Integrating Social Capital, Impression Management, and Privacy

At this time, my dissertation looks to involve the integration of theories and frameworks related to social capital, impression management, and privacy. Impression management is the easiest theory for me to deal with because I have a strong attraction to Goffman’s dramaturgical framework. While I know that his is not the only framework or theory relating to impression management, at this point in time, it is the framework to which I’m attracted. The big three of the social capital world, based on my own readings, include Bourdieu, Coleman, and Putnam. I tend to lean toward Coleman’s definition of social capital only because it is less egocentric; Bourdieu’s definition and explanation is extremely egocentric and Putnam’s views are at a macro level and include large organizations and groups. Privacy research is a grab bag of ideas and theories composed of a variety of definitions and understandings.

I’m attempting to integrate these theories to explain behaviors in the domain of social networking sites (SNS). SNSs are an extremely hot topic in academia and in the popular press. Facebook is pushing 700 million users and Google is now entering the realm with Google+. The SNS environment is an extremely interesting domain to investigate because

    1. SNS such as Facebook have so may users
    2. The computer-mediated environment presents us with different challenges during interactions than face-to-face interaction
    3. It is a relatively new domain of study and has continued to show growth over the past 7+ years
    4. Popular media has made blanket statements regarding interaction, privacy, and safety within the SNS environment that academicians have set out to examine
    5. Web 2.0 technologies have allowed for a variety of media to be transmitted through the SNS frameworks that affect self-presentation, social capital maintenance, and privacy

While the SNS domain is ripe for investigation, I also feel that a successful integration of these theories will be allow us to examine a variety of computer-mediated environments.

So far I’ve explained that I want to integrate impression management, social capital, and privacy theories and frameworks to investigate computer-mediated environments such as SNS. I’ve left out a crucial component… WHAT will I be investigating? This is the ultimate question and what is giving me the hardest time at the moment.

Social Capital

(excerpt from working paper)

From FLICKR @napalm nikki
from FLICKR @napalm nikki's photos

Social capital is a concept that was born from economics and was defined in sociology. Simply put, social capital is a source of power that humans accrue through connections in a social network. Humans are social creatures and thus need to be connected to others in close-knit groups; these connections are two-way investments that are maintained through reciprocal support and investment. Social capital has become “one of the most popular exports from sociological theory into everyday language” (Portes, 1998, p. 2). Bourdieu (1985/2001) was the first in sociology to distinguish social capital as a type of capital in social relations; Bourdieu’s three types of capital are economic capital, cultural capital, and social capital.

Bourdieu defined social capital as “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources that are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition – or in other words, to membership in a group – which provides each of its members with the backing of the collectivity-owned capital, a ‘credential’ that entitles them to credit in the various senses of the word” (Bourdieu, 1985/2001, p. 103). Social capital is not a form of currency in the sense that it is something that can be held and passed from hand to hand as material object, it is a type of value found only through social interaction and is built upon by social connections and affiliations, a commodity traded through trust and appreciation, through expectation of return and investment. Bourdieu goes on to state that the building of a social network presupposes a return of investment, “… the network of relationships is the product of investment strategies, individual or collective, consciously or unconsciously aimed at establishing or reproducing social relationships that are directly usable in the short or long term, that is, at transforming contingent relations, such as those of neighborhood, the workplace, or even kinship, into relationships that are at once necessary and elective, implying durable obligations subjectively felt (feelings of gratitude, respect, friendship, etc.) or institutionally guaranteed (rights)” (Bourdieu, 1985/2001, p. 103).

Social capital can be thought of as a resource derived from social connections with a network of individuals: actors in networks establish and maintain relationships with other actors in the hope that they may benefit in some way from these relationships. The relationships can be tight or they can be weak and this measure can have an impact on the return that an actor derives from either type. These social relationships can result in emotional support, the exchange of information, or mobilization toward a common goal.
Social capital is an extremely popular concept because it simplifies and focuses attention on two components: “First, the concept focuses attention on the positive consequences of sociability while putting aside its less attractive features. Second, it places those positive consequences in the framework of a broader discussion of capital and calls attention to how such non-monetary forms can be important sources of power and influence, like the size of one’s stock holdings or bank account” (Portes, 1998, p. 2). Bourdieu’s treatment of social capital is purely instrumental (ibid, p.3), breaking down the concept into a cost/benefit analysis in which he focuses on the advantages of group participation and the creation of network connections for increasing this advantage. Many other definitions in multiple fields have arisen since Bourdieu’s definition of social capital (Adler & Kwon, 2002).

Because of the variety of definitions (see Adler & Kwon, 2002, and Portes, 1998 for summaries), social capital could be considered a “contentious and slippery term” (Williams, 2006, para 4). Adler & Kwon (2002) categorize 20 social capital definitions into three categories: 1) definitions focusing on internal ties, 2) definitions focusing on external ties, and 3) definitions that focus on both types of ties. Those definitions of social capital focusing on external ties, also called “bridging” forms of social capital, focus primarily on the power of connections between actors in the network. The definitions focusing on internal ties, also called “bonding” forms of social capital, focus primarily on the benefits associated within belonging to a specific group or cluster of actors. The third group does not differentiate between internal or external types of social capital. In response to the argument that social capital isn’t really a resource and should therefore not be called “capital”, Adler & Kwon (2002) justify the term with seven rationale: 1) social capital is a long-lived asset which can be invested in; 2) social capital can be used toward multiple goals and can be exchanged for other types of capital; 3) social capital can substitute for other types of capital; 4) social capital requires maintenance; 5) social capital can be community owned; 6) social capital’s value is not in the individual, it is in the relationship(s); and 7) social capital investment is not easily quantifiable.

Another definition that is prominently cited in the literature is the definition of social capital put forth by Coleman (1988, 1990). Much as Bourdieu before him, Coleman breaks capital into three types: 1) physical capital, 2) human capital, and 3) social capital. Coleman defines social capital by its function stating that “[i]t is not a single entity, but a variety of different entities having two characteristics’ in common: They all consist of some aspect of social structure, and they facilitate certain actions of individuals who are within the structure” (Coleman, 1990, p. 302). Coleman’s definition differs from Bourdieu’s definition in that Coleman’s definition is much more vague and leaves room for multiple interpretations. Portes (1998) notes that Coleman’s vague definition “opened the way for relabeling a number of different and even contradictory processes as social capital” (p. 5). For Coleman, investigation of social capital must include three inquiries: 1) actors cashing in on social capital; 2) actors or groups providing the social capital; and 3) the resources used for social capital. Coleman’s definition was much more influential in American than Bourdieu’s and introduced the concept to American sociology (Portes, 1998).
In addition to Bourdieu and Coleman, Putnam (1995, 2000) added another definition to the growing list of social capital definitions when he released a book entitle Bowling Alone. This book characterized the social capital of American society as declining and garnished much attention from the general public. Putnam defined social capital as “features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit” (Putnam, 1995, p. 67). Putnam’s work expanded the focus from actors’ face-to-face interactions in social networks to internal ties with a society (e.g. America). Putnam argued that social capital would be valuable in fighting many disorders prevalent in today’s society. One of Putnam’s main contributions was the introduction of the distinction between “bridging” and “bonding” social capital. Bridging social capital is characterized by connections between actors in a social network that are used mainly for gathering new information, not emotional support. Bonding social capital, on the other hand, are connections made between actors in a close-knit environment (e.g. family, close friends) and are used for emotional support.

In addition to the concept of social capital, Granovetter (1973) and Lin, et al., (1981) are often cited in the literature for their concepts “strength of weak ties” and “strength of strong ties” accordingly. These concepts refer to the power of the connections between actors in dense social networks. Granovetter, examining employment referral, pointed to the power of indirect connections outside of an actors close social connections in social networks; his idea was interesting because it diverged from the commonsense notion that close connections, e.g. family connections, would be the most effective in a job search. Granovetter defined the strength of a tie as “a (probably linear) combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie” (Granovetter, 1973, p. 1361).
Lin, et al., (1981) focus their investigation on social resources that an actor has within a social network; they define social resources as “the wealth, status, power as well as social ties of those persons who are directly or indirectly linked to the individual” (ibid, p. 395). Lin, et al., like Granovetter, were interested in employment strategies and examined the relationship between a job seeker’s social network ties and the status of the job obtained. Lin, et al., found that as job status increased, the effectiveness of weak ties decreases whereas the effectiveness of strong ties increased. As might be evident, Granovetter’s notion of weak ties is very similar to Putnam’s idea of bridging social capital while Lin, et al., notion of strong ties is similar to Putnam’s idea of bonding social capital.

Outside the arena of information communication technologies (ICT), social capital has been used to study youth behavior problems, families, schooling, public health, education, political action, community, and organizational issues such as job and career success, innovation, supplier relations, to name a few (Adler & Kwon, 2002). As noted by the extent to which social capital has been used, the concept is in a sense a catchall term that captures aspects of social interaction that have been studied through the lens of other concepts.

References Used in the Larger Paper

Adler, P.S., & Kwon, S. (2002). Social capital: Prospects for a new concept. Academy
of Management Preview, 27(1), 17-40.

Bourdieu, P. (1985). The forms of capital. In J. G. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of
theory and research for the sociology of education, 241-258. New York: Greenwood.

Coleman, J. (1988). Social capital in the creation of human capital. American
Journal of Sociology, 94, 95-120.

Coleman, J. (1990). Foundations of Social Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.

Granovetter, M.S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of
Sociology, 78 (6), 1360-1380.

Lin, N., Ensel, W.M., & Vaughn, J.C. (1981). Social resources and strength of ties:
Structural factors in occupational status attainment. American Sociological Review, 46(4), 393-405.

Portes, A. (1998). Social capital: Its origins and applications in modern Sociology.
Annual Review of Sociology, 24, 1-24. Retrieved from on Jan. 03, 2010.

Putnam, R.D. (1995). Bowling alone: America’s declining social capital. Journal of
Democracy, 6(1), 65-78. Retreived Feb 5, 2010 from

Putnam, Robert D. (2000). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American
Community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Williams, D. (2006). On and off the ‘net: Scales for social capital in an online era.
Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(2), article 11. Retrieved from

Heidegger and Schön in Design Discourse

NOTE:  This post is a brief summary of a larger paper in the works…

In an attempt to establish a personal, reflective, and examined intellectual position in relation to design as a professional process of inquiry, thought, and action, I’ve been writing on Heidegger and Schön in design discourse. The position taken here is derived from personal involvement in the areas of human-computer interaction (HCI) and design, field experience as a web professional, and close reflection on discourse from multiple disciplines. Specifically, I have tried to compare and contrast Donald Schön‘s ideas of reflective practice with Martin Heidegger’s concept of circumspection. I am taking an intellectual position toward the practical use of both concepts in future design discourse.

Design discourse has moved from viewing the world as a perfect rationality, to viewing the world as a bounded rationality, to most recently viewing the world as an expandable rationality (Hatchel, 2001). What this means for design theory is a shift in focus from clear, definable problems to more real-world, contextually vague problems. This shift has brought about a new understanding of design by introducing more risk and unpredictability to design understanding. This is in direct contrast to the field of science where the reduction of risk and vagueness is sought. This risk and unpredictability has led those in the field of design to think more about their relationship with the situation, the client, the design of the particular, and how one learns to design. For Donald Schön (1987), relationships like these led to a search for how individuals actually learn and tackle problems they are faced with in context.

Donald  Schön (1987), in his examination of learning, introduced the concept of reflective practice. Reflective practice introduces the concepts of reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action. ­In the field of design, reflection-in-action is based on the idea that a designer should reflect upon each action while engaged in design activity. This leads to an internal dialogue in which the designer constantly investigates why actions were made by separating out objects for investigation, while trying to remain within the overall scope of the design situation. Reflection-on-action, as the name implies, indicates that the designer should think about the design process after the fact. These two aspects of reflective practice focus on expectations and previous knowledge brought to the process by the designer. This practice requires the designer to take objects out of situation in order to compare expectations brought to the process with actual results. Smith noted that reflection-in-action “is sometimes described as ‘thinking on our feet’. It involves looking to our experiences, connecting with our feelings, and attending to our theories in use” (Smith, 2001). The important point of Schön’s reflective practice model I would like to focus on is the idea that in order to reflect on an object, knowledge must be present beforehand in order to facilitate the contemplation required to reflect. As noted by Nielsen (2007), this idea of reflection-in-action is similar to Heidegger’s concept of investigating a tool in the ‘ready-to-hand’ position. When an object, or equipment, is used it tends to fade from conscious thought. However when there is a breakdown or expectations are not met, the equipment becomes our focus of thought. Nielsen argues that Schön’s reflective practice model focuses specifically on this occurrence. Before this can occur, Heidegger (1962) argues that one must allow the equipment to be in relation to the world in order to truly grasp the object as it is. To learn about the object, Heidegger argues that one must first look around (circumspection) and take in the world where the equipment presides before learning can occur.

In Being and Time and The Question Concerning Technology, Heidegger (1962, 1977) asks us to reassess the Western philosophical ideal that a person understands the world through methods of science (Dreyfus, 1991). Heidegger wants us to recognize this fault and shift our focus to a person’s actual activities within the world (being-in the world).  Winograd & Flores (1987) were among the first to call on the phenomenology of Heidegger within the field of HCI. They focused on Heidegger’s view of language and thought in its relation to technology. They hoped to utilize Heideggerian philosophy to improve upon our understanding of interpretation in the contexts of making the implicit become explicit, attacking breakdowns from a practical perspective instead of a theoretical perspective, and stressing that meaning is a social derivation. Since Winograd & Flores, other researchers in both HCI and design have used Heideggarian concepts to explain the phenomenon of interaction through the examination of context (Chalmers, 2004), familiarity (Van de Walle,, 2003), interactive art (Coffin, 2008), artificial intelligence (Agre, 1997), tangible computing (Dourish, 2001), situated action (Suchman, 2007), transparency (Janlert & Stolterman, 1997), and philosophy of technology (Verbeek, 2005), to name just a few. The primary focus for HCI and design researchers has been on the Heideggerian ideas of equipment that moves between the scenarios of presenting as ready-to-hand and present-to-hand.

While these ideas are sometimes very helpful and allow for discussion of interaction and design in new ways, Heidegger’s concept of circumspection is of particular interest in the context of this paper. According to Heidegger (1962), as we move through world scenarios the equipment we encounter and the actions they perform present themselves to us at “varying degrees of explicitness and with a varying circumspective penetration” (ibid, p. 71).  We are constantly performing a dance with equipment and actions phasing between the states of ready-to-hand and present-at-hand. Heidegger noted that through circumspection, one first sees the relationships between equipment before one can see the equipment as things as themselves. By allowing the equipment of interest to be in relation to the situation, only then can people orient themselves to the objects. This process of orienting to an object is practical in nature, not theoretical. Through circumspection we allow the fundamental nature of the object to reveal itself in context, which can include the revealing of rules, purpose, and inspiration that add meaning to the object. In designerly terms, when presented with a design situation the designer must bring together dissimilar equipment in a specific context to allow the individual objects to reveal themselves as intelligible objects that can be understood. It is important to note that through this uncovering of equipment’s being, Heidegger believed there is also a covering; meaning that through uncovering of rules, purpose, and inspiration there is also a covering of rules, purpose, and inspiration that don’t reveal themselves in context. This covering occurs by the very nature of uncovering; for as one assigns ideas and language to an object in order to think about it in a particular situation, one inevitably pushes characteristics of the object away that aren’t relevant to the situation and therefore covers those aspects. Heidegger argued, therefore, that although circumspection is an important component of allowing equipment to be, one can never truly know equipment.

If Schön’s reflective practice model primarily focuses on learning when an object is ready-to-hand, then we must also consider the use of Heidegger’s circumspection for learning as it focuses on learning when an object or equipment is present-to-hand.  While much of Heideggerian philosophy is difficult to comprehend and many of the terms used are specifically German, Heidegger’s notion of circumspection should be considered when discussing the process of learning.  This is particularly true when discussing learning in designerly ways.

In design terms Schön wants the designer to reflect-in-action and reflect-on-action. To do so, the designer is required to understand the context and possess an ability to consciously remove a process, thing, or idea that typically didn’t meet some expectation from a situation and understand what variables led to the particular result. This requires the designer to bring an understanding of the situation, process, or thing to bear on the reflective practice. This understanding is built on inquiry and language, both of which are influenced by prior knowledge. In Schön’s notion of learning, a designer must bring with him or her previous knowledge and the capacity to reflect on a thing as it is happening in context to better understand the thing itself. This prior knowledge will influence the designer’s reflection and thereby influence the situation as a whole.

Heidegger believed that through the uncovering of things, there was also a covering. This is meant to say that by defining and identifying a thing, process, or situation, one also thereby hides aspects of the thing, process, or situation that are not considered as part of the learned definition. Therefore, it would be misleading for a designer to merely reflect on design because the reflection is based on knowledge that has led to the covering of the thing, process, or situation. Another way to view the problem is through Heidegger’s idea of circumspection. As noted earlier, circumspection is the process of looking around, absorbing the situation, and allowing the thing or process to be in relationship to other things or processes in situ. By simply looking around, the designer can understand the object, process, or situation as they present themselves as things that are useful for something. This idea points to the process of learning as that which is revealed to us through use. In Heidegger’s idea of learning, what a designer knows is related to what the designer does and the context in which he or she does it; this knowledge stems not from theories or definitions, but from the way the designer interacts with the world. Heidegger stresses that to know, one must let equipment be in relation to the context where one encounters the equipment.  Knowing is embedded in the use of the equipment and can be discovered by observing relationships, context, and social practice. Schön stresses to know, one must reflect and learn by pulling objects out of context in order to understand why they may or may not have met expectations. These ideas could be construed as two sides of the same coin; Heidegger’s circumspection and Schön’s reflective practice both address opportunities to learn about equipment in context.

The position taken here is derived from HCI and design literature and field experience as a professional designer. This argument has highlighted some key aspects of Donald Schön’s reflective practice and Martin Heidegger’s circumspection and compared and contrasted both concepts to present an argument for both to be considered in future design inquiry.  As design has evolved, numerous theories have been borrowed from other fields in order to help those studying design and those practicing design establish a dialog that can help shed light on ideas and frameworks used to describe the design process.

By focusing on Schön’s idea of reflective practice and Heidegger’s description of circumspection, I hope to continue this dialog between practice and learning by introducing concepts from education and philosophy which can contribute to the designerly way of thinking. Although much has been written on Schön’s reflective practice, Heidegger’s notion of circumspection has largely been ignored. Heidegger has been used in HCI quite often to discuss present-at-hand and ready-to-hand objects in terms of interaction, but his concept of ‘looking around’ to learn has been largely ignored. While Nielsen (2007) has called for similar attention to Heidegger’s concept of circumspection in the field of learning, design has yet to follow suit.  By using both concepts to examine design situations, design academicians and design practitioners can lean on similar vocabulary to create a dialog between discourse and practice that can further design understanding.

References Used in the Larger Paper

Agre, P. (1997). Computation and human experience. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Bødker, S. (2006). When second wave HCI meets third wave challenges [Keynote]. In A. I. Mørch, K. Morgan, T. Bratteteig, G. Ghosh and D. Svanæs (Eds.), Proceedings of the Fourth Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (NordiCHI2006), 1-8.

Chalmers, M. (2004). A historical view of context. Computer supported cooperative work (13)3-4, 223-247.

Coffin, J. (2008). Interactive art, HCI and hermeneutic interpretation. Presented at the Alt.Chi. Session at the SIGCHI Conference on, Florence, Italy, April 5 – 10, 2008.

Cross, N. (1982). Designerly Ways of knowing. Design Studies, 3(4), 221–227.

Cross, N. (2001). Designerly ways of knowing: Design discipline versus design science. Design Studies, 17(3), 49-55.

Dourish, P. (2001) “Being-in-the-world”: Embodied interaction. In Where the action is. The foundations of embodied interaction. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Dreyfus, H.L. (2007). Why Heideggerian AI failed and how fixing it would require making it more Heideggerian. Philosophical Psychology, 20(2), 247–268.

Friedman, K. (2003). Theory construction in design research: Criteria, approaches, and methods. In Design Studies, 24, 507-522.

Harrison, S., Tatar, D. and Sengers, P. (2007) The three paradigms of HCI. Presented at the Alt.Chi. Session at the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems San Jose, California, USA, April 28 – May 03, 2007 CHI ’07.

Hatchuel, A. (2001). Towards design theory and expandable rationality: The unfinished program of Herbert Simon. Journal of Management and Governance, 5(3-4), 260-273.

Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time. (J.Macquarrie & E.Robinson, Trans.). New York: Harper & Row. (Original work published 1927).

Heidegger, M. (1977). The question concerning technology. (W. Lovitt, Trans.). New York: Garland Publishing. (Original work published 1952).

Nelson, H. & Stolterman, E. (2003). The design way – Intentional change in an unpredictable world. Educational Technology Publications.

Nielsen, K. (2007). Aspects of a practical understanding: Heidegger at the workplace. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 51(5), 455–470.

Schön, D. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner [PDF document]. Retrieved from

Smith, M. K. (2001, July). Donald Schon (Schön): Learning, reflection and change. The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education [Online] Retrieved Sept. 19, 2009, from

Suchman, L. (2007). Human-machine reconfigurations : Plans and situated actions, (2nd. ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Van der Wall, G., Turner, P., & Davenport, E. (2003). A study of familiarity. In (M. Rauterberg,, eds.) Human-Computer Interaction – INTERACT’03, 463-470. IOS Press.

Verbeek, P. (2005). What things do: Philosophical reflections on technology, agency, and design. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Winograd, T. & Flores, F. (1987). Understanding and being. In Understanding computers and cognition: A new foundation for design. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Folk Theories and Ubicomp

In a recent study by by Poole, et. al., Reflecting on the invisible: Understanding end-user
perceptions of ubiquitous computing, the authors examine “non-functional” properties of technology adoption.   The authors claim that a user’s understanding of what a technology does and how it works shapes their “orientation” towards it.  Specifically focusing on the concept of RFID technology, study participants were asked about their understanding of the technology and the implications of adoption.  The authors used a method from public policy in which they combined semi-structured interviewing techniques with an exercise in which participants described various images.  The authors insinuated that they garnished a much better response from the photo presentation technique than they would have been able to receive with standard questionnaires.   35 participants were interviewed and shown the photos (72 total photos).  Results showed that although participants were basically in the dark when it came to an understanding of the whats and hows of RFID, many could describe the technology by analogy (Folk Theories).   They found that the participant’s perceptions of RFID were greatly influenced by popular culture (.. no surprise there..).   Some learned from their family/friends, some from their job.  It was discovered that 2/3 of the participants had used some form of the technology.  The study goes on to discuss participant perceptions of social appropriateness, identity management, trust, and personal choice.  In the end, the authors discuss the importance of understanding public perceptions of ubiquitous computing technologies, most of which can be invisible to the population and difficult to understand.  Through a greater understanding of folk theories,  users values, and user expectations, HCI professionals and system designers can begin to design these ubicomp technologies to support or exceed these expectations.

This research is very insightful.  I am extremely interested in the impact of ubiquitous computing on the social interactions of individuals and society at large.  I hope that as HCI professionals we continue to realize the impact that popular culture, folk theories and urban legends have on the public’s acceptance and use of technologies, especially technologies that are invisible.

In related work, Mathew Chalmers has done extensive research into the areas of seamless and seamful computing.  Seamless describes an environment in which ubiquitous technology is hidden from a user (like the Wizard behind the curtain), whereas seamful computing describes an environment where users are made aware of changes in their environment (such as switching from network to network).   Of course it does not have to be binary, there are varying degrees of either.  The important point is how, as a designer, we are to know which will be most appropriate at which time?  There are many variables to consider and varying slants on each.