Stroebe and Stephenson.  It is a compilation of theories from multiple authors relating to large-scale social psychology.

I have selected a few concepts from the book which are relevant to extremism on the Web.  I have also decided that to understand extremism on the web, the process needs to be split into two main sections: why people join extremist groups and how they behave within these groups.

Perhaps surprisingly, extremism on the web is both pro- and anti-social.  From the individual (socio-psychological) point of view it is pro-social, joining these groups is a way to meet like minded people, converse and make friendships.  From the sociological p.o.v. it is anti-social, as the motives for joining these groups are almost always to persecute others.

Motives for affiliation – why do people join these groups?

  • Social Comparison Theory
    • People want to compare themselves to others to confirm their attitudes.
  • Buffer Effect of Social Support
    • People who feel supported are less affected by stressful events, having social support (especially by people who share your ideals)  is an elemental component of ‘happiness’
  • Loneliness / Isolation
    • Having an extreme view can lead to loneliness in one’s geographical social group

Why do people behave differently in these online groups?

  • Diffusion of Responsibility
    • There is a reduced sense of social responsibility when one is part of a group of people who are behaving in the same way.  Examples of this behaviour are seen in the offline world in collective violence, for example mobs and looting that occurs because a large number of people partake.  This is closely related to deindividuation.
  • Deindividuation
    • Defined by Leon Festinger as “the situation where anti-normative behavior is released in groups in which individuals are not seen or paid attention to as individuals.” Simply put, deindividuation is immersion in a group to the point at which the individual ceases to be seen as such. [courtesy of wikipedia].  This is used to explain collective violence such as mob fights etc.
  • Social Influence / Conformity
    • This has been explained in my earlier blog post.  Many people will conform in fear of retaliation or rejection.  This is also true of online groups and can explain why people with moderate views who join extremist groups could develop extreme views themselves.
  • Freedom of a Safe Environment
    • This relates heavily to my last post.  People’s behaviour in social situations is governed by learned responses and reactions to certain cultural signs.  Online there are no such signs, one reaction to this is to treat the Web as a free space where ‘anything goes’.  This topic also relates to the diffusion of responsibility in group membership: ‘if every one else is doing it, it must be OK’.
  • Group Polarisation
    • A group may start out with relatively tame intentions / beliefs, but through polarisation, innovation and compliance more extreme views may proliferate.
  • Lack of Social Responsibility
    • People behave in certain ways because they have a social responsibility to.  These responsibilities are outlined in all religious texts, as well as throughout primary education and family upbringing.  The Web offers a space without this social responsibility, without punishment.  This may lead people to ‘lash out’ and develop behavioural traits that would not have been expressed in the offline world.  This behaviour may not even be related to the individual’s personality, but be a product of sudden freedom of expression in an anonymous environment.

Written by Simon Hearne on March 11th, 2010

Extremism on the Web – Thinking Sociologically   no comments

Posted at 2:54 pm in Psychology,Sociology

Last week I read selected chapters of Thinking Sociologically by Zygmunt Bauman.  Although I have not read as much as I plan to yet, I have picked up some interesting and relevant topics, especially from the chapter “Nature and Culture”.  I have selected some quotes and will explain why they are relevant:

“The environment of my and anybody else’s individual life-processes consists in no small measure of other individuals with motives and purposes of their own – and thus the ‘normative regulation’ of individual motives and patterns of conduct is an important factor in the overall regularity and predictability of the environment.” pg 146

Here Bauman explains that one’s social norms and behaviour is governed mainly by the others that we observe.  Individuals regulate their behaviour in a social context by the behaviour of others within that context.  In the area of extremism on the web this partially explains why people within extremist groups share a relatively monotonous behaviour pattern.

“… most of our behaviour is learned.  We memorize those of our past actions which proved successful: brought the desired effect, the pleasure, approval and praise of people around us.” pg 147

Similar to the statement above; Bauman states that we behave in a way that is approved of in the current social context.

“If I confuse things, and behave in a way suitable for one context in circumstances which this conduct does not fit, I am likely to feel embarrassed or guilty … I may feel ashamed – as if I’ve let out some secret truth about my ‘real self'” pg 148

Here, Zauman shows that we learn separate behaviour patterns for different social situations; for instance one would not behave in the same way while having a formal meeting as they would while meeting for drinks with close friends.  These are two individual social settings where the expected behaviour has been learned from personal experience and shared experience through media such as television and the web.

“culturally trained individuals are structured – that is ‘articulated’, with the help of oppositions, into separate social contexts calling for distinctive conduct and separate patterns of behaviour suitable for distinctive social contexts – and the two articulations [are isomorphic].” pg 150

So our structured behaviour patterns are enforced with positive and negative responses until we meet the expected behaviour for the situation.  Online there is little enforcement of social expectations of behaviour, web 2.0 sites allow communal filtering, commenting and rating which helps this, but extremist groups reside in corners of the web which remain unchecked such as private newsgroups, forums or IRC channels which can have restricted access.  Here there are no pointers to expected behaviour patterns in the wider context, but expected behaviour is judged by the other members of these closed groups, creating a self-maintaining extremist community.

“The device which secures this .. correspondence between structures of social reality and of culturally regulated behaviour is called the cultural code.”  pg 150

Bauman goes on to say that this code is represented by signs: visual, olfactory, colours, dress, tones of voice etc.  It is clear that almost all of these signs are not present in the online world, so one must transfer one’s offline cultural code to the online space.  This may or may not be a conscious decision, some may consciously decide to ignore previously known code and treat the online world as one where ‘anything goes’.  This will allow people who have extremist views but do not express them in the offline world to speak freely online.

Written by Simon Hearne on March 11th, 2010

The Role of Trust in Building Relationships (3rd Post) – Focus on Psychology   no comments

Posted at 9:59 pm in Psychology,Sociology

This week’s research has tended to focus upon more psychologically based topics as opposed to the previous weeks that have tended to focus more on the sociology part of my research.

Within psychology there are a number of different branches that that focus in on a number of different specific areas and the ones that I think that are more related to me and my research areas are social psychology and cognitive psychology. Social in an exploration into the way in which people’s thoughts, behaviours and feelings are influence by the actual, imagined or implied presence of others. Within this branch of psychology, the individual is examined as a member of the society through socialisation. It is stated that the major and most determining part of socialisation occurs in the early childhood as this is the time at which a child learns most social norms and values. This in itself is really interesting as you might argue that actually with the web becoming such a fundamental part of our lives, a vast number of our norms and values are being are learnt in this area. If this can be accepted to be the case, it cannot really be said that children are readily on the Web as they tend to fall within the category of being adolescents, early adults and onwards. In this respect you might have to argue that socialisation as a process is beginning to occur more and more later on in life because of the deployment of the Web in our lives and thus the theory needs to be updated.

Sigmund Freud in his work on psychoanalysis he found that there were generally 3 stages of being (1) id, (2) ego and (3) superego. He believed that all 3 had to be in perfect balance with one another or otherwise the person would be either too deficient in some areas or over compensating in others. For example too much id would lead to a person being governed by their impulses and being selfish where as too much superego and the individual is too rigid, moralistic and bossy.  In an online word you are able to almost be a completely different person; may be the person that you wished you were or just someone different from your everyday life. You can therefore be that person who acts on his id as it were and is selfish online and be governed by your impulses in ways that you would allow yourself offline in the real world. As a result may be there needs to be a changing of how we perceive these various areas.

You can also see from the above how important trust is. In this areas as you are able to be the person that you wish you were able to be and for on the other end to interact with that person you have to able to trust that they are who they say they are and are not someone who is really too much id trying to be different.

Allport has come up with a theory in respect if clustering traits and the way in which personality is developed. He argues that thee are 5 central traits that reflect a characteristic way of behaving and dealing with others. Alongside these are secondary traits that are more permeable and prone to change such as likes. The five big ones don’t include trust; the extent to which you are trustworthy, the factors that you take into consideration, the extent to which you are able to trust etc. It is interesting that it is not regarded as one on its own; yet it could be argued to fall under the fifth which the extent of an individual’s openness to new experiences versus their resistance to these new opportunities. It might be conceded that trust now needs to be one of these because especially in the case of  ages of 15-30 a lot of personality is built online. Even away from the online world, there is not a notion of dishonesty or trust and this could by proxy therefore lead to the conclusion that it actually is not that important or as important as it may be believed.

Written by shrk106 on March 10th, 2010

Monolingualism Shaping the World (beginning)   no comments

Posted at 3:08 pm in Linguistics

An important point to make is that my source text, Intertextuality: Debates and Contexts, deliberately breaks established practises in intertextuality studies with the aim of achieving a better critical viewpoint. Given the prominence of the author, historical influences upon the discipline and the age of previous works, I consider this to be an acceptable course to take.
A strong influence in the development of the world is language. This is investigated as a matter of course. Of particular concern, is the impact of lack of translations of communities, the exclusion this can create and how this shapes the world. I hope to explore this theme further.
The activities/studies of intertextuality and interdisciplinarity are understood to both attempt to build a framework to analyse connections between activities or disciplines and the resulting yield of power. Approaching from intertextuality, one cannot find association with any particular group under assessment. However, from interdisciplinarity, little more can be achieved; a ‘base camp’ always exists and, despite best efforts to introduce novel thinking, one finds that the base camp controls investment in such studies.

Written by Russell Newman on March 10th, 2010

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Contemporary landscapes of crime, order and control (3rd Post)   no comments

Posted at 11:47 pm in Criminology

Source: The Oxford Handbook of Criminology by Maguire. Morgan and Reiner

This week, I have been reading chapter 3 of the book which is on the influential theories behind the governance and control of crime. Changes to the landscape of crime, order and control forces the shape of criminology as a field of study to be revised.

  1. Which topics command the most serious attention
  2. Which theoretical resources and empirical materials best advance contemporary analysis
  3. How to contribute pertinently to public debates on crime and control

Significant features which shifts and changes include:

  1. Contemporary shifts in the character of the governance of crime
  2. The changing postures and capacities of the state
  3. The intensity of public sensibilities towards criminal justice matters
  4. The shifting boundaries between the public and private realms in providing security
  5. 5. Social consequences of risk
  6. The place of crime and social order in public culture

The chapter is divided into three chapters, governance, risk and globalisation, all of which are important factors in our perception of crime today. Below are the notes I have made.


Governance: blurs the distinction between state and civil society. The state becomes a collection of interorganisational states made up of governmental and societal actors with no sovereign actor able to steer or regulate.

Transformation in the field of control institution and philosophies came in the 1970s when there was:

  1. Massive escalation in post-war crime rates
  2. Significant changes in economic, social and cultural relations. Modernity include:
    1. Transformation in capitalist production and exchange
    2. Changes in family structure e.g. rising divorce rate
    3. c. Proliferation of mass media
    4. A democratization of everyday life – as witnessed in altered relations between men/women parents/children and a marked decline in unthinking adherence towards authority.
    5. New Rights government rule in USA, Britain, Australia and New Zealand which aimed specifically to break with the economic and social consensus of the post-war decades. The result is the formation of “MARKET SOCIETIES” in which social inequalities deepened and had profound ramifications on levels/responses/politicization of crime.

Refiguring policing and prevention

  1. De-centering of the criminal justice state: there is a tendency for government officials and senior practitioners to emphasize the limits of the police and criminal justice in controlling crime and to seek to inculcate correspondingly more “realistic” public expectations of what state criminal justice agencies can accomplish.
  2. Managerialism: subjected the police, courts, probation and prisons to a regime of EFFICIENCY and value-for-money, performance targets and auditing, quality of service and consumer responsiveness. (an attempt to inject “private sector disciplines” into public criminal justice agencies)
  3. Emergence of crime prevention partnerships at a local level: commercial actors delivering closed-circuit television systems (now: ISP supply data, eCrime police)


Long standing professional concerns with judgements about ways of anticipating and forestalling future harms have evolved and extended to incorporate new methods, statistical models and the availability of previously unimagined computational power.

The refocusing of the theory and practice of crime control in terms of risk actually serves to reconfigure its objects of attention and intervention, its intellectual and institutional connections with other domains, and its cultural and political salience and sensitivity in potentially fundamental fashion.

Gidden, we live in a world of “manufactured uncertainty” and it is characteristic of such a “risk-climate” that its institutions become reflexive. That is, endlessly monitoring, adjusting and calculating their behaviour in the face of insatiable demands for information and pressures for accountability.

Becks, “Risk may be defined as a systematic way of dealing with hazards and insecurities induced and introduced by modernisation itself. Risks, as opposed to older dangers, are consequences which relate to the threatening force of modernisation and to its globalisation of doubt.”


Relations between states and societies (and the economic and political systems within which they are embedded) have altered in ways that rob analyses of “societies” as distinct entities with clear boundaries of much of their purchase, and bring to the fore the issue of networks and flows; movement of capital, goods, people, symbols and information across formerly separate national contexts.

Criminal networks and cross-border crime flows (transnational crime)

Hirst and Thompson emphasise that globalisation is not a new phenomenon and can be traced back over centuries. However, in terms of the extensity, intensity, velocity and impact of global networks and flows, the globalisation new are witnessing is distinct.

Criminal networks operate ruthless protection and enforcement systems that challenge directly “an essential component of state sovereignty and legitimacy”. Such networks become appealing cultural idols for many dispossessed young males who see no other obvious route out of poverty, as well as having more diffuse effects at the level of popular culture.

Shadow enterprises deploy some variant of bribery, extortion, political funding, assassination or armed combat as a means to undermine the governing capacities and political authority of weak or “failed” stats. Such networks have assumed a key role in setting the basic terms of existence across many parts of the globe. (Most cybercrimes are moving towards organised crime)

“Local” crime and responses to crime

Bauman has written provocatively that the economic precariousness and existential insecurity attendant upon globalisation generals “withdrawal into the safe haven of territoriality” and condensed anxieties about, and social demands for, safety.

Transnational crime control

Interpol was originally set up in 1923 and in its current guise in 1949. However, its impact has diminished because the US is trying to extend and coordinate law enforcement beyond its borders and the building of an enhanced police and criminal justice capacity within the EU.

The developments in the EU are:

  1. The 1992 Maastricht Treaty of a Third Pillar of EU competence in “justice and home affairs” of forms of intergovernmental activity and supranational policymaking in areas of police cooperation, efforts to tackle organised crime and measures concerning immigration, asylum policy and other matters.
  2. The onset of institutions, networks and training programmes aimed atfurthering the exchange of information and know-how among Europe’s police officers, prosecutors and judges.
  3. New modes of ground-level cooperation between national police forces e.g. Europol liaison officers

Relevance to cybercrime

Cybercriminals most often belong to an organisation or criminals across the globe with well structured hierarchies and well organised plans to aggregate profit in a quick, efficient and well disguised manner.  This chapter has introduced the theories behind the changes in governance, the influence of risk on society and in particular, it has introduced the impact of globalisation on crime and control. It would be interesting to see if cybercriminals really are those “dispossessed young males who see no other obvious route out of poverty”. It has also introduced transnational policing and some of the developments such as the Europol.

Written by my2e09 on March 9th, 2010

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E-democracy and the Web – More on Sociology   1 comment

Posted at 7:34 pm in Sociology

After careful consideration, I have decided to revise my reading list as follows:


Sociology – John J. Macionis

Sociology – Anthony Giddens

Political Science:

Introduction to Politics – Robert Garner, Peter Ferdinand & Stephanie Lawson

An introduction to Politics, State and  Society – James W. McAuley

It may be necessary to read some more specific textbooks, especially for Politics. In this case, they will be referenced in future posts.

For the past week, I continued my reading as planned, by moving from basic concepts of sociology to those more relevant to the subject of e-democracy. I used both books from my reading plan, but concentrated more on the book by Macionis, while using the book by Giddens as secondary reference.

Despite of what I had decided last week, I read more on social stratification, the hierarchical ranking of categories of individuals within a society. I was interested in the social class system, as this is the common form of stratification in modern democratic societies, which have been interested to adopt e-democracy.

By applying the different theoretical approaches on the subject of social stratification, one can reach contradicting conclusions about its nature and causes. Marx has suggested that in a capitalist society, the ruling class owns the means of production and uses the working class’ labour to amass more wealth. This class structure is reproduced in each generation and that produces a corrupt and unfair society. On the other hand, Weber, while agreeing with Marx that stratification causes conflicts, he argues that economic inequality is only one of the factors that cause it, along with status and power. While Marx has considered social stratification as something harmful to society, the Davies-Moore thesis states the opposite: by offering greater rewards for important work, there is more motivation and efficiency than in a completely egalitarian society.

When plotting the average degree of stratification throughout human history, the Kuznets curve appears. While after the industrial revolution there was a tendency for less stratification, postmodern societies have exhibited a reverse trend, and that is shown by the curve. The question about whether the Web plays a role in this trend is important. There is also the matter of whether stratification exists inside the online societies. Both these questions are relevant to e-democracy.

After reading about social stratification, I had to read about Politics. However, in order to organise my posts in a better way, I will post the politics subjects in separate posts, while continuing to write about sociology and the subjects of collective action and social movements.

I started reading about collective behaviour, concentrating on the concepts that are relevant to e-democracy. Public opinion, which is widespread attitude around a controversial issue and propaganda, information presented in a way to influence public opinion, are two important concepts as they have been often observed in an online context.

A social movement is an organised activity in favour or against social change. Social movements are perhaps the most influential forms of collective behaviour, as they shape societies. There are four types of social movements as shown below:

There are various theories about what causes social movements. Deprivation theory, which claims that those deprived of something (income, insurance etc) organise in movements towards the goal of improving their condition. Mass-society theory suggests that people organise in order to gain a sense of belonging and importance. Structural strain theory identifies six factors that influence the development of social movements. Resource-mobilisation theory suggests that for a movement to succeed, substantial resources are needed and without them it will fail. Culture theory, that responds that people not only organise for material gains but also around cultural symbols. Marxist political-economy theory emphasises the failure of capitalism to meet the needs of the majority as the cause of movements. New social movements theory has been developed to interpret recent movements that do not target economic issues, but try to improve our social and environmental surroundings. No single theory can explain all types of movements, but in conjunction they can offer useful insights.

The tendency of movements to become increasingly global, without doubt, can be at least partially  attributed to the Web. As information flows easier and in larger volume, it is only natural that previously local matters become global. Social movements on the Web are as influential for e-government as offline movements for traditional democracy.

Even conservative and small scale adoption of e-democracy can lead to (or perhaps has already led to) social change. The process of social change has certain characteristics: it happens constantly, most often than not unplanned (the Web being one such example), can be controversial and not all changes are equally important. There are many causes for change: culture, ideas, social conflict and even demographic reasons. A central and recurring theme when studying social change is modernity, the social patterns arising from industrialisation. The process of modernisation has transformed societies in various ways. Progress has been considered good at all times and stability has been a synonym of stagnation. Postmodernists have criticised this way of thinking, but it is still an ongoing debate. Whether the Web will create postmodern societies in the way that industrial revolution led to the modern era, remains to be seen.

As I read more about Sociology, it became apparent that the lines between Political Science begun to blur. For the next weeks, beginning with the basics of Political Science, I will try to gain an interdisciplinary viewpoint to some of the issues already discussed, as well as to others relevant to e-democracy.

Written by el3e09 on March 7th, 2010

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Affiliation, social loafing, collective phenomenon of deindividuation   1 comment

Posted at 11:07 pm in Psychology,Sociology

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.

Written by cm7e09 on March 5th, 2010

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The Meaning of Work in Society   no comments

Posted at 6:38 pm in Sociology

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

Written by ch9e09 on March 5th, 2010

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Privacy of the individual in the global village of the World Wide Web (3rd Post)   no comments

Posted at 2:31 pm in Psychology

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.

… to be continued …

Written by az4g09 on March 5th, 2010

Power, Authority and the State, and New Social Movements   1 comment

Posted at 11:27 am in Politics,Sociology

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.

Written by rt506 on March 5th, 2010