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Title: Constructing Social Capital in a Chinese Virtual Community
Keywords: social capital, virtual communication, Tianya
Issue Date: 4-Apr-2011
Citation: YAO JIANLI (2011-04-04). Constructing Social Capital in a Chinese Virtual Community. ScholarBank@NUS Repository.
Abstract: Reviewing previous works on the social implications of computer-mediated communication (CMC) unpacks two schools of thought in the literature: the optimist school, which bolsters the argument that CMC expands social relations and re-creates social identity; and the pessimist school, obdurate in the conviction that CMC decays strong networks and weakens interpersonal support. But the paradox turns out to be a tradeoff between width and depth. Unwittingly, there is a confluence of thought: both agree that intensive offline and dispersive online interactions contribute to social capital, mainly understood in psychological and relational dimensions. This has changed over time, due to numerous factors such as an increasing awareness of citizenship and a growing sense of community, the emergence of new social forces and voluntary organizations, active civic engagement and complex horizontal networking. This thesis holds the position that CMC provides new opportunities for social capital formation and explores the complex mechanisms underlying the process, synthetizing resource mobilization and social psychology theory. It addresses questions on the why, and how, people may be mobilized to voluntarily participate in virtual discussion and even offline actions through the different usage of social resources. The empirical section then investigates the process in three main aspects: (i) resource usage, (ii) agents? relations, and (iii) mobilization, employing content analysis of online posts, articles and documentary materials, online and offline interviews in a popular non-focused virtual community in China ? Tianya. This section shows in detail: (1) how the social resources are redistributed through CMC; (2) how individuals? use of these redistributed resources affects social relations and values; and (3) how resources embedded in different social relations sharing certain values can be mobilized for collective action. From the findings, the paper outlines three general patterns: (1) resources are redistributed through the creation of new resources and employment of existing resources; (2) relations are rebuilt in two dimensions ? homophilous and heterophilous; and (3) collective actions are mobilized by collective identity, group leadership and social environment. Chapter 4 deals with the first two aspects, espousing that CMC tends to extricate people from their real lives, transforming them into virtual individuals without impairing their respective social roles, and (re)grouping them into associations within certain degree of state manipulation. Based on these discussions, Chapter 5 explores the process of collective mobilization, buttressed by in-depth case study of one high-profile event, the course of which was changed by CMC. The case chosen here is ?Duo Maomao (Hide-and-seek)?, which highlights the irresponsibility of a local public security bureau in publicizing that a prisoner had died while playing ?hide-and-seek?. The effects of CMC on collective mobilization depend on the nature of events, participants? available resources, the structure and quality of interpersonal relations, community purposes, political grounds and many other factors. To this end, obstacles to social capital accumulation are also discussed, such as authoritarianism, and the ambiguities in community rules.
Appears in Collections:Master's Theses (Open)

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