Dienstag, 6. Mai 2014

Sense of Community: Is there a fifth dimensions?

In three papers, Obst et al. [1, 2, 3] published the results of their investigation about the sense of community (SOC). They had asked 359 members of SF fandom attending Aussiecon 3, the 1999 World Science Fiction Convention about the way they feel about the fandom community (a - relational - community of interest with membership from all over the world) and about their neighbourhood (a geographical community). The main research interest was to find out whether McMillan and Chavis' four dimensions of SOC played a role in both community types (relational and geographic) and whether there is a separate fifth factor - conscious ingroup identification. Both assumptions were confirmed by the results.

What is sense of community?
McMillan and Chavis (1986) [4] suggest four dimensions which work together dynamically in order to create and maintain an overall sense of community :
  • Membership: The concept includes emotional safety derived from membership, the sense of belonging and identification with the community, personal investment in the community, leading to stronger bonds, and some kind of common symbol system, which unites a community. These attributes go together in a mutually self-reinforcing way.
  • Influence means a reciprocal relationship between individuals and the community in terms of their impact on one another. Influence is a bi-directional concept, as for a group to be attractive, an individual must feel they have some control and influence over it, while, on the other hand, for a group to be cohesive it must also influence its individual members. McMillan and Chavis (1986) state that pressure of conformity from community members actually comes from the needs of individual members for consensual validation. In turn conformity serves as a force for cohesiveness.
  • Integration and Fulfillment of Needs: Members must perceive the association to the community as rewarding for the individual members (like status of membership, success of the community, and the perceived competence of other members).
  • Shared Emotional Connection: The more people interact, the more likely they are to form close relationships. The more positive this interaction, the stronger the bond developed. 
In 1996 McMillan [5] revisited the theory:
  • Membership was reinterpreted as Spirit, emphasizing friendship and belonging over boundaries.
  • Influence was replaced with Trust, emphasizing the development of community norms leading to order, and the equal distribution of power leading to authority based on principle and clear decision making capacity, all of which allow spirit to grow and flourish.
  • Fulfillment of Needs was replaced with Trade, acknowledging the myriad kinds of rewards individuals gain from belonging to communities. The importance of similarity between members was also highlighted as an important bonding force previously neglected in this dimension.
  • Shared Emotional Connection, was replaced with Art, or collective memories, which McMillan described as stories of shared dramatic moments in which the community shares in common experiences representing the community’s values and traditions. However, the primacy of contact and of quality interaction to emotional connection is again highlighted in McMillan’s reinterpretation.
These dimensions work together to create an overall SOC. Art supports Spirit, Spirit with respected authority becomes Trust, Trust forms the basis of social Trade, and together these elements create a shared history symbolized by Art. In this way, McMillan’s four elements of SOC are linked together in a reinforcing circle.

And the results of Obst et al.?
  • McMillan and Chavis' four dimensions of SOC could be estabished in both communities (SF fandom and neighbourhood).
  • In-group identification was a separate 5th dimension in both community types. These results suggest that separate aspects of identification may relate to different dimensions of SOC. While identification’s more affective components and connection with other members are subsumed within McMillan and Chavis’ theorized dimensions of PSOC, knowledge and awareness of group membership is a separate and important dimension, not included within the SCI.
  • Furthermore, participants reported higher levels of global SOC with fandom than with their geographical communities, a pattern that also emerged across all factors separately. This may be due to the fact that members choose to belong to such communities and are drawn together through a common interest. In the present study this finding is of particular significance, as SF fandom operates on an international basis with fewer geographical connections than in many other relational communities. However, this study is limited in making stronger conclusions in relation to this finding, as participants were in a fannish context (a SF convention) rather than in their local neighborhood. Replication of this research is needed with data collected in a more neutral context.
  • All five dimensions were significant predictors of overall sense of community in both community types.
    • Conscious identification with fandom emerged as the strongest predictor, while in the neighborhood setting it was the weakest predictor. 
    • Belonging was a strong predictor in both communities. This suggests that belonging is an important dimension of sense of community in whatever context we are examining. 
    • Identification, however, seems to be more important in the communities to which we choose to belong than in those communities which we may have made a less conscious decision to join. 
    • Influence was an important predictor in geographical communities, however not at all important in the interest community. This may again be due to the element of perceived choice. If you choose to belong to an association due to common interest the need for influence over that association may be less than the need to feel some control or influence over the area in which you live.

[1] Obst, P., Zinkiewicz, L., & Smith, S. G. (2002). Sense of community in science fiction fandom, Part 1: Understanding sense of community in an international community of interest. Journal of Community Psychology, 30(1), 87-103. Google Scholar.

[2] Obst, P., Zinkiewicz, L., & Smith, S. G. (2002). Sense of community in science fiction fandom, Part 2: Comparing neighborhood and interest group sense of community. Journal of Community Psychology, 30(1), 105-117. Google Scholar.

[3] Obst, P., Smith, S. G., & Zinkiewicz, L. (2002). An exploration of sense of community, Part 3: Dimensions and predictors of psychological sense of community in geographical communities. Journal of Community Psychology, 30(1), 119-133. Google Scholar.

Obst, P. (2004) Community Connections: Psychological sense of community and identifcation in geographical and relational settings. Thesis. Retrieved March 14, 2014 from http://eprints.qut.edu.au/15971/1/Patricia_Obst_Thesis.pdf

[4] McMillan, D., & Chavis, D. (1986). Sense of community: A definition and theory. Journal of Community Psychology, 14, 6-23. Google Scholar.

[5] McMillan, D. (1996). Sense of community. Journal of Community Psychology, 24, 315-325. Google Scholar.

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