The social embeddedness of academic online groups as a norm generating structure: A test of the Coleman model on norm emergence

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Abstract

This paper analyzes two questions. First, under which conditions does a norm emerge in academic online groups that prescribes members to help others during group discussions? Second, what effects does such a norm, and other social conditions, have on the contributing behavior of researchers during online discussions? It is argued that the Coleman model (1990) on the emergence of norms points to an important condition that facilitates the realization of such a norm. According to the Coleman model (1990) a dense network among members of a group tends to strengthen a group norm. The paper makes a distinction between different kinds of academic online groups. The criterion of the distinction is the extent to which within the membership a highly integrated research community exists. An online group with a highly integrated research community is called to have a high degree of social embeddedness of its online communication in offline networks. It is hypothesized that a high degree of embeddedness has a number of effects. A higher degree of embeddedness leads to a stronger help-prescribing norm. The stronger the norm the more researchers send online answers to questions of their co-members during public online discussions. Furthermore, a high degree of embeddedness increases the answering behavior of researchers directly because it provides opportunities to gain reputation within the academic community through contributing to the discussion. The study makes use of data that consist of a combination of survey data and observed data of the communication behavior of researchers in about 50 international academic emailing lists. The results provide evidence for the expected effect of embeddedness on the strength of the norm and for the effect of embeddedness on the answering behavior of researchers. The strength of the help-prescribing norm indirectly influences the answering behavior.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-226
JournalComputational & Mathematical Organization Theory
Volume10
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2004

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