Defining the ‘authentic’: identity, self-presentation and gender in Web 2.0 networked social media.
McGregor, Kirsti Margaret
As the Internet has become increasingly integrated into people’s everyday lives, it has become increasingly important to consider the opportunities it provides for social interaction, self-presentation and self expression. Online spaces have often been considered to be quintessentially postmodern in potentials, allowing for play and experimentation detached from local geographic contexts and disconnected from visual markers of difference such as gender and ethnicity. Debates about affordances and potentials of online interaction have been reframed by several emergent trends in Internet usage encapsulated in the term ‘Web 2.0 networked social media’- including social networking and media sharing sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. These sites represent a renewed focus on the production of an ‘authentic’, often visually represented self online, strongly grounded in both offline and online networks of experiences, locations, relationships and contacts. These occupy a differing, interesting set of positions with respect to theories of contemporary identity and sociality, emphasising authenticity and permanence and embedding the individual in local contexts rather than emphasising anonymity and fluidity. This PhD investigates the impact of these trends, broadly examining gender, self-presentation, identity and interaction in the context of contemporary online spaces. Examining self-presentational and interactional practices and the display of taste online, this thesis will argue that the concept of ‘authenticity’ is a crucial structuring factor across all aspects of contemporary online interaction. The thesis will explore and examine the implications of this discourse of authenticity which delineates the boundaries of acceptable online self-presentation and interaction, and yet lies in tension with the complexities of impression management across the complex merged audiences brought together on social networking sites. The uncertainties and ambiguities of the merged audience here provoke a reflexivity which leads to a reaffirmation of an essentially unreflexive, pre-social self as ‘authentic’. Taking into account the need to account for agency and reflexivity the thesis will work towards an understanding of online self-presentation, gender and identity which incorporates the multiple narrative, performative and aesthetic aspects of identity.