: literacy and identity in a virtual community

  • Angela Alexandria Thomas

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    The research reported in this thesis is about the ways in which identities are constituted, constructed, rehearsed and performed by young people (aged 16 and younger) in a multi-modal virtual community. The research is set in the context of the rapidly changing information age, and it is set in the age of the 'visual turn', where Western culture is situated in visually saturated contexts, and the texts through which citizens live and story their lives are texts of visual and multimedia entities. It is set in a time where identities are recognised as fragmented, multiple, and hybrid, a time that challenges traditional notions of identity. This research and research context is different from any other in history, and consequently the research has implications both for education and for the broader consideration of the social futures of Western society. 

    Through the research an argument for the need to consider a new theorisation about the nature of identity in different times and spaces emerged. The first point of the argument is that identity is constructed through the cyberliteracies which contextualise the stories of citizen's lives. The second point is that identity is historically and socially constructed discursive practices which serve to subjectify the self as 'subject'. Thirdly, identity is constituted within and through the emotional, lived experiences of 'cyberlife' by members of virtual communities as well as by each members' affinities to a community. The final point is that identity is a product of the way citizens see and fashion themselves, and the way they perceive others to view them. The thesis thus develops a multi-perspectival framework to account for the methodological considerations of researching in virtual environments. This includes a blending of discourse analysis, multi-modal analysis and narrative analysis/accounts informed by ethnographic methodology. 

    This framework was required to account for two unique dimensions: the site of the research, an embodied digital world allowing multiple forms of existence; and also the nature of the site, its multi-modal characteristics and the cyberliteracies required by citizens to effectively participate and negotiate communication with others in virtual communities.

    The data, collected from an ethnographic study over a four-year period, with participants aged 16 years and younger, consists of four data sets: (a) transcripts of online conversations between research participants; (b) transcripts of interviews; (c) observational field notes taken over the three-year period; and (d) a variety of images and screenshots which were taken at the research site. 

    The data are analysed and discussed throughout four chapters 6, 7 8 and 9. Chapter 6 is a narrative account of a day in the life of a female cyber-citizen using data sets (b) and (c). Chapter 7 is a critical discursive analysis of an illuminative conversation transcript and Chapter 8 is an analysis of the meanings of images using data set (d). Chapter 9 includes a thematic analysis and summary of the entire data corpus (a), (b), (c) and (d). 

    The study confirms the view that young people's identities are grounded in discursive and social practices, are both constructed and constituted in particular ways within the virtual community of practice and are, for young women, intimately linked with emotion, embodiment and the 'gaze'. At the theoretical level, a major finding is that the new framework of identity provides new ways of understanding the youth of these times. A second major finding rests with the nature of 'cybertalk', which reflects a confluence of oral and written traditions, and presents a different mode of communication that has implications in fields such as linguistics and education. 

    The thesis makes a further contribution to methodological and analytical understandings of research, in that a blended methodology is developed that utilises the multi-perspectival theoretical framework and accounts for the nature of virtual communities.
    Date of AwardJul 2004
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorIan Falk (Supervisor)

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