Online communities and social networks : an ethnographic study of a Thai fan community
This thesis investigates how the social networks of Thai fans can be expanded through participation in an online community. We examine not only practices within online communities and social networks, but also broader contexts of the Internet which include fandom. Examining a Thai case illustrates how the use of the Internet is influenced by local contexts and cultures. Thai cultural values are used to explain the online social interactions of the Thai people. An online community of fans of the Thai novel, Petchprauma is selected for study. This community represents a ‘critical case’, where theoretical ideas concerning a decentralised role of the Internet, online fandom and relationships can be studied. This research was conducted using an ethnographic approach. The key methods comprised of non-participant observation, participant observation, textual analysis, and face-to-face interviews. This approach involved intensive participation as a Petchprauma fan both within the online and offline environments of the case study. The data collected from these different viewpoints was triangulated in order to ensure the validity, reliability and consistency of the research findings. This thesis argues that fans can expand their social networks through participation in on and offline activities. However, the degree of social network expansion is dependent on the fans’ positions in the hierarchical structure within the community. The difference in status of the community’s members results from the members’ levels of participations and personal characteristics. This finding also reflects the influential role of the Internet as social technology and as part of people’s daily lives, and as decentralised medium. The original contribution of this thesis is not only the study of the empirical data which provides original information for Thailand where there are a limited number of Internet studies, but also the use of particular analytical tools. Additionally, this thesis examines factors that contribute to different social status within online fan communities to explain the different degrees of social networks expansion of fans.