'It keeps me in the loop': re-thinking social networking sites from the perspective of young rural
AffiliationRural Health Academic Centre, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Sciences
Document TypeMasters Research thesis
CitationsWaite, C. (2012). 'It keeps me in the loop': re-thinking social networking sites from the perspective of young rural residents. Masters Research thesis, Rural Health Academic Centre, Department of Rural Health, The University of Melbourne.
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© 2012 Catherine Waite
Young people and their incorporation of social networking sites into everyday social life has become an increasingly central topic in public discussion. Emotive debate is characterised by assumptions regarding how young people integrate information technologies into their lives and interact with others using the site. Ulrich Beck’s (1986) risk society theory is utilised to analyse debate and attribute responses within a risk-laden context. Understanding fears associated with young people’s use of social networking sites can be conceptualised as constituent of broader discourses of risk. Locating dominant discourse in this respect and acknowledging that these do not necessarily reflect how young people incorporate the medium into their broader lives, this thesis seeks alternative understandings to account for this lack. A qualitative study was designed to address this gap in understanding. Undertaken in two rural towns in North/Central Victoria, 40 young people aged 16-22 years took part in the interview based study. Recruited via local sporting clubs and through other sources, respondents were invited to discuss the ways in which they maintained important social relationships. Conversations naturally flowed towards technology and the social networking site Facebook arose as the most common social networking site among participants. Data was also collected from respondents Facebook profile pages. Analysis resulted in several broad themes being identified. Principally, the social networking site Facebook was used as a virtual platform to maintain important peer and other face-to-face based relationships. Erving Goffman’s (1959) presentation of self theory was used to discuss the ways in which young people ‘performed’ identity in online contexts. It became clear during data analysis that Facebook resembled a type of stage which the young people used to construct performances for audiences made up of their friends and others known in material contexts. In this sense, presentations were anchored in material contexts, mostly depicting actual individuals in the form of photos and other symbolic representational forms. The virtual nature of social networking sites necessarily influenced the nature of interactions. Inherent spatial/temporal allowances supported a heightened level of control in terms of presentation of self. Respondents enthusiastically embraced the opportunity afforded by the virtual environment to construct idealised versions of themselves on the site. Donna Haraway’s (1991) cyborg theory was applied to examine the relative positioning of everyday life and social networking sites as described by the young respondents. Cyborg theory (1991) was valuable in its ability to articulate the fluid melding of apparently dichotomous virtual/material categories into one blurred, permeable form. The ways in which young people reported incorporating material selves within virtual contexts, with the unique, mutually exclusive properties of each medium informing interactions, explicated the cyborg elegantly. In the case of this thesis, the cyborg metaphor is applied to Facebook itself. The concepts of individualism, complexity and contradiction embraced within Haraway’s cyborg theory (1991) were also exemplified and captured as much as possible among the young interviewees of this study. This thesis argues for a reconsideration of the ways in which young people and information technologies are understood. Challenging dominant understandings by privileging young people’s perspectives, this thesis advocates for understandings which take into account the ways in which common applications such as Facebook are used. In exploring how Facebook mediated relationships are interconnected with other material relationships among young people in two rural Victorian towns, this thesis identified numerous complexities. Material lives were subtly melded with, and indelibly embedded within virtual contexts. In this sense, Facebook can be best understood as an individualised extension of young people’s broader social lives. It is part of a larger suite of information technologies, social media and other mediated sociality but ultimately anchored in materially based, face-to-face interactions.
KeywordsFacebook; social networking sites; young people; rural; qualitative; cyborg theory; risk society; presentation of self
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