How Emergent Leadership shapes hierarchy and the Social

Mohammed El-Khatib
CCT 505
Coventry and Turner
Mid-Term Paper
From Organic to Institutional Authority: How Emergent Leadership
shapes hierarchy and the Social Construction of Institutional Leadership
Mechanisms in Go Cross Campus
While the sociological role of leadership- emergent or designated- in virtual communities
of practice has received significant attention amongst scholars (Tyran 2003, Wegner
2002, Reeves 2008), little has been said of the technologies that facilitate the roles of
leaders. Increasingly sophisticated and complex arrangements in online communities
have led to the parallel development of technologies that restrict, abrogate or demarcate
hierarchical dynamics within the community. A simple example of this is the “kick chat”
function in Paltalk- a popular online net speak service built around affinity communities.
Each affinity community has a chat room with a dedicated administrator. “Kick-chat”
allows administrators to ban participants control the number and nature of participants in
the chatroom. Generally, the use of these technologies accords leaders literal privileges
and authority to exercise control over a communities of practice. I will refer to these
technologies as Leadership Mechanisms (LM's).
LM's play a tremendous role in facilitating leadership in Go Cross Campus, a massively
multiplayer online turn-based strategy game (MMOTBSG) that pits teams of players
against one another on a territorially outlined map. Within each team, users nominate and
elect commanders who have, at their disposal, a host of interface options unavailable to
lay users. Commanders can send out mass-communiqués to all team members, formulate
battle plans and nominate users for disqualification (also called spy-polling).
Furthermore, each commander has a medallion graphic that clearly distinguishes her from
the rest of her teammates.
Understanding how LM's work in go-cross campus is crucial to exploring the origin and
evolution of institutional hierarchical structures in online communities. What prompted
the software designers to create LM's in the first place? What were the heuristic dynamics
that eventually led to the creation of the current set of leadership mechanisms (in this
case the Commander interface) in Go Cross Campus?
To answer these questions, I will first explore how hierarchy and leadership roles arise
organically amongst non-commanders in Go-Cross Campus. I will then use my findings
to understand the evolution of the LM systems in place within the game itself. Drawing
from this comparative framework and using social construction of technology (SCOT)
and emergent leadership theories, I seek to advance the position that Leadership
Mechanisms within online communities are in part, a response to organic leadership
practices found within un-moderated online communities. Ultimately, I believe that this
kind of research can help us better understand Fulk’s concept of mutual determinism
(both social and technological) (1993) within the social study of online leadership. Here,
Fulk asks us to ponder the “specific social processes engage individuals” in their use and
practice of technology. Unlike Fulk however, I want to shine the spotlight on how
designers construct their technologies around practice.
As participants of a community of practice, the need for hierarchy and leadership is a
prevalent part of our culture of participation. This in turn drives technological responses.
I want to better understand this relationship.
Literature Review
Amongst social constructivists, there is general consensus that communication
technology is both a “cause and consequence of social norms” (Poole 1990, Weick 1990).
In his book “Sociomedia Multimedia, Hypermedia, and the Social Construction of
Knowledge.” Barnett expounds upon this view by seeing the relationship between social
norms and technology practice as a means for “hardwiring a mechanism for the social
construction of knowledge” into the development of computer media. (1995). Barnett
also takes an interesting view by suggesting that technology and society are in a state of
“transaction” with one another, supporting Fulks argument of a interplay between
technology and its effects on society.
While SCOT offers us a rich framework by which to explore the dynamics between
leadership in social settings and its technological iterations, it does not explain how
leadership dynamics emerge within an online community of practice or affinity group. I
had initially considered examining this framework from the lens of participatory culture,
but the theory, while addressing the democratic and generative nature of online
communities (Jenkins), pays little attention to how leadership dynamics operate within an
online community. At best, Jenkin talks about “mentor” relationships within affinity
spaces, but this is insufficient to support the position of this paper. Instead, I argue that
emergent leadership is more suited to the premise of this paper. Here, Reeves argues that
leadership in un-moderated groups emerges when members adopt different roles and
responsibilities- out of which leaders emerge to set the directions and trajectory of the
community. Reeves theory on emergent leadership serves as a good launch pad to
exploring leadership dynamics on Go Cross Campus, particularly because Reeves uses
Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games as a case study.
The Anecdote: Violet: stepping forward in the face of dissonant leadership.
I decided to explore the origins of leadership technologies following a series of
compelling events that took place during the duration of our participation on Go Cross
Campus. I was nominated the commander of the Violet team. My team thought this was a
natural choice because of my (rather prolific) experience with online games.
I was by all accounts a fairly active commander and I felt comfortable using the games
LM architecture on a regular basis. This changed when our team took a nosedive for the
worst by turn 15 at which point, I stopped being an active leader and stopped using LM’s.
In my absence, two lay-members of the team began to assume leadership positions. The
level of intensity of their involvement as leaders parallels their use of technology within
their ad-hoc positions before becoming official commanders. The table below outlines
this progression according to three stages.
Leadership Stage
Technological Construction
Stage 1: Emergent leadership
Exclusive reliance on external technologies to
facilitate leadership. Leadership is not formalized
Stage 2: Ad-Hoc leadership
Relying on Inactive commanders to use their
privilege and access to the technology to create
Stage 3: As Official Commanders
Direct access to LM architecture.
This process is interesting in a number of ways. First, the gradual adoption of
technologies parallels the development in leadership. Secondly we can, in more detail,
use the evolution of structure to better understand how leadership mechanisms get
institutionalized within the game. Examples of this include comparing and contrasting the
use of mass email by the ad-hoc leaders in stage 1 to the use of the in-game mass
communiqué function in stage 3.
A Suitable Research Program
Developing a research program for exploring the origin and eveolution of LM’s requires
a conceptual framework for analyzing the ways leadership emerges amongst lay members
in Go Cross Campus (at stage 1) and comparing the functionality of these mechanisms
with the LM’s used in the game. I will approach this study in two ways. First, I will use
textual analysis of the chat to identify lay leaders in Violet. I will then create an
ethnographic research program using interviews and questionnaires to explore some of
the methods of leadership used in Stage 1. The second, less crucial part of research will
involve reaching out to the developers of the Go Cross Campus game. Here I will
conduct an in-depth field study using one on one interviews with the developers to
ponder the evolution of the LM architecture within the game. I seek to understand how
the developers may have used emergent trends in ad-hoc leadership (i.e. looking to a time
before there were commanders) in informing their development of the current LM
architecture in the game.
Conclusion and Problematics
Advancing the position that emergent leadership trends informs the LM architecture of go
Cross Campus can only be accomplished if we are to address the limitations of the
research program. First, we must consider other competing influences that can also
influence how the LM software came into place. For example, from a political economy
perspective, the developers may have considered implementing LM to pave the way for a
future revenue model (where people wishing to be commanders may have to pay a
premium). In summary, emergent leadership as a theory may not be a sufficient
coefficient to understanding how software developers design and implement LM
Ultimately however, exploring how developers create leadership mechanisms in online
fora is crucial to better understanding how SCOT theory informs software development
as a whole. This is a body of research that is severely lacking. SCOT may help us
understand how the practice of technology evolves through the social media of
technology, but it does not provide us with a suitable framework to understand how
technology is designed and created.
The UnConference
The Unconference bought first year CCT students together to discuss possible hypotheses
and research programs using Go Cross Campus as a text. Initially, I found the idea of a
congregation of so many theories and ideas around a single medium discouraging.
However, the layout and structure of the unconference useful because students were able
to quickly and effectively identify areas of interest and develop them within the groups
they were in. I however, did not find the twitter feed very useful because the ideas posted
on the screen were not sufficiently fleshed out and at times, inconsistent. In the future, I
would propose that in addition to a main twitter feed, that each group develop their own
twitter feed with the aim of creating a basic summary of ideas that would later be
presented at the end.
Works Cited
Fulk, J. “Social construction of communication technology.” Academy of
Management Journal, 36 (1993) 921-950
Reeves, B., Malone T., & O’Driscoll, T. “Leadership’s Online Labs.” Harvard
Business Review. (2008): (58- 66)
Kristi Lewis Tyran, C. K. (2003). Exploring Emerging Leadership in Virtual
Teams. In S. C. Cristina Gibson, Virtual Teams That Work. The Jossey-Bass
business & management series).
Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture:
Media Education for 21st Century. Digital Media and Learning .
Kristi Lewis Tyran, C. K. (2003). Exploring Emerging Leadership in Virtual
Teams. In S. C. Cristina Gibson, Virtual Teams That Work. The Jossey-Bass
business & management series.