Archive for May, 2010

Teamwork as a mutable concept, and conflict resolution between groups   no comments

Posted at 3:40 pm in Psychology,Sociology

This last blog post is purely anecdotal, and discussion some of the concepts uncovered as part of the IDR.

Interestingly one thing that is often spoken about in organisations is team-work. I had hoped to include a small paragraph about why organisations are keen to promote good team work and value members or employees with good team work skills. I couldn’t find any good chapters from either psychology or sociology to define it or discuss the mechanisms involved. This led to my own late realisation (rather than any serendipitous discovery) that teamwork is really a buzz word, an undefined concept, that has gained some traction. Fortunately from all reading I have done so far as part of this module I can formulate some of hypothesis for mechanisms behind ‘team work’.

The reasons for group of individuals working as part of a team can be explained using social psychology terms like goal theory, social facilitation and emotions. Even homeostatic theory could arguably be involved as humans can have a daily optimum level of contact or communication with others that they wish to fulfill. So, the next time you are asked at an interview or performance evaluation about what you understand by team work you can say that ‘team work is a complex social phenomenon in which individuals co-operate during activities in order to achieve certain goals, as well as fulfil a certain required level of some personal need, such as to communicate with others. Also, team work is product of social facilitation as it often causes individuals to become more involved and emotional about an activity because they are in the presence of others.’

Returning to why this is relevant for understanding groups, I had initially wanted to look at group behaviour and how it affects outputs. It now appears that fundamentals from sociology and psychology of human behaviour are base of most of the behaviours involved in groups. Applying abstract labels such as team-work can be a useful term to categorise the behaviour of a group working as a team, but looking at fundamentals is essential to understand actions of individuals working as part of a group.

A often cited experiment for understanding group behaviour, especially in relation to prejudice and conflict resolution is the

Robbers’ Cave’s experiment. This involved two groups, each of which were allowed to form a group identity and spend time engaged in some cooperative activities within their group. Later, both groups were entered to directly compete for prizes. Conflicts then quickly developed between the groups after losing rounds of the competition. Conflict resolution, and a reduction in intra and inter group prejudices was achieved by designing co-operative activities where the goals could only be achieved through co-operation of both groups.

I hope you enjoyed the blog posts, the final written report will contain the best of the blog posts plus some other ideas, and the what conclusions I have came to when comparing fundamental information about groups offline to online groups.

Written by cm7e09 on May 19th, 2010

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Privacy (6th Post)   no comments

Posted at 10:09 am in Psychology,Sociology

My previous posts gave an overview of the books that I was reading every week. After having read a number of books, that contain different viewpoints, I now have a more critical view on the subject of privacy.

The last few weeks I have focused my reading on certain textbooks from both Sociology and Psychology, but also on some books regarding privacy specifically (I discussed the second option with our lecturer and have taken his approval).

As far as Sociology is concerned, I read certain chapters from “Sociology” textbook by Giddens, that refer to social networks, as well as “The Power of Identity” by Castells. It was of great interest to my research finding out the differences between social networks and groups. “Thinking Sociologically” by Bauman helped me understand their differences more in depth, as the author describes in detail the way social groups are formed and behave towards other groups.

The “Power of Identity” along with a book entitled “The Invasion of Privacy”, written in the ’70s, helped me both to understand the relationship between people’s privacy and the State and the steps that the State has or hasn’t (??) taken towards protection of privacy from the ’70s till today.

As far as Psychology is concerned, I continued reading the “Social Psychology” textbook, which helped me focus more on the Self, his characteristics and the way the self regulates people’s behaviour. A book entitled “Between Public and Private – The Lost Boundaries of the Self”, helped me get a grip on further concepts that deal with the self and privacy, such as intimacy. Reading another textbook entitled “Applied Social Psychology” helped me understand the importance of material possesions in exerting control over other people and showing a social status.

Another book that appeared to be valuable to my study was “Privacy” by Young, which focused on several concepts that are related to privacy, such as anonymity, solitude, loneliness and confidentiality.

Finally, I have begun to focus my research on comparing the two disciplines and their relation to the concept of privacy. Psychologists place privacy at a micro scale, they consider it a problem of each individual, whereas sociologists locate it at a macro scale and regard privacy as a social issue. Which one is right and which one is wrong? Or are they both correct? More on this matter, in my final report…

Written by az4g09 on May 9th, 2010

E-democracy and the Web – Freedom, governance, civil society and elections   no comments

Posted at 11:11 am in Politics

Having discussed democracy as a form of government, it is only natural to continue with the concept of freedom (or liberty). Freedom is most often defined by using is opposite, that is freedom is the absence of constraint. Although freedom is considered intrinsically good, there are sometimes legitimate reasons to limit freedom in order to protect other values, so even in a democracy, there is no such thing as complete freedom. Even though democracy seems closely related to freedom, there are examples of democracies limiting freedom, albeit with sufficient reasons.

A type of constraints of freedom which are relevant to e-democracy, are economic impediments. Due to the economic inequality of society, not all its members are free to participate in political affairs, and more importantly, may not even have access to the internet.

Another matter that needs to be discussed is freedom of speech. Even though the web offers anonymity, there are cases of “imperfect democracies” where activities and websites with political content were deemed subversive by the regime and access to them was terminated. There is also the case of developed democratic states that have passed legislation that terminates internet access to users that have broken the law online. This could be argued that it limits their freedoms in an overwhelmingly excessive way and thus constitutes unfair punishment.

One interesting aspect of the Web is that it can enhance the -already high- efficiency of state bureaucracy. According to Weber, its characteristics are amongst others precision, speed, unambiguity, reduction of material  and personal cost. All this advantages can be augmented by the Web and that is why states have invested a lot in this direction, trying to establish an online bureaucracy and e-government portals. This is in part done in order to improve the quality of governance, according to the elements of “good governance” which are the following:

  • Participation in making and implementing decisions
  • Clear legal frameworks with respect to human rights
  • Transparency in decision making
  • Responsiveness towards social needs
  • Consensus-oriented
  • Equal opportunities for all
  • Effectiveness and efficiency
  • Accountability of decision makers

Some of the above elements can be clearly enhanced by the Web, while others are still bound to the offline realm.

Civil society is the framework that those without political authority live within. It stand apart from political authority (and even commercial institutions), however no clear boundary can be drawn between them. It is composed of voluntary civic and social organisations, for example non-governmental organisations. The Web has been used extensively by such organisations, which understood its benefits faster than governments.  Better horizontal communication as well as the ability to organise in online communities have enabled them to become larger and better coordinated. Faster mobilisation of supporters helped organise protests and activist ‘instant mobs’. There is also the use of blogs to post alternative versions of events, as mentioned above when discussing freedom of speech. Of course, as always, there are also negative effects. Political blackmailing, propaganda and libel were also used by some organisations, sometimes by posting anonymously on blogs and there are extremist groups recruiting in this way.

Finally, a concept that fits with my previous post about democracy. Voting is a mechanism for making collective decisions where the majority preference dictates the final decision. In the case of representative democracies, the representatives are also elected by vote. So far there have been various attempt to use electronic voting, with mixed results. It seems though that, being cost-effective and fast, it will eventually replace traditional voting. This however has little to do with the Web, as it just uses the internet. However, the Web has played a role so far in elections: it has facilitated the communication of political manifestos to voters, gave additional chances for debates and even helped candidates approach their voters directly with the use of social networking sites. As mentioned in the previous post, it remains to be seen if the Web can play a larger part in decision making. It has to be added that there are two schools of thought as to how electronic decision making should be used. Some propose using it as an efficient way for representatives to ask directly for the citizens’ opinion by referendum. Another more direct, albeit more small scale proposal is to have local communities try a direct version of democracy, perhaps as a pilot for larger scale adoption. Again, there is criticism that stems from the long identified problems of direct democracy, which current technology cannot so far alleviate.

Written by el3e09 on May 8th, 2010

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Easter Reading – Fourth Post   no comments

Posted at 6:34 pm in Criminology,Sociology

I have now focused the areas of my research to question how the Web has had an impact on ‘Gender’ (Sociology) and ‘Crime’ (Criminology) in respect of identity. I want to observe the two approaches of these disciplines, making comparisons to gain a fuller understanding of how identity is defined and important to academic discussion.


Over Easter I looked at some general textbooks from both disciplines, including:

Giddens, A, ‘Sociology: Introductory Readings,’ (Polity Press, Cambridge, 1997)

Giddens, A, ‘Sociology,’ (Polity Press, Cambridge, 2006)

Morrison, W, ‘Theoretical Criminology,’ (Cavendish Publishing, London, 1995)

Maguire, M, Morgan, R. and Reiner, R, ‘The Oxford Handbook of Criminology,’ (OUP, Oxford, 2007)


From these textbooks I centred my Sociology reading on the theories behind ‘Gender’ and for Criminology I did the same, looking at the role of identity in crime. I hope by examining the theory behind my research questions in the offline World, I can build on them to better understand how the Web may have impacted on these areas.

Written by Laura German on May 7th, 2010

Large groups (crowds), Network theories, Dunbar Number   no comments

Posted at 4:42 pm in Psychology,Sociology

No discourse on social theory of social groups would be complete without mentioning Mark Granovetter who did some fascinating network analysis and published his findings displaying the presence of weak ties, structural holes in organisations. Structural holes in particular explain how someone can become an unelected leader of a group if they hold a position in which they are the main conduit for which information can flow between separate parts of groups or between groups.

I have been reading ‘Theories of Communication Networks’, Noshir Contractor and Peter Monge (2003) a more complex book that references fundamentals from sociology, psychology, maths and computer science, that describes and help the reader understand complex communication networks involving large groups of people. It has become more and more apparent during my reading that it is increasingly difficult to look at a subject from just two disciplines, in my case, sociology and psychology. Some fundamentals from other subjects like maths, computer science, or philosophy are necessary so as not to have a one sided, or in this case two dimensional, view, thus highlighting the multi-disciplinary nature of web science topics. For the IDR though I have found ample material in ‘Theories of Communication Networks’ from sociology and psychology to describe groups and the communication mechanisms within them:

There are 2 branches of theories as to how groups internal behaviour can be modelled. These are:

  • homophily theories – where individuals select others to communicate with who are similar to themselves.
  • contagion theories – are based on the assumption that exposure to networks (groups) increase the likelihood that individuals are influenced by others and will then develop beliefs, attitudes and assumptions similar to those of others in their network.

These two theories are very useful for describing how groups form, and how individuals in groups are influenced.

Crowd psychology is one of the subclasses of social psychology, and social science books are interested in this aspect of psychology as it concerns how sudden and large scale social changers can be brought about because of large groups of people. There are a lot of interesting theories put forward over the past century about how large groups of people (crowds) behave,  by psychologists such as those by Carl Jung who coined the term ‘Collective Unconscious” that described a shared, universal psychic system identical in all individuals. Many people since Jung then have expanded this concept, such as blogger and researcher Kevin Kelly, who describes many Internet groups starting to exhibit a ‘Hive mind’. Sigmund Freud also has a theory known as his ‘Crowd behaviour theory’ that describes that people who are in a crowd act differently towards people than those who are thinking individually.

One of the most interesting and often challenged theory of modern day sociology is the theory of cognitive limit for the maximum number of people in a person can have a inter-personal relationship. In 1992, Dunbar published a theory that the neocortex size of the brain was a constraint on group size in primates. Dunbar predicted that human cognitive limit for relationships was 150 based on the size of the human neocortex. This is known as the Dunbar Number and is now widely referenced and cited, despite how Dunbar based his observations on primates other than humans along with information about human network sizes in less developed countries. Dunbar’s methodology appears to have observed that tribal village sizes, military units, company sizes average around 150. In light of this perhaps humans have hard wired limits in their brains, limiting the number of individuals they can have interpersonal relationships with – and similarly the number of groups they can participate actively in. Thus even the most highly social individuals, or those with strong psychological desires such as goal theories or homeostatic drives to participate in groups, will only be able to network effectively with fixed amount of people. Thus social and psychological desires for group participation come up against physical hard limits if Dunbar’s Number theory based on neocortex size is correct. It shows how social research on primate groups, along with some statistical and network analysis, can lead to interesting extrapolations of the limitations of human mind, and the limitations of relationships within a social group.

Written by cm7e09 on May 7th, 2010

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The Impact of the Web in Globalization and the Business Models   no comments

Posted at 10:19 pm in Economics,Sociology

Recent study is mainly focusing on the 4th version of Sociology by Giddens and also linking the economic aspect to think about the impacts of the Web in globalization; and then moving on to the part of business models which is influenced by the Web.

To understand the society, firstly we should put the eyes on the broader range of areas. Throughout the world, the multinational company became a phenomenon after World War II, and strongly promoted the process of economic globalization. Nowadays, multinational companies are considered as the core of economic globalization. Through the bridge multinational companies offered, markets and trades are linked closely between different countries. Trading information are transferring frequently from one country to another breaking the barriers of time and spaces.

However, in this globalization trend, the participants are just involving the companies or a small part of people who are conducting this business. For most people, maybe they can use the cup made in thousands miles away from their hometown, however, they have not opportunities to participate this amazing project until the Web came out. Because the main members of the society have engaged in the information global sharing activity, the globalization has been infiltrated into people’s daily lives. The Web is the main force to push and accelerate the process of globalization. The information explosion covers every detail of the lives across the world. People have the channels to obtain and publish information about what they like, what they want, what they are doing and so on. The information is mass but has intangible value inside. At that movement, BBS became a huge container to gather people of like interests. Usually, one BBS is organized by subjects, such as music, food, feeling, education and so on. Members of this BBS will around those subjects to leave their comments and reviews. For wisdom marketers, they know that better understanding of their customers is one of the best ways to gain competitive advantages. Therefore, through those BBSs, they can refine the contents and pick up the useful part for their business. (Of course, there are some issues about online fake information or advertisements, but at this stage we just assumed the number of them is quite few which can be ignored.) Unfortunately, at most situations this kind of job is heave, especially when operated manually. But the platform that presents the people’s interests throughout the world and the way to find out valuable ideas about the business and market is worth firmly.  The Web provides a creative platform to gather information generated all over the world, which is valuable for the economic globally. Google’s success can be explained by this information aggregated. They provide the accurate search results for people based on the search key words, while putting the related advertisements on the same web page. This business model helps Google gain high profit. However, this kind way of putting advertisements based on the search engines is relatively passive for the potential customers, as it needs people to search firstly and then see the related information. Therefore, the issue put in front of us is that which way will be better to get information accurately and directly and how to build a positive business model.

To be continued…

Written by ch9e09 on May 5th, 2010

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Oxford Internet Institute – E-government Research   no comments

Posted at 5:30 pm in Politics,Sociology

After looking at the some of the core principles on both sociology and politics it seemed a good idea to explore some of the latest research that is looking at how these two disciplines are affecting the Web and vice-versa. Research from the Oxford Internet Institution (OII) is a leading research group looking how the ‘internet’ is affecting a range of areas. One research group is looking at the effect of e-government.

Some of the most interesting work has come from Helen Margetts, who has been looking at e-government and its integration into society, and possible cultural barriers that are being faced. Looking at some of the figures collated by Helen has given some indication of the use of e-government and related services in the London Area. The stats look at the type of people and other demographics. Interestingly, Helen found that although Gender or Race did not play a role in who was using e-government services, Age, social class, and education attainment was extremely influential. For example, people who only obtained GCSE’s were 47% likely to use the services, where as people with A-levels or above were 85% likely.

The OII also has conducted research which further explores the cultural barriers to e-government discussed the 4 myths of Technology and discussed possible reasons to why the government has developed a negative attitude to ICT. Broken down into Supply side barriers (i.e. the Government) and demand side barriers (i.e. the individual) the research suggests that the lack of e-government is a combination of the two sides. This comes from a mix of reasons, from the government’s bad experiences in the past with technology, overrunning projects and close mindedness. Also looking at supply side barrier such as social exclusion, where Rich and Poor are part of the digital divide. What is also introduced is the terms e-Elite and e-underclass, where the e-underclass would be more likely to trust or rely on e-government.

An interesting argument is one suggesting that the formality of e-government Websites could deter individuals away from using them. However in countries such as Holland e-government websites stress the fun factor.

What has been recognised from this research is that cultural barriers do exists, however they’re may be possible solutions to help overcome them, for instance providing incentives for staff to recognise the potential benefits of electronic media, trying to reduce the mindset of technology capricious employees. For citizens, providing incentives, financial and educational may increase the use of such services, and also lighten the attitude of the Websites providing a more informal approach.

Written by rt506 on May 3rd, 2010