SNS: we need post-identity and (re)presentation research

Saturday, January 03, 2009

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Looking at the research done on social network sites compiled by danah boyd along with other researchers, it seems to me that two main categories covering the subject are the social aspect (mostly focusing on reconceptualising 'friends' and the extension of our social life onto SNS) and privacy/surveillance issues. Much is also being done on teens - mostly probably due to the fact that MySpace managed to draw significant numbers of them.

I'm currently reading Bruno Latour's The Invisible City and looking at his introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. While the application of Latour in SNS research might bring about some perils (and Latour is warning on keeping a certain distance with social networks as such when looking at ANT), what interests me in his corpus is the questioning of what is social - 'a peculiar movement of re-association and reassembling' 1 (Latour 2005: 7).

It seems to me that with the emergence of social networks much research focused on (re)presentation issues and performing identities, to quote boyd. However, the move most probably was inevitable, particularly with young people building their spaces online, as teen culture is inextricable from identity issues. On the other hand, with the growing age of SNS members (due to their borders expanding and due to teens growing up on SNS), I am wondering which way the research will proceed in the next couple of years. I suppose, much of it will still scrutinise identity issues as SNS have become home to those who might be considered as being on the fringes of the conventional.

Nonetheless, what else is there to SNS besides profile and wall analysis and where is that analysis? It is a question I have been asking myself trying to embark on the research and methodologies that could follow the exponential nature of the Web and evolve along with it. The reason I am questioning this is because it seems to me that much the academic research on SNS comes to conclusions that my 13-year-old niece who is a devotee of Bebo could have explained after a few weeks of hanging out there. If SNS are becoming the extension of our social worlds (or turning into alternative ones - depending on which standpoint you support), we need to broaden our scope. The kids are challenging us.

Latour, B. (2005) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-network-theory, Oxford University Press.
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1 Response to "SNS: we need post-identity and (re)presentation research"

ailsa said :
January 4, 2009 at 10:15 PM
Hi, interesting post thanks. I am interested in young people's use of newer media for counselling (this includes text /sms messaging as well as other online spaces) and my research follows an actor-network theory approach. I'm focusing on young people as it seems they are pulling th enew media with them into other spaces (such as counselling).
I'm not (yet?) convinced of an identity argument. My reading of Laour leaves me cautious of grouping people's together under a singular label such as teen culture (there are many and multiple- young people-as well as others- move in and out of multiple).
I am left wondering if its a circular argument to say there is a teen culture inextricable from identity or if it is a recognition that ones identity and culture are recursive.
I will revisit, its great to see someone else whose studies in media are informed by ant.
You are welcome to visit me on my blog

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