The Emergence of Agency in Online Social Networks

The Emergence of Agency in Online Social Networks

Jillianne R. Code (Simon Fraser University, Canada) and Nicholas E. Zaparyniuk (Simon Fraser University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-208-4.ch008
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Abstract

Social and group interactions in online and virtual communities develop and evolve from expressions of human agency. The exploration of the emergence of agency in social situations is of critical importance to understanding the psychology of agency and group interactions in social networks. This chapter explores how agency emerges from social interactions, how this emergence influences the development of social networks, and the role of social software’s potential as a powerful tool for educational purposes. Practical implications of agency as an emergent property within social networks provide a psychological framework that forms the basis for pedagogy of social interactivity. This chapter identifies and discusses the psychological processes necessary for the development of agency and to further understanding of individual’s engagement in online interactions for socialization and learning.
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Introduction

Social and group interactions in online and virtual communities develop and evolve from expressions of human agency. Agency is the capability of individuals to consciously choose, influence, and structure their actions (Emirbayer & Mische, 1998; Gecas, 2003) and is an active exercise of ability and will. The ways in which individuals express agency are associated with their motivational orientation, intentionality, and choice (volition), and relates to their ability to engage these characteristics in social contexts to achieve their goals. As agents, individuals formulate intentions, execute decisions, and produce motivation in an effort to communicate. Understanding how agency develops and emerges within social networks is a key factor in identifying why online social networks develop and how they influence individual processes such as cognition, motivation, behavior, and ultimately learning.

The exploration of the emergence of agency in social situations is of critical importance to understanding the psychology of agency and group interactions in social networks. Research in social psychology provides a context in which to investigate the psychological effects of online social software as it relates to motivation (see Ryan & Deci, 2000), interactions within the social networks (see Thompson & Fine, 1999), and how individuals vary in their ability to express agency (see Martin, 2003, 2004).

Agency emerges out of interactions and goal directed activities within social networks. Similarly, social networks emerge through the interactions and characteristics of agents support their formation, development, and evolution. Socially situated emergent properties of agency and social networks connect them as a dynamic complex system. Social software is software that “supports, extends, or derives added value from human social behavior” (for a review see boyd, 2007; Coates, 2005). Online friendship websites, massively multiplayer online games, and social groupware, such as Facebook (2008), MySpace (2008), Bebo (2008), and Second Life (Linden Research Inc., 2008) provide frameworks in which social dynamics can mediate the development of agency within social networks.

The purpose of this chapter is to introduce the concept of agency as it relates to the formation, development, and evolution of social networks. This chapter explores how agency emerges from social interactions, how this emergence influences the development of social networks, and the potential role of social software as a tool with educational applications. Practical implications of agency as an ability to engage within social networks provides a psychological framework that forms the basis for a pedagogy of social interactivity. This chapter discusses the psychological processes necessary for the development of agency, how these processes affect an individual’s engagement in online interactions for both socialization and learning, and how social software such as Facebook (2008), MySpace (2008), Bebo (2008), and Second Life (Linden Research Inc., 2008) can be used in educational contexts. As agency directly affects how an individual understands their various roles, beliefs, and decisions in social contexts, there are far reaching implications for social software as an educational tool.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Locus of Control: A belief in the causal relationship between’s one own behavior and that of an outcome affects a range of choices an individual makes (Lefcourt, 1966; Rotter, 1966).

Social Software: Software which “supports, extends, or derives added value from human social behavior” (Coates, 2005).

Volition: A “post-decisional, self-regulatory processes that energize[s] the maintenance and enactment of intended actions” (Kuhl, 1985, p. 90).

Knowledge-Building Environments (KBES): Environments that “enhance collaborative efforts to create and continually improve ideas” (Scardamalia, 2004).

Agency: The capability of individuals to consciously choose, influence, and structure their actions (Emirbayer & Mische, 1998; Gecas, 2003) and is an exercise of ability and will through action.

Communities of Practice: Involve groups of people who share concerns, problems, and passions about a topic, and who choose to interact to deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis (Wenger et al., 2002).

Self-Efficacy: A belief in one’s capability to succeed at a given task (Bandura, 1997).

Emergence: From an ontological perspective is a non-reducible phenomenon. Meaning, that if a construct is emergent it has several component parts but is irreducible with respect to them (Martin, 2003; O’Connor & Wong, 2002).

Cultural Tools: Mediate higher-order mental processes such as reasoning and problem solving (Vygotsky, 1962, 1978). Cultural tools include both technical tools such as books, media, computers, and social software, and psychological tools such as language, signs, writing, and symbols.

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