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Investigating the Role of Identities and Opinion Leadership on Risk Information Seeking and Sharing about Proposed Natural Gas Drilling in New York’s Marcellus Shale
Unformatted Document Text:  9 person identity would influence the meanings held in one’s role and social identities” (Burke & Stets, 2009, p. 126), and “people choose roles and groups that provide opportunities to verify their person identity” (Burke, 2004, p. 11). The fact that opinion leadership is a quality both recognized by the self and others with whom one interacts suggests that it can be considered a salient identity. The proposed framework also suggests that it functions as a “master” identity because it is activated and relevant across contexts. One may see oneself as a leader because of a social position (i.e., a landowner, community member), membership in a social group (i.e., belonging to a town council), possessing certain traits (i.e., the type of person who is knowledgeable), or a combination of these reasons. This conceptualization departs from research that defines opinion leaders on the basis of who they are (i.e., personal characteristics) and what they do (i.e., positioning with networks) (Weimann, Tustin, van Vuuren, & Joubert, 2007). It is argued that opinion leadership is an amalgamation of different meanings and expectations tied to different identity contexts that (1) guide how people negotiate a complex risk information environment about (in this case) natural gas drilling impacts and (2) provide insight into the development of these behaviors over time. This proposition diverges somewhat from identity theory, in that the focus is not on multiple identities across multiple contexts, but one identity in multiple contexts. It also pushes research beyond the (obvious) finding that opinion leadership is a positive predictor of communication behavior (Weimann et al., 2007). The process operates as follows. First, identity-related meaning in the context of communication behavior perceived personal obligation and social pressure to remain informed (Griffin et al., 1999). Both build on a rich literature on social norms (Reno, Cialdini, & Kallgren, 1993). Second, opinion leaders are more likely to perceive a salient norm to remain informed about particular impacts gas drilling. These norms function as an “input” (personal expectations of conduct). Third, the contexts in

Authors: Clarke, Chris.
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person identity would influence the meanings held in one’s role and social identities” (Burke & 
Stets, 2009, p. 126), and “people choose roles and groups that provide opportunities to verify 
their person identity” (Burke, 2004, p. 11). The fact that opinion leadership is a quality both 
recognized by the self and others with whom one interacts suggests that it can be considered a 
salient identity. The proposed framework also suggests that it functions as a “master” identity 
because it is activated and relevant across contexts. One may see oneself as a leader because of a 
social position (i.e., a landowner, community member), membership in a social group (i.e., 
belonging to a town council), possessing certain traits (i.e., the type of person who is 
knowledgeable), or a combination of these reasons. This conceptualization departs from research 
that defines opinion leaders on the basis of who they are (i.e., personal characteristics) and what 
they do (i.e., positioning with networks) (Weimann, Tustin, van Vuuren, & Joubert, 2007). 
It is argued that opinion leadership is an amalgamation of different meanings and expectations 
tied to different identity contexts that (1) guide how people negotiate a complex risk information 
environment about (in this case) natural gas drilling impacts and (2) provide insight into the 
development of these behaviors over time. This proposition diverges somewhat from identity 
theory, in that the focus is not on multiple identities across multiple contexts, but one identity in 
multiple contexts. It also pushes research beyond the (obvious) finding that opinion leadership is 
a positive predictor of communication behavior (Weimann et al., 2007). The process operates as 
follows. First, identity-related meaning in the context of communication behavior perceived 
personal obligation and social pressure to remain informed (Griffin et al., 1999). Both build on a 
rich literature on social norms (Reno, Cialdini, & Kallgren, 1993). Second, opinion leaders are 
more likely to perceive a salient norm to remain informed about particular impacts gas drilling. 
These norms function as an “input” (personal expectations of conduct). Third, the contexts in 


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