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Posts Tagged ‘identity construction’

In boyd and Ellison’s foundational article, Social Networking Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship, they define a social networking site thusly:

…[W]eb-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system (Boyd & Ellison, 2008, p. 211).

A Social Media Agency is a UK based PR firm that firm that designs marketing exclusively for social media. It’s natural then that they would maintain a directory of social networking sites. And they do. They maintain a list of almost 250 social networking sites. They range from general use sites like Facebook and Twitter to niche sites for booklovers, vampire enthusiasts and more. That list could easily swell if they added alternative reality sites such as Second Life, blogging platforms such as LiveJournal and WordPress, massively multiplayer online role-playing games  (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft (do folks still play that?) and dating sites such OKCupid and EHarmony, that have appended social media like elements  to their interface. It seems as though there are enough sites for everybody including the dog.

No, I’m serious about that dog part.

But, if the all the world’s a stage, how many parts do we play today? How many parts can we reasonably sustain? Sociologist Erving Goffman used the theatrical metaphor of the “performance” to describe our interaction with other people. He didn’t mean it in a way that implies people act falsely in front of others, but that we comport ourselves differently for different “audiences” or groups of people. For example, when we are at work we behave in a way appropriate to the workplace. When we are with a bunch of friends watching football our demeanor and behavior is most likely different even if there is an overlap in the two groups (Goffman, 1959).

In their study of identity and interaction online, Bullingham and Vasconcelos, found that, “[t]he key finding from interview data is that participants often attempt to re-create their offline selves online, rather than actively engaging with persona adoption”(Bullingham & Vasconcelos, 2013, p. 109) But they only looked at a very small population and asked each person about their activity on one particular site. It’s not a leap to believe that in the same way our concrete world work and social selves differ according to the setting, that our Facebook and LinkedIn selves will differ in a Goffmanian way as well. After all, even if there is an overlap in the people we are linked to on the two sites, we are there for different purposes.

So many social networking sites; so many interesting opportunities.

References

Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2008). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. (D. M. Boyd & N. B. Ellison, Eds.)Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 210–230. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x

Bullingham, L., & Vasconcelos, a. C. (2013). “The presentation of self in the online world”: Goffman and the study of online identities. Journal of Information Science, 39(1), 101–112. doi:10.1177/0165551512470051

Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. (E. University Of, Ed.)Teacher (Vol. 21, p. 259). Doubleday. doi:10.2307/2089106

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This is why it’s dangerous for me to look at any cultural subgroup.

While my academic interest in online connections and communities, what I study is naturally an extension of the study of how people connect with each other and form communities based on common interest as opposed to geography or blood.

I was so fascinated with this documentary I watched it twice. I think this is in no small part due to my own perceptions, preconceptions and prejudices of the denizens of Juggaloville.

 

When I put all of my baggage around Juggalo culture aside, the jargon is different, the drag[1] is different, the cultural icons and touchstones are different; however; this could just as easily have been a gather of battle re-enactors, furries, Pennsic attendees, LARPers, extreme athletes or any other societal micro-subgroup.

Some of the commonalities I saw include,

  • The expressions of their collective outsiderness and the idea of being misunderstood by society at large
  • The sharing (and passing along of) common cultural touchstones with the documentarians
  • The situating of oneself in the history of the ad hoc community  (see 2:40-2:53)
  • Discussing use of the word family and the like to describe the fandom

McMillan and Chavis define community as “a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together” (D. W. McMillan & Chavis, 1986; p. 9) .  The operationalized by breaking it down into four factors:

  • Needs fulfillment (a perception that members’ needs will be met by the community)
  • Group membership (a feeling of belonging or a sense of interpersonal relatedness)
  • Influence (a sense that one matters, or can make a difference, in a community and that the community matters to its members)
  • Emotional connection (a feeling of attachment or bonding rooted in members’ shared history, place or experience)

I can see each of these played out in this short documentary.

It took me about 20 minutes to go from, “Gee, there folks seem odd” to “wow, look how universal their creating a sense of identity and community is”. And that is why I do what I do.

 

References

Drag (clothing). (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved August 10, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drag_(clothing)

McMillan, D. (1996). Sense of community. Journal of community psychology. Retrieved from http://history.furman.edu/benson/hst321/McMillan_Sense_of_Community_1996.pdf

McMillan, D. W., & Chavis, D. M. (1986). Sense of Community: A Definition and Theory. Journal of Community Psychology, 14(January), 6–23.

Validation of a brief sense of community scale: Confirmation of the principal theory of sense of community. (2008). Journal of Community  …. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.proxy.libraries.rutgers.edu/doi/10.1002/jcop.20217/abstract

 


[1] In this case I am using the word “drag” as in “clothing carrying symbolic significance” (“Drag (clothing),” n.d.)I used the word “costume” at first but I didn’t like the association of that word with artifice.

This is more than just something these folks put on. In fact, for those with tattoos or non-traditional piercings on their face or neck, this is part of how the present themselves every day.  But I wanted to capture that how they dress at this event, whether it’s an element that is visible or invisible to the “straight” world isn’t quite  uniform, but is a distinct way of identifying themselves as part of the Juggalo family.

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Asexuality Comes Out of the Closet.
And in the “great minds think alike” category, this news article appeared on the Rutgers University Media Relations site. One of the professors in Rutgers School of Social Work wrote an article discussing how many asexuals are comfortable with asexuality as a part of their identity. It is also interesting to note that like the LGTB community they have a flag whose stripes represent the different facets of asexuality.
From a Social Work standpoint, how people integrate asexuality into their identities (pathologized vs “normal”; curing the individual vs fighting for societal acceptance, etc) is an important part of working with the individual to help them integrate into society. Approaching it from a Communications point of view however, how does a community reframe societal discourse and shift itself from a pathology (something invalid and something that needs to “healed”) to a sexual orientation (something that is socially valid and meriting protection under civil rights laws)? How do they develop their unique language and symbols?  What are the network ties between prominent members of community and how have they developed over the history of the community?

 

Questions. I’ve got a million of them.

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A couple of weeks ago I published a blog post about an incident of identity deception that took place on Tumblr.  The false persona had self identified as being “pangender asexual demiplatonic….trans-racial (east asian) and otherkin (tabby cat)”.
I was pretty sure that anyone who read this would find at least one of those terms newand/or confusing so I set out to create a glossary explaining what these terms mean. So here I am 2 weeks, 3300 words, 5 entries and 31 references later knowing more about several social sub groups that I didn’t even know existed

Beyond that, I discovered  tiny subsectors of society that the Communications academy has only begun to learn more about.  Identity labels such as otherkin or asexual are good examples of  one of functions CMC has become dominant in: the construction of identity in individuals who are considered far outside the mainstream.

For example, while what could be described as proto-otherkin individuals began gathering as early as the 1970s, it was email groups and Usernet that formed a nucleus of what has become the Otherkin community today; computer mediated communication (CMC) tools were the tipping point that took this from a small local group to an international community . Today, one site,  Otherkin.net has almost 400 registered users and in addition, sites like Tumblr  have active otherkin communities.

These communication hubs provide a forum for community building. So you while you have  people constructing the group identity, the group identity enables a person to create a more concrete and specific individual identity for themselves. The group provides the validation, support and language constructs (bot created and appropriated jargon, “how to come out”scripts, explanations for people outside the community, etc) that constitute the boundaries of the community. When you have boundaries it becomes easier for a person to know if they are a community member, an outsider, or a visitor, for example and ethnographer or sympathetic family member (Fairhurst and Putnam, 2004).

These microcommunities have found rich soil in this generation of social networking sites (SNS)  and that sense of community is reinforced by the ties these like minded people create between each other. CMCs have made this possible on a scope that could never have been imagined 20 years ago. I believe these are fertile fields for scholars in the Social Sciences, especially Communications because it there isn’t much scholarship out there for many of these groups and studying these groups will help us learn more if and how of community, social networks, and social ties have been changed or enhanced by the continuing ubiquity of CMCs and SNS.

The first  people who grew up with personal email addresses as the norm are on the way to college and within about a decade the first people who have grown up steeped in the panopticon of FaceBook (and is successors) will follow them. By beginning to study these microcommunities now, we may be able to develop a better understanding the norms and anomalies of community formation development and dissolution among groups for whom the connection between time, place and communication is more tenuous than in previous generations.

I hope you will find the glossary helpful

References

Fairhurst, G. T., & Putnam, L. (2004). Organizations as discursive constructions. Communication Theory (10503293), 14(1), 5-26.

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(When I use the term trans*, I am specifically, not including transgender individuals under that label. I will be posting a page defining these concepts shortly)

Other hoaxes I’ve blogged about here came to light when the deception was dragged into the light, generally by someone who become suspicious of the deceptive narrative. In this case it seems the goal here was to only perpetrate this hoax long enough to rook enough people so the hoaxers could say, “Gotcha!” I find this hoax interesting because up to now, most of the incidents I’ve reviewed were either rooted in filling a psychological need and in the case of LonelyGirl15 was a marketing scheme. Depending on your POV, these hoaxers were calling attention to a perversion of the social justice movement by slacktivists or kids being mean and dismissive of groups that already feel marginalized.

Language is a social construct. We string together a group of sounds and point at an object called an automobile or a pair of glasses. Identity is also something of  a social construct. We identify with certain groups based upon thinks such our race or ethnic background, what we do for a living or what we do in our free time. Those labels we embrace became shorthand as societal (and often personal) stereotypes project meaning onto a person’s identity. Regardless of whether a part of our identity is innate or self selected, disabled versus jock, for example, elements of each of those labels we wear have a societally assigned meaning as well as a personal one.

For example, let’s say you injure yourself slipping on an icy sidewalk and a person runs up to you to offer assistance, if she says she is a doctor that will carry with it one meaning as opposed to if the person is wearing a Dunkin’ Donuts uniform. The doctor might be a dermatologist and the Dunkin’ Donuts employee a highly experienced volunteer EMT but their words and dress can affect the trust you have in them if they begin administering first aid to you.

The concept of Otherkin (and in fact the whole trans* movement) is possibly an example of the exponential effect CMCs have on the constitutive nature of language in the construction of identity. If someone posts to an Otherkin support site about coming to the realization that he or she is a cat in a human body, that statement will be supported and his or her identity as such will be reinforced.  If one is engaged in a role playing game or belongs to the furry subculture, it is understood that these are identities that serve as temporary wrappers for the person others know and interact with in the concrete world. Trans* people, though, are the mirror images of that social construct. The human being who passes through the concrete world is the wrapper and the trans* image (species, disability, race, etc.) is the true being, not a persona.

This raises some questions for me. Usually, both verbal and visual (clothing, the objects we carry with us, the vehicle we drive) cues construct our identity. In the context of Internet dating that identity is self created with text and photographs but if and when the people meet, that adds to the other person’s perception of an individual’s identity.

But, what does it mean if your self constructed identity is solely textual and at complete odds with all of the other visual and verbal cues and personal artifacts associated with a person. I might tell you I’m a wolf trapped in a human body but I am visibly human in appearance, action and public behavior. If the only place my true identity exists is within the bounded reality of the Internet and the only way I construct it is with words and occasional graphics that bear no resemblance to my concrete flesh, what does that say about the constitutive nature of language on identity, how broadly and deeply can the scope of this constituation go? If you are just one of a community of thousands who are all constructing or supporting the construction of identity in this manner what does this mean.

Is there a sociological or philosophical justification for trans* people for  appropriate the language of the Civil Rights and Social Justice Movements?

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