Home Cyberpsychology & Technology Online Fandoms Offer Greater Sense of Belonging and Social Capital, Study Finds

Online Fandoms Offer Greater Sense of Belonging and Social Capital, Study Finds

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A recent study by Courtney Smyth at the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design, and Technology has revealed important insights into the sense of belonging and social capital among online fandom communities as compared to offline communities. The research, which focused on four different online fandom groups – TV shows, music, books, and YouTubers – revealed that members of online fandoms experience a greater sense of belonging and higher levels of social capital than those engaged in offline communities. The findings were published in the journal 

The study utilised a quasi-experimental design, recruiting 106 participants from various online platforms such as Twitter, Tumblr, and dedicated fandom forums. Participants were divided into four fandom categories: music, YouTubers, books, and TV shows. The research aimed to compare the sense of belonging and social capital in these online fandoms with that of offline communities using the Internet Social Capital Scale (ISCS) and the Sense of Community Index (SCI-2) .

One of the primary hypotheses of the study was that participants would exhibit different levels of belonging based on their online fandom. But the results indicated no significant difference in the sense of belonging among the various fandom types tested . Nevertheless, a more critical finding was that participants reported a significantly higher sense of belonging within their online fandoms compared to offline communities. This result aligns with previous research, which highlighted the strong sense of community within fandoms as opposed to local communities.

The study also explored social capital, defined as the networks and relationships that enable society to function effectively. Participants’ social capital scores were significantly higher within online fandoms than in offline communities. This finding suggests that online fandoms facilitate stronger interpersonal connections and community bonds compared to traditional offline settings.

An additional aspect of the research was to investigate the impact of participatory creativity on social capital within fandoms. Participatory creativity includes activities like fan fiction, fan art, and other fan-generated content. Although the study hypothesised that engaging in participatory creativity would lead to higher social capital scores, the results did not support this hypothesis. There was no significant difference in social capital scores based on whether participants engaged in creative activities within their fandoms.

This finding contradicts previous assumptions that participatory creativity would enhance social capital by fostering a sense of status and recognition within the community. The study suggests that while creativity is a valued component of fandom culture, it may not directly influence the overall social capital within these groups.

The findings of this study contribute to the growing body of literature on online communities and fandom culture. The significant difference in sense of belonging and social capital between online and offline communities highlights the unique role that online fandoms play in providing emotional and social support to their members. These results suggest that online fandoms meet certain social and emotional needs that offline communities may not fulfil.

For practitioners and community organisers, these insights can inform strategies to enhance community building and support within both online and offline settings. Understanding the dynamics of online fandoms can also help in designing interventions and programmes that leverage the strengths of these communities to promote social well-being and cohesion.

While the study offers valuable insights, it also acknowledges certain limitations. The sample size was relatively small, and the study relied on self-reported data, which may be subject to bias. Additionally, the research did not account for gender statistics, which could influence the sense of belonging and social capital within fandoms. Future studies could explore the impact of gender, personality types, and the amount of time spent interacting with online versus offline communities to provide a more comprehensive understanding of these dynamics.

Further research is also needed to examine alternative themes and extrinsic motivations that might influence participatory creativity. Identifying these factors could enhance our understanding of what drives engagement in creative activities within fandoms and how these activities contribute to social capital and community building.

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