Authors: Emmanuelle Vaast and Natalia Levina
Publication: Information and Organization, Volume 25, Issue 2, April 01, 2015
This paper builds a process theory of how participants in an online community deal with a new identity threat. Based upon the in-depth, interpretive case study of an online community of retail bankers, it develops a grounded theory that reveals that participants in an online community deal with new taint by protecting their occupation's identity but not by attempting to repair its external image. In the investigated community, reactions progressed from rejecting the taint to distancing from it and, finally, resigning to it. Overall, the dynamics of an occupational online community reveal that the objective of protecting the existing identity of its members supersede that of taking a more proactive stance to address the identity threat and attempt to influence new regulations affecting the occupation.This paper adds to the online community literature by developing a process theory of how online peer groups cope with new identity threats by relying upon a diverse and evolving set of interrelated coping strategies. The paper also contributes to the literature on online communities by theorizing why an occupational online community may turn into a "shelter" for its members rather than a social action organization capable of mobilizing change in its external environment. This helps us better understand the nature of online community as a virtual organization as compared to other organized forms of occupational groups such as traditional organizations or professional societies.
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