Thesis: Laura Hamilton Thompson's Community Network Study

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¶ … Laura Hamilton Thompson's Community Network Study

Can the creation of community networks enhance social capital in rural Scotland?

Laura Hamilton Thompson embarked upon a study of the impact of technology in rural Scotland to answer the question: can the creation of community networks, such as Internet meeting-places or bulletin boards, enhance social capital in rural Scotland? Thompson's original research question is impressively far-reaching in its scope and could have had the potential to provide insight into the ways the Internet can positively impact and enrich the lives of people living in remote areas. Yet even reading the introduction to Thompson's methodology reveals her relatively narrow range of sources and the limited duration of time devoted to accumulating her information about a long-range problem. Thus, although her defense of her combining of qualitative and quantitative methods may be eloquent, her actual practice does not seem to support her weighty claim and central thesis.

Thompson specifically examines the impact of community message boards, which were already widely popular across the Internet when she began her research. She wished to see how they can promote community spirit in remote areas, not simply to disseminate information to tourists about quaint and picturesque sites. Rural community web sites often reveal the area's climate, location, population, employment, and accommodations, but they can also host other information more useful to locals. Some sites post news everyday, others provide message boards with user-generated content.

Thompson could have created a more specific research question, such as if community boards that use interactive components create greater social cohesion than those sites that merely post local news and weather. She could have compared community participation off-line in communities that use such message boards, versus communities without web pages, or communities with web pages that only disseminate data mainly of interest to tourists, such as hotels in the area. This would have better addressed her subsidiary research questions including: can new technologies be employed to enhance communities -- if so, what kind? What do community networks provide, and who uses these networks -- how do these provisions translate into specific, measurable changes in community behavior? To what extent can the use of community networks create social capital in rural communities -- to answer this question one must do preliminary research into what kind of social capital is lacking in these communities?

Thompson makes a convincing, but wholly theoretical case for the utility of multiple research methods, including her choice of using both qualitative as well as quantitative data. For a research study attempting to address issues of social cohesion, combining anecdotal data with statistics seems sound. Yet the specific methods used by Thompson did not maximize the potential of either quantitative or qualitative data to provide accurate results to support her main thesis, and certainly not the subsidiary parts of her thesis. First of all, Thompson only selected one community to support her sweeping thesis statement. She admitted in her introductory section that she began researching community networks by searching the Internet, rather than looking in the real world for communities that might be of interest to her study. She found only a single town that had a community network she deemed worthy of study.

She selected the 'Caithness Community Web Pages' because she deemed it to be the most sophisticated example of community networking, simply from what she saw online. First of all, this sophistication indicates that this rural community may not be representative of most rural Scottish communities as an overall case study. Also, to select the community from the web, rather than from 'the real world' means that she began with no sense of how the community functioned before it went 'online.' Thompson defines a positive sense of community as a society reinforced by the principles of unity, intimacy, shared morals, and freedom of expression in real life, but the cause of the supposed greater community sensibility she found in her research was not necessarily generated by the community page itself, as she has little data about the community before the community network was created. Rather, a more cohesive community might be more likely to create such a message board-bearing page. and, as most of her research was conducted online, without referring to the community's functionality off-line, a more cohesive community online does not necessarily mean that it is a more cohesive community in real life. Can a positive community that only exists on the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Laura Hamilton Thompson's Community Network Study.  (2007, August 27).  Retrieved October 21, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Laura Hamilton Thompson's Community Network Study."  27 August 2007.  Web.  21 October 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Laura Hamilton Thompson's Community Network Study."  August 27, 2007.  Accessed October 21, 2019.