On-line networks, social capital and social integration: a case study of on-line communities in Malaysia.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
In 1996, Malaysia developed a national ICT policy intending to establish on-line community networks amongst all citizens as part of the agenda to prepare the nation to become a mainstream knowledge-based society and economy. As a country that has historically experienced uneasy tension between inter-ethnic social relationships, this research seeks to explore whether on-line social networking affects the forms of social capital and social integration found amongst diverse on-line ethnic communities (Malay, Chinese and Indian) in Malaysia. Six on-line communities were selected as case studies and the research was carried out in two stages. The first stage involved interviewing three different groups of participants: on-line community administrators, Government representatives and the general public; the second stage was a web-based survey of on-line participants. The findings suggest that the six selected on-line communities in this study show great potential for enhancing social networks and social capital across all members of different ethnicities. However, these are not significant enough to create social integration across all ethnic communities. Instead, three different trends of bonding and bridging social capital emerged across the six selected on-line communities. The first trend shows bridging social capital throughout both on-line and off-line activities in MalaysiaMAYA.com (social networking site), SARA (residential-based) and FamilyPlace.com (parenting and children). The second trend indicates that bridging networks were limited to on-line communication as seen in both residentially-based communities (USJ Subang Jaya and PJNet). In contrast, VirtualFriends.net (social networking site) only demonstrates bonding social capital developed in both on-line and off-line social networking. Considering these diverse patterns, it is argued that transferring bridging social capital from an on-line medium to an off-line medium is challenging. Factors of cultural capital such as language use and cultural and religious observations have been highlighted as significant in shaping community networking patterns. Overall, the issue of ethnic integration in the context of on-line communities in Malaysia remains, at best, a challenging factor for the formation of on-line/ off-line social capital.