Sociocognitive Inquiry

Sociocognitive Inquiry

Brian R. Gaines (University of Victoria, Canada) and Mildred L. G. Shaw (University of Calgary, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-513-7.ch003
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Abstract

This chapter describes techniques for sociocognitive inquiry based on conceptual grid elicitation and analysis using web-based tools, such as WebGrid, which are designed to elicit conceptual models from those participating in a networked community. These techniques provide an interactive web-based experience with immediate payback from online graphic analysis, that provides an attractive alternative to, or component of, conventional web-based surveys. In particular, they support targeted follow-up studies based on passive data mining of the by-products of web-based community activities, allowing the phenomena modeled through data mining to be investigated in greater depth. The foundations in cognitive sociology and psychology are briefly surveyed, a case study is provided to illustrate how web-based conceptual modeling services can be customized to integrate with a social networking site and support a focused study, and the implications for future research are discussed.
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Background

Empirical study of social networks has been based primarily on behavioral data, on observing what and how members of a community are interacting. However social action also has cognitive connotations of being interpreted as meaningful. For example, Weber (1968, p.4) defines action as human behavior to which the acting individual attaches subjective meaning, and social action as that whose subjective meaning takes account of the behavior of others. Weber’s definition captures the cognitive aspects constitutive of all social interaction, but is not in itself sufficient to guarantee that the interaction will take place in the context of a social group or community. One person could be acting socially with respect to one or more others, without those others being aware of it, attributing similar meaning, or reciprocating.

Gilbert (1992, p.153) captured the essential cognitive nature of social interaction in a community, drawing upon Simmel’s (1910, p.374) notion that members’ consciousness of being a unity is what constitutes that unity, and proposing that “We refers to a set of people each of whom shares, with oneself, in some action, belief, attitude, or other such attribute.” That is cognitive commonality is constitutive of a social group or community. Again, the commonality does not guarantee the existence of the social group—there could be commonality among people who have never met but share a culture—but is what constitutes the meaning of membership to those in a social group or community.

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