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This study involves a content analysis of participation and contributions within a virtual community message board. Research focuses on evaluating virtual communities as egalitarian societies and determining what benefits group members receive from participating in and contributing to these communities. Two message board virtual communities were selected for analysis using the methodological approach of netnography. Though many past studies have labeled virtual communities as egalitarian, no clear application of the social structure theory has been applied and analyzed against such a community; this study aims to fix that and identifies key components of egalitarian societies present in virtual communities. Furthermore, through extensive analysis of the messages posted to the virtual communities, the benefits that users gain from participating and contributing are highlighted, specifically identity expression, expertise, advice, emotional and social support, and activist calls for action.
In an effort to better understand self-emerging virtual communities, this study ventures into areas of study that have remained virtually untouched, despite the heavy presence of virtual communities on the Internet today. This research provides a unique contribution to the field of anthropology in that it utilizes elements of social structure theory to classify and analyze the organization of virtual communities, thereby ultimately showcasing that virtual communities function as a social system with a defined social organization. This organization most closely resembles the social attributes found in traditional egalitarian societies.
Adviser: Raymond Hames