exploring the relationship between social science and software development methodologies: a blog by Pascal Belouin

I’ve been browsing the internet for a little while to see if anybody used Bourdieu’s notion of social capital as a framework for the analysis of social software such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn (the latter being particularly representative). I apologise in advance to purists that may think that I oversimplify Bourdieu, but it seems to me that social capital works a bit like this: Bourdieu extended the (Marxist?) notion of capital, and introduced concepts such as social capital, economic capital, cultural capital, etc. The value of particular types of capital changes according to the context within which it is used: for example, cultural or ‘intellectual’ could be considered as particularly important for people in research. Furthermore, these people are in a position allowing them to convert this intellectual capital into economic capital (giving lectures being an example of such a ‘conversion mechanism’).

I agree that it makes little sense to isolate one particular Bourdieusian concept to apply it to the analysis of social software, but considering the question with the help of the whole Bourdieusian theoretical framework could only be more beneficial to our cause: You are more than welcome to check all this out on Wikipedia!

How, then, can the notion of social capital be used for the analysis of social software? If we go back to the amazingly clear example I provided above, we can start thinking about how this would work for an analysis of LinkedIn: Even though having a lot of contacts can be considered beneficial as a form of social capital, what really is important for the people using such services is the means they have to convert this social capital into the type of capital they are interested in (although it would be quite naive to think that most of the time the desired ‘end product’ is economic capital).

I imagine there is much more to it, but it seems to me that straight away such notions can really help in providing a solid framework within which the use (and therefore the design) of social software can be analysed. I welcome all critiques, even harsh!

Related posts:

  1. Social science for software developers – Using tools from social science to inform software design: should software developers also be social scientists?
  2. LinkedIn, Facebook and Social Identity Theory
  3. Towards explicitly sociologically-oriented software development methodologies: using social science to inform software design
  4. Software as Discourse
  5. Research proposal : A Foucauldian analysis of the evolution of the discourse about software development methodologies

1 Comment to “Tweeting Bourdieu: Social software and social capital”

  1. Mark Schueler says:

    Hey Pascal,

    I read your post with interest, as I am presently developing a doctoral thesis around this very conceptual framework. I’m working on developing an understanding of Enterprise 2.0 uses and impacts from a social perspective, using some sociotechnical theories, Actor-Network Theory, theories of information and organisation, and Bourdieu’s concepts of capital, field, and habitus to get beyond market hype and examine everyday use. Bourdieusian concepts offer a means to understand and explain daily uses of social tools within organisations (social networks/fields), animated by flows of information (primarily social and cultural capital), guided by individuals’ ranges of options (habitus). It further provides an explanation for how micro-level processes relate to macro-level phenomena – in essence, how individual behaviours contribute to the production and reproduction of the organisation.

    I have not considered how this research might influence social software design, but imagine it might be useful in that regard. I think your ideas in this direction have merit!

    Best wishes,
    Mark Schueler

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