about the structured self

This project acts as a digital component to my Doctoral Dissertation, The Structured Self: Authenticity, Agency, and Anonymity in Social Networking Sites. The goal of my research is to employ Facebook as a case study to examine social networking sites’ structural affordances and their implications for identity creation, maintenance, performance, broadcast, and comprehension. In other words, this project works to understand how the limited choices Facebook gives its users to create and display their identities affects how they view themselves and others.

It is my goal to have this website act as a more accessible outlet to my research than a dissertation or even an academic book of which few are aware or have access to. Therefore, this site is committed to reaching out to a general audience, removing academic jargon, and catering to as wide of a group of typical social media users as possible.

By breaking down Facebook into its parts, we can begin to explore how Facebook pushes us to behave in certain ways on the site, and, as I argue, offline as well. This exploration brings up important questions that relate to topics such as authenticity, agency, and anonymity. This site exhibits the ways in which Facebook promotes a very specific way of acting “authentically” that is not always in line with natural identity preferences. This site will also show the ways in which users can and have enacted their agency within the site to create a self that they feel is closer to their natural selves. And lastly, I will display why anonymity is important and the ways in which Facebook enables or restricts this right.

Anonymity, similar to privacy, is the right to the separation of our different identities. You may act differently when you are with your group of friends than when you are with your family or when you are with your coworkers. These are called social contexts or stages, and it is natural to want these spaces to remain distinct; we often will feel embarrassed if a member from one social group suddenly witnesses us acting in a way that was intended for a different social group. Sites like Facebook combine all of these social contexts and expect us to live one self when in reality we have many different sides to ourselves. It is important to realize that having only one self is not natural and that we shouldn’t feel pressured to combine all of our social interactions.

It is not my intention to argue that Facebook and other social networking sites are not useful or that people should stop using them. Instead, I want to argue that there are many great uses for the site. However, when it comes to the significant task of creating our identities, it is important to realize what paths a site is leading us down when we aren’t even fully aware of the journey we are taking.

Read more about my current projects here.

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