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A Study of New Communication Technologies and Civic Engagement : A Time to Reconceptualize the Research Constructs?
Unformatted Document Text:  16 More importantly, it remains to be seen whether social capital is to be used as a causal theory or simply to label social networks and norms; the former would imply that social and political institutions have their bases in the process of socialization of individuals into cooperative behavior (Skocpol & Fiorina 1999). In addition, some scholars (Fiorina 1999; Putnam 2000) have raised the issue of negative effects of social capital like conformity, group division and polarization. Indeed, social psychologists have shown that being a member of a group brings in a completely new set of issues such as obedience to authority, conformity, ingroup/outgroup prejudice, risky shifts, groups polarization, etc. Moreover, unlike social capital theorists, they can back up their claims by almost half of century of experimental research clearly demonstrating that a mere group membership (even fictitious) is causally connected with some of the ills of our society. As a vivid illustration, we should be reminded that psychological research into group behavior was largely inspired by the events of WWII and Nazism. Finally, going back to political science, rational-choice scholars like Fiorina (1999) argue that civic engagement does not always bring socially optimal results, while institutional scholars dispute the claim that democracy has its roots in social trust, suggesting that it actually came out of organized conflict and distrust between different groups in society (Skocpol 1999). Given all that, it is evident that social capital approach is in great need of better and more precise conceptualization. Present-day concepts of social capital are especially problematic when researchers are trying to investigate the impact of new media technologies on political participation, as traditional measures do not fully capture the

Authors: Skoric, Marko.
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16
More importantly, it remains to be seen whether social capital is to be used as a
causal theory or simply to label social networks and norms; the former would imply that
social and political institutions have their bases in the process of socialization of
individuals into cooperative behavior (Skocpol & Fiorina 1999). In addition, some
scholars (Fiorina 1999; Putnam 2000) have raised the issue of negative effects of social
capital like conformity, group division and polarization. Indeed, social psychologists
have shown that being a member of a group brings in a completely new set of issues such
as obedience to authority, conformity, ingroup/outgroup prejudice, risky shifts, groups
polarization, etc. Moreover, unlike social capital theorists, they can back up their claims
by almost half of century of experimental research clearly demonstrating that a mere
group membership (even fictitious) is causally connected with some of the ills of our
society. As a vivid illustration, we should be reminded that psychological research into
group behavior was largely inspired by the events of WWII and Nazism.
Finally, going back to political science, rational-choice scholars like Fiorina
(1999) argue that civic engagement does not always bring socially optimal results, while
institutional scholars dispute the claim that democracy has its roots in social trust,
suggesting that it actually came out of organized conflict and distrust between different
groups in society (Skocpol 1999).
Given all that, it is evident that social capital approach is in great need of better
and more precise conceptualization. Present-day concepts of social capital are especially
problematic when researchers are trying to investigate the impact of new media
technologies on political participation, as traditional measures do not fully capture the


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