Today’s preconference at the University of Westminster, London, brought together a range of highly inspiring scholars who had re-evaluated Erving Goffman’s work in the setting of the everyday in digital life.
Heather Pleasants, University of Alabama, presented findings related to her digital storytelling project. Her illustrations of digital forms of communication were powerful stories posted on Stories for change and the paper was based on ethnographic observations framed by the works of Michael Wesch(2008), Erving Goffman (1963), Georg Simmel (1950), G.H. Mead (1934) et al. Particular audiences, for instance in education and health care, harness the possibilities provided by digital media, in authentically co-/presenting self and other. Trust, patience and respect in these spaces depend on self-representations and are constituted by the degree of authenticity. Here is another powerful example Life N Rhyme by Relixstylz linked by the Berkeley Language Center in California.
Mark E. Nelson’s (University of Oslo, Norway) presentation focused on the Space2cre8.com project and raised interesting questions. The data analysis had been based on semiotics and appeared to be reductionist in so far as user profiles produced in South Africa had been presented to users in Singapore which were interpreted from within the a certain cultural context. In more or less global networks, though, the idea to refer to one and the same system of symbols and meanings appeared to produce results limited in validity. The social, psychological and cultural embeddedness would need to be acknowledged. Also, representations and narratives may need to be accepted as ambiguously understood. In this sense, understanding would also require the dialogue between producer and audience who, in order to ensure predictive devices such as expressive gestures are understood as intended, will need to negotiate the clues given off in a non-intentional manner.
Sonia Livingstone, LSE, applied Goffman’s concept of the participation framework, production format and participant status to new social media. Goffman’s notion of modes of participations such as co-presence, bystanding, eavesdropping etc. appear to be applicable to f2f social situations as well as to online encounters. Whether participation has to be ratified as suggested by Goffman is less clear. In spaces such as Twitter or Facebook it seems to be perfectly fine to hold endless monologues which may be picked up by automated systems in order to be re-distributed. This may count as machine ratification, an entity not exactly covered in the model of the production format (principal, emitter, animator, figure – united in one agent at times). Reception roles and production roles are not clearly defined in the complexity of online social interaction (c.f. the concept of produsage, A. Bruns – blogpost and presentation
from prosumer to produser ). Impression management in mediated communication may require to address the fact that some communication online is meant to be self-reflection and monologue ‘only’, which, in contrast to offline space, does not require any ratification at all.
An aspect also discussed in Larry Friedlander’s (Stanford University) presentation – the representation as strategic action: never spontaneous, never pragmatic. In social networks the self-presentation is accompanied by anxiety to demonstrate and create status in a careful mix of showing and disguising by applying methods of evasion.
So, is it all staged, choreographed and scripted? Only if we assume people are not able to learn and grow while engaging in online social relations (even if ‘only’ with their self in reflective encounters). Narrating the self involves the negotiation of boundaries which entails self-defence as well as the growing self-confidence resulting from practising, exploring and observing what happens at the knots of connections or interfaces. However, the construction of self involves the negotiation of other, and even if only in observing monologues, non-ratified by the observed other. This complex layer of self-representation may only surface once the process has come to the point where an author determines to express a facet of their complex self.
1200 fotos got lost when my camera was stolen (back in London) – this is an homage to Northern California and all the beautiful people and stunning places I encountered. This is also dedicated to the invisible people, the many – way too many – homeless people I met on my ways. It is also a piece of emotional labour contributing to a better understanding of reflexivity in [auto-]ethnographic research projects, with a focus on awareness of the role of the self.
The image is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License by wordle.net.
I got stuck in the Northern Line this morning, 8am, on the way to work. So the conductor from within his separate space got in touch with the crowd: [tired voice] ‘would the person leaning against the door please move away…otherwise I will have to check all doors, and that’s going to take ages’. How was he imagining his audience, I wondered. If he was imagining us at all that is…
In front of me a lady in pink – applying make up, lots of make up to be fair. She managed to do that with a very quiet hand in the totally crowded tube, standing in move-with-the-speed mode. Impressive. Obviously, she was either used to audience, desiring ‘us’ as onlookers – or totally ignorant of all those around her attractive self.
Last night I discussed with a friend who wants to write a travel guide – and my own blogging experience came up. Again, audiences sprang to mind. Who are ‘they’ – are they groups, individuals, no names, blurred or simply a grey invisible mass?
Finally, I saw a tap show with friends on stage at the white cabaret [Inn on the Green, London], sitting on cushions in touching distance to the stage, and again: audiences. How did the performers visualise/imagine and perceive the audience/s – blurred in the shadows of a 1920s style purple/black ambience? Or did they ignore us in order to concentrate? Audiences – who are you? Frequently also of importance, perhaps even more so: where are you?