Virtual Ties, Perceptible Reciprocity, and Real-Life Gratifications in Online Community Networks: A Study of QQ User Groups in China

Virtual Ties, Perceptible Reciprocity, and Real-Life Gratifications in Online Community Networks: A Study of QQ User Groups in China

Zixue Tai (University of Kentucky, USA) and Xiaolong Liu (Guangdong Pharmaceutical University, China)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9899-4.ch009
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QQ has been a leading force of China's social media revolution both in terms of its user reach and its socio-cultural impact. This chapter offers an analysis of QQ groups based on semi-structured in-depth interviews of 33 users with a particular emphasis on participants' rationales, motivations, and communicative behaviors as displayed in different types of groups. This is accomplished through interrogating a multiple set of individual, collective, social, and contextual factors that shape group dynamics and individual participation. It also discusses the implications of the findings for the scholarship on online communities in general, and the understanding of Chinese online groups in particular.
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Review Of The Literature: Social Support And Collaborative Action Through Virtual Communities

The human desire for social bonds and interpersonal relationships has been of perennial interest to various disciplines in the social science tradition. In their seminal article aptly titled “The Need to Belong,” Baumeister and Leary (1995) suggest that “human beings have a pervasive drive to form and maintain at least a minimum quantity of lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationships” (p. 497). As Baumeister and Leary point out, this basic drive can be met by two criteria: first, we need “frequent personal contacts or interactions” with others; second, the relationship or personal bond must be marked by “stability, affective concern, and continuation into the foreseeable future” (p. 500).

Besides primordial networks (e.g., family), the basic need for social connections manifests itself in the human hunger for variegated groups and community-oriented affiliations in social life. It is no surprise that the role of community for fulfilling human values and development has garnered considerable interest in social theories from classic writers such as Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Simmel to present-day intellectual thinkers. Traditionally, community sentiment has been conceptualized in terms of attachment to place (Hummon, 1992). Our sense of community, however, does not need to be locale-bound. Gusfield (1975) noted two prevalent usages of the term “community”: one is territorial in nature and is rooted in “location, physical territory, and geographical continuity” (p. xv), and the other is relational in essence, focusing on “the quality or character of human relationships, without reference to location” (p. xvi). People grouped together based on spiritual orientations, professional followings, and personal interests, therefore, can be understood as particular types of relational communities. Indeed, as Durkheim (1984) and Parsons (1951) observed, more communities develop based on professional skills and personal interests than on geographic boundaries in modern societies. As will be highlighted later, this point is of particular relevance in scholarly contemplations on online communities.

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