Psychological Sense of Community in Virtual Communities

Psychological Sense of Community in Virtual Communities

Lynne D. Roberts (University of Western Australia, Australia), Leigh M. Smith (Curtin University of Technology, Australia) and Clare M. Pollock (Curtin University of Technology, Australia)
Copyright: © 2006 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-563-4.ch075
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Sense of community has traditionally been associated with groupings of people from geographical locations (e.g., villages, suburbs, towns, and cities). Community psychologists have reported a growing disillusionment amongst people in their search for a sense of community and community values in these place-based communities (Dunham, 1977, 1986; Glynn, 1986; Sarason, 1974). Sarason (1974) stated his belief that “the dilution or absence of the psychological sense of community is the most destructive dynamic in the lives of people in our society” (p. viii). The concept of sense of community has been expanded from place-based (“locational”) communities to include communities of interest (“relational” communities) (Bess, Fisher, Sonn, & Bishop, 2002). A recent reconceptualisation of the sense of community concept proposes that each individual may experience varying degrees of sense of community in a range of locational and relational communities, rather than within a single community (Brodsky, Loomis, & Marx, 2002). The potential for relational communities has greatly increased with the widespread adoption of the Internet, enabling the grouping of individuals with common interests that is not dependent upon the geographical location of participants. A range of virtual environments have been referred to as virtual communities. These include newsgroups, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), and Multi-User Dimensions (MUDs) (Baym, 1995; Clodius, 1997; Hampton, 1996; Patterson, 1996; Phillips, 1996; Reid, 1991, 1995). Each of these environments meets the four minimal conditions for virtual communities outlined by Jones (1997): interactive communication, a minimum of three communicators, a common public space for interaction, and ongoing members. These virtual communities, based on shared interests rather than shared locations, are accessed by computer-mediated communication (Little, 1993; Wellman & Gulia, 1999) and are evidenced by shared norms, values and practices (Tepper, 1996; Watson, 1997). Over the last decade, research into virtual communities has suggested that at least some individuals are experiencing a sense of community within the virtual environments of their choice. Sense of community has been reported in IRC (Roberts, Smith, & Pollock, 1997; Surratt, 1996), MUDs (Clodius, 1997; Hampton, 1996; Roberts, Smith, & Pollock 2002), e-mail discussion groups (Kot, 1999), bulletin boards (Dunham, Hurshman, Litwin, Gusella, Ellsworth, & Dodd, 1998), computer-supported distance learning programs (Haythornthwaite, Kazmer, & Robins, 2000), online support groups (Glasser Das, 1999) and newsgroups (Baym, 1995; Blanchard & Markus, 2002; Phillips, 1996; Watson, 1997).

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