Social dynamics within electronic networks of practice

Mattson, Thomas
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [May 2013]
Electronic networks of practice (eNoP) are special types of electronic social structures focused on discussing domain-specific problems related to a skill-based craft or profession in question and answer style forums. eNoP have implemented peer-to-peer feedback systems in order to motivate future contributions and to distinguish contribution quality. However, there is a lack of empirical data or a set of theoretical perspectives in the literature to evaluate their effectiveness against these claims. The purpose of this dissertation is to develop and empirically test two related theoretical perspectives concerning voting practices within these systems and the usefulness that these systems have in terms of promoting future contributions. I do this by performing two independent (but related) empirical studies. In the first study, I qualitatively demonstrate that the off-topic forums within eNoP have the potential to be virtual third places, special types of informal gathering places. I then quantitatively demonstrate that members who have greater affective place attachment to the third place portions of the network and members who make identity claims with the eNoP through their third place participation have a higher propensity of contributing a positively rated practice-related contribution and a lower propensity of becoming inactive on the practice side of the eNoP. I further demonstrate empirically that the usefulness of the peer-to-peer feedback system in terms of promoting future practice-related contributions is qualified by third place participation, most notably site level identity claims made by third place participants. I argue that this is the case, because status attainment and maintenance in a place of emotional and psychological significance is more important than status attainment and maintenance in 'just another' knowledge sharing eNoP. In the second study, I utilize a cultural sociology perspective drawing primarily from Bourdieu's integrated social theory (fields, forms of capital and habitus) and Eliasoph and Lichterman's concept of culture in interaction in order to explain voting practices within peer-to-peer feedback systems. In this study, I argue that a vote is a complex social and cultural phenomenon that is based on more than the quality of the post. I demonstrate empirically that the lower the social class of the giver and receiver of feedback, the greater the differences in professional habitus between the giver and the receiver of feedback, and members who violate the group style have a higher propensity of receiving negative votes (as opposed to positive votes). My results further reveal that the effect of small professional habitus differences is amplified in the presence of a group style violation, specifically group bond violations. These results hold even after controlling for the quality of the post and previous interaction histories between dyadic pairs of members. This dissertation advances the knowledge of social dynamics within eNoP by complementing existing eNoP literature, which explains interactions and knowledge contributions largely in terms of networking constructs such as network centrality and network density using market-based ties and traditional resource exchange perspectives. My research demonstrates that eNoP are much broader than resource exchange systems and may be more appropriately conceptualized as social and cultural systems. Concepts of place, social stratification, habitus, and cultural in interaction provide eNoP researchers an enhanced theoretical toolkit for explaining and predicting the social interactions within these electronic social structures. This dissertation also has practical ramifications for eNoP site designers and the designers of peer-to-peer feedback systems more generally.
Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2013.
Includes bibliographical references.
Electronic networks of practice
Access Rights
Email if you need this content in ADA-compliant format.