Community, network or both?
Towards a holistic approach to studying online social structures
This paper overviews scientific narratives surrounding communities and networks both off- and online and criticizes the dichotomous approach to the topic, according to which each social structure can be classified as either a community or a network. It is argued that such a division does not facilitate comprehension of the contemporary online social structures with their complexity and dynamism. The study provides an alternative view on the issue assuming that community and network are not mutually exclusive concepts and can be studied holistically. The proposed theoretical statement is operationalized and piloted on the example of ‘Aarhus Internationals’ Facebook group – an online venue for international expats in Denmark. A content analysis of the group`s posts showed how exactly community and network aspects of social structures may coexist and interact online.
Anderson, B. (1991 ). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.
Bakardjieva, M. (2003). Virtual togetherness: an everyday-life perspective. Media, Culture & Society, 25(3), 291-313.
Black, T. R. (2005). Doing quantitative research in the social sciences: an integrated approach to research design,
measurement and statistics (Reprinted). London: Sage Publ.
Bregman, A., & Haythornthwaite, C. (2003). Radicals of presentation: visibility, relation, and co-presence in persistent
conversation. New Media & Society, 5(1), 117-140.
Brint, S. (2001). Gemeinschaft revisited: A critique and reconstruction of the community concept. Sociological Theory
Castells, M. (1976). Is there an urban sociology? In: C. G. Pickvance (Ed.), Urban Sociology: Critical Essays (pp. 35-59).
Conte, S. (2015). Learning community literature: annotated bibliography. New Directions for Student Services 2015(149),
Cruz, C.J., Gonzales, A.M. & Matanguihan, A.L. (2015). The illusions of community in Facebook. Communication
Research 2(1), 182-226.
Damien, S.P. & Jordan, S. (2011). (Re)conceptualizing intercultural communication in a networked society. Journal of
International and Intercultural Communication 4(4), 246-251.
David, M., & Sutton, C. D. (2011). Social research: an introduction (Second edition). Los Angeles: SAGE.
De Vaus, D. A. (2001). Research design in social research. London; Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE.
Digital Marketer. (2017). What Facebook’s New Group Features Means For Community Managers. Retrieved January 07,
2019 from https://www.digitalmarketer.com/new-facebook-group-features/
Dutot, V. & Mosconi, E. (2016). Understanding factors of disengagement within a virtual community: an exploratory study.
Journal of Decision Systems 25(3): 227-243.
Etzioni, A. & Etzioni, O. (1999). Face-to-face and computer-mediated communities, a comparative analysis. The
Information Society 15(4), 241-248.
European Commission. (2017). Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2017. Retrieved January 07, 2019 from
Feagin, J. (1973). Community Disorganization. Sociological Inquiry 43(3), 123-146.
Fernback, J. (2007). Beyond the diluted community concept: a symbolic interactionist perspective on online social relations.
New Media & Society 9(1), 49-69.
Ferrara, E. (2012). A large-scale community structure analysis in Facebook. EPJ Data Science 1(1), 1-30.
Fischer, C.S. (1976). The Urban Experience. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Giuffre, K. (2013). Communities and networks: using social network analysis to rethink urban and community studies.
Haythornthwaite, C. (2007) Social networks and online community. In A. Joinson, K. McKenna, T. Postmes, & U.D. Reips
(Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Internet Psychology (pp. 121-137). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Jensen, J. L., & Sørensen, A. S. (2014). Analyzing Online Social Networks from a User Perspective: A Quantitative-
Qualitative Framework. In G. Patriarche, H. Bilandzic, J. L. Jensen, & J. Jurisic (Eds.), Audience research
methodologies: between innovation and consolidation (pp. 144–159). New York: Routledge.
Johnson, C.M. (2001). A survey of current research on online communities of practice. The Internet and Higher Education
Karakayali, N. & Kilic, A. (2013). More network conscious than ever? Challenges, strategies, and analytic labor of users in
the Facebook environment. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication 18(2), 61-79.
Lewis, J. & West, A. (2009). ‘Friending’: London-based undergraduates’ experience of Facebook. New Media & Society
Lewis, S. C., Zamith, R., & Hermida, A. (2013). Content Analysis in an Era of Big Data: A Hybrid Approach to
Computational and Manual Methods. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 57(1), 34–52.
Lim, S.S. & Pham, B. (2016). ‘If you are a foreigner in a foreign country, you stick together’: Technologically mediated
communication and acculturation of migrant students. New Media & Society 18(10), 2171-2188.
Lofland, J., Snow, D., Anderson, L., & Lofland, L. H. (Eds.). (2006). Analyzing social settings: a guide to qualitative
observation and analysis (4th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
Moran-Ellis, J., Alexander, V. D., Cronin, A., Dickinson, M., Fielding, J., Sleney, J., & Thomas, H. (2006). Triangulation
and integration: processes, claims and implications. Qualitative Research, 6(1).
Postill, J. (2008). Localizing the Internet beyond communities and networks. New Media & Society 10(3), 413-431.
Preece, J. & Maloney‐Krichmar, D. (2005). Online communities: design, theory, and practice. Journal of
Computer‐Mediated Communication 10(4), 12-28.
Price, J.E. (2016). Digital thunderdome: performing identity and creating community in a Facebook world. New Directions
in Folklore 14(1-2), 40-59.
Probst, G. & Borzillo, S. (2008). Why communities of practice succeed and why they fail. European Management Journal
Rui, J.R., Covert, J.M., Stefanone, M.A. & Mukherjuu, T. (2015). A communication multiplexity approach to social capital:
on- and offline communication and self-esteem. Social Science Computer Review 33(4), 498-518.
Scott, J., & Carrington, P. (Eds.). (2014). The SAGE Handbook of Social Network Analysis.
Schreier, M. (2012). Qualitative content analysis in practice. Los Angeles: SAGE.
Sharon, T. & John, N.A. (2018) Unpacking (the) secret: Anonymous social media and the impossibility of networked
anonymity. New Media & Society 20(11), 4177-4194.
Shi, J., Wang, X., Peng, T.-Q., & Chen, L. (2017). Understanding interactions in virtual HIV communities: a social network
analysis approach. AIDS Care, 29(2), 239–243.
Smart, A. & Smart, J. (2003). Urbanization and the global perspective. Annual Review of Anthropology 32(1), 263-285.
Sobré-Denton, M. (2016). Virtual intercultural bridgework: Social media, virtual cosmopolitanism, and activist community-
building. New Media & Society 18(8), 1715-1731.
Stack, C.B. (1974). All Our Kin: Strategies for Survival in a Black Community. New York: Harper & Row.
Sung, Y.S., Wang, D. & Kumara, S. (2018). Uncovering the effect of dominant attributes on community topology: A case
of Facebook networks. Information Systems Frontiers 20(5), 1041-1052.
Tillman, R. (2004). Ferdinand Tönnies, Thorstein Veblen and Karl Marx: from community to society and back? The
European Journal of the History of Economic Thought 11(4), 579-606.
Tönnies, F. (2001 ). Community and Civil Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Yuan, E.J. (2012). A culturalist critique of ‘online community’ in new media studies. New Media & Society 15(5), 665-679.
Wellman, B. (1979). The community question: the intimate networks of East Yorkers. American Journal of Sociology 84(5),
Wellman, B. (1996). Computer networks as social networks. Science 293(5537), 2031-2034.
Wellman, B. (2001). Physical place and cyberplace: the rise of personal networking. International Journal of Urban and
Regional Planning 25(2), 227-252.
Wellman, B. & Hampton, K. (1999). Living networked on and offline. Contemporary Sociology 28(6), 648-654.
Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization 7(2), 225-246.
Wenger, E., Trayner, B. & De Laat, M. (2011). Promoting and Assessing Value Creation in Communities and Networks: a
Conceptual Framework. Heerlen: Ruud de Moor Centrum.
Wilson, S.M. & Peterson, L.C. (2002). The anthropology of online communities. Annual Review of Anthropology 31(1),
Word Stream. (2018) 75 Super-Useful Facebook Statistics for 2018. Retrieved January 07, 2019 from
Wu M. (2018) Community vs. Social Network. Retrieved January 07, 2019 from
Zhao, X., Yuan, J., Li, G., Li, Z. & Chen, X. (2012). Relationship strength estimation for online social networks with the
study on Facebook. Neurocomputing 95, 89–97.
Zuckerberg M. (2017) Building Global Community. Retrieved January 07, 2019 from
The journal is published under a Creative Commons license Attribution Non-commercial No derivatives (cc by-nc-sa) http://creativecommons.org/about/license. CLaW allows the author(s) to retain publishing rights without restrictions. Copyright remains with authors without restrictions.