In 48 hours, my dissertation final draft will be done and I’ll ship this thing out to my committee before my July 16 defense date. I’m exhausted from too many 15-hour days, but I sometimes marvel at the stamina I’ve acquired for research in graduate school.
I’ll wait to post a full abstract until this thing is fully defended, because I’m always a little nervous about putting the cart before the horse. But real briefly, I’ll say what it’s about. I surveyed a bunch of online community users of various types and over various sites to get a sense of their social ties. I tapped into ideas of social capital first theorized by Pierre Bourdieu and made famous by Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone.
The basic idea is that the thickness and the extension of peoples’ social networks is a powerful predictor of how we help one another and get involved in everyday civic life, types of engagment that span from voting to the reciprocity that comes with giving money to a friend in need.
Typically researchers measure offline social capital (offline ties for real-world local benefit) and online social capital (ties formed online for real-world local benefit). I measured those two as well as a third new variable I’ve created called virtual social capital, which measures online ties created for non-local beneft (I’m calling it Distance Engagement).
The one thing I can say so far is my created variable works big time as a distinct way of measuring online ties. So I’m thrilled about that.
But I’ve found some other stuff related to motivations for using online communities, social bonds, and the forms of engagement. I’ll save those results for later, save this teaser: social media doesn’t do squat for local engagement as a general predictor across all different types of sites, but it does surprising things for online forms of activism and helping. And the motivations/needs people bring to their media use is very important in determining how this all works. Viva la Media Choice Model!
Anyhow, 48 hours and I’ll send this thing out. Defense in 11 days, yikes!