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Title: The use of actor-network theory and a practice-based approach to understand online community participation
Author: Rivera, Gibran
ISNI:       0000 0004 2738 1827
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2013
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Participation in online communities is problematic. Take up of community technologies is often patchy and subject to resistance, particularly in organisational settings. Previous literature, mainly influenced by a cognitive tradition, tends to explain this either through features of the technology such as interface design or through individual motivational structures. This study explores the insights Actor-Network Theory (Callon, 1986; Latour, 1986; Law, 1986c; Law, 1986b; Law, 1992) and a practice-based approach (Gherardi, 2000; Orlikowski, 2002; Reckwitz, 2002; Schatzki, 2002; Nicolini et al., 2003; Schatzki, 2005; Gherardi, 2009b; Feldman and Orlikowski, 2011; Nicolini, 2011; Cox, 2012) provide to more fully explain participation in online communities. The study focuses on the failure to establish an online community supported by a collaborative technology as part of a Human Resources project within a multi-campus University in Mexico. A range of methods for data collection were used, however semi-structured interviews were the main basis for analysis. Initially, analysing communication activity in the community showed low levels of participation, leading to conduct 30 interviews with actors playing different roles during the project; 17 interviews were conducted in the initial stage of the study and 13 interviews in the final stage. Work-related documentation and observation in online meetings were also used as sources of data. Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and a practice-based approach (PBA), both members of the praxeological family of theories (Reckwitz, 2002), were used in sequential order to inform the analyses. During the first stage of the research, ANT was used to explore how a group of actors aimed to promote participation in the online community by developing different strategies to enrol the collaborative technology supporting participation into their network. By strengthening the relations between the collaborative technology and other relevant actors within the network participation was expected to occur. The analysis reveals that lack of participation arose from an inability of the technology to develop strong relations with key actors; processes of betrayal from human actors to the technology; failure of strategies and lack of political power from the actors sponsoring the community; incomplete internal translation of the technology; and existence of competing actors. In the second stage of the research, insights from PBA were used to further explore how pre-existing practices shaped participation in the online community. This analysis showed that factors shaping participation included the interconnection of HR practices to other practices of the University; the existence of habits and the sense of routinisation and habituation reflected in HR practitioners´ patterns of interaction and media use; the concern of practitioners that participation in the online community did not support the enactment of shared knowings critical in the performance of HR practices; and the features of HR practices being at odds with participation at the online community. Although offering distinct accounts, the findings of ANT and PBA offered two perspectives that deepen our current understanding of participation by foregrounding the relational and collective, historical and emergent, and highly contextualised character of participation. On the basis of the findings, the study provides a series of considerations that might be of relevance when conducing praxeological research to study organisational phenomena. Bringing power issues to the fore of the analysis, the use of alternative approaches to better deal with power concerns, the use of ethnographic methods, the adoption of different angles from observation, acknowledging the emergent and historically-shaped character of phenomena, and the need to foreground the socio-material character of phenomena are highlighted as relevant considerations.
Supervisor: Cox, Andrew Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available