Online Networks can Support the Rise of Virtual Leaders: An Actor-Network Theory Analysis

Online Networks can Support the Rise of Virtual Leaders: An Actor-Network Theory Analysis

Annick Janson (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-958-8.ch014

Abstract

The actor network theory (ANT) as first proponed by Latour (1984) describes the emergence of sociotechnical systems through interaction patterns between network participants as a means of harnessing technological and human factors. This research extended ANT to investigate how self-selected leaders spontaneously emerged in a virtual environment, using the online medium to gain legitimacy and coverage. Thematic analysis of online postings and interviews outlined how participants: 1) tested and developed virtual leadership competencies for the first time; 2) seized the opportunity to raise their personal profile even when geographically isolated; 3) made purposeful process and content contributions and; 4) developed online networking competencies. Since emergent leadership is simultaneously enabling of and enabled by acts of virtual communication, it is important for organisations to learn to identify virtual leaders. Virtual leaders may rise and contribute to the organisation through communication channels other than those typically used by conventional leaders – hence potentially requiring a different set of communication and network building skills.
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Introduction

This research investigated how self-selected leaders spontaneously emerged in a virtual environment using the online medium to gain legitimacy and coverage. While conventional leadership has been studied extensively, ‘virtual leadership’ is a novel phenomenon, developing alongside technology. The questions of how virtual environments may be used to grow constructive participation, and the motives for so doing, are increasing in significance for a broad range of contexts. This research extends the Actor-Network Theory (ANT) proponed by Latour (1987) to account for virtual network development and describe the online behaviours of their actors. This chapter aims to characterize how ANT processes may be ‘virtualised’. The virtual leadership building model is proposed to explain how these processes were carried out, and collaboration and trust fostered early on in online relationships. The chapter also illustrates what the contribution of technology may be in facilitating the development of novel types of leadership.

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