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Title:Life, Learning, and Literacy on the Social Network: Digital Participatory Culture
Author(s):Buck, Amber
Director of Research:Hawisher, Gail E.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Hawisher, Gail E.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Prior, Paul A.; Schaffner, Spencer W.; Nakamura, Lisa M.
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):digital literacies
social network sites
social networking sites
new media
Abstract:This dissertation uses qualitative case studies of seven graduate and undergraduate students in which I examine their situated literacy and identity practices within social network sites. I argue that activity on social network sites is ubiquitous, purposeful, and integral to students’ literate lives. My research examines identity and literacy practices on social network sites by considering individuals’ site use in context. Chapter One situates my research within past studies of digital literacy practices, self-sponsored writing, and identity, and I consider how individuals’ networked literate practices are embedded in and influenced by social context, institutional and technological structures, and the history of these structures. While much work on social network sites in writing studies focuses on rhetorical analyses of profile pages or a consideration of these sites for use in the writing classroom, my research views activity on these sites within specific writers’ larger online and offline literacy practices. Chapter Two introduces my ethnographic case study methodology that combined methods of data collection from different sources, including face-to-face interviews, online written texts, time use diaries and video screen capture. This project does not draw strict boundaries between online and offline activities or between activity on different social network sites, but instead investigates the relationship between them. Instead of studying online interactions based on their textual record, I include data from other sources to gain a better understanding of this online activity as distributed across sites and integrated within daily literacy practices. Chapter Three focuses on the ways that my research participants represent themselves for different groups of people and theorizes different ways to view identity on social network sites. Here my research is grounded in Dorothy Holland, William Lachicotte, Debra Skinner and Carole Cain’s (1998) conceptions of situated and transactional identities and figured worlds. The structure of many social network sites flattens one’s multiple contact groups into one group of “friends” or “followers,” where an individual sends the same update to multiple friend groups. This chapter considers the ways that case study participants conceive of audience on these sites and negotiate between different “figured worlds” in online spaces. One research participant, for example, manages two different Twitter accounts, one as a music reviewer for a popular music blog, another for his academic persona as a graduate student, teacher, and rhetorician. Another undergraduate research participant uses the same Twitter and Facebook accounts to send updates in both English and Korean to the same list of contacts. These participants’ experiences demonstrate the purposeful ways in which writers consider audience and representation on social network sites. Chapter Four moves from users’ interactions with others on social network sites to interactions with the sites themselves. This chapter considers social network sites themselves as technological actors in these writers’ identity representations, and it illustrates the ways in which individuals work purposefully with and against the structures of these sites to manage their identities and online data. An important component of this negotiation with social network sites is how participants construct boundaries in regard to privacy, and how they negotiate the frequently changing settings and policies of each social network site. One research participant, for example, keeps most personal information off Facebook and monitors her privacy settings closely, another constructs fake profiles and posts false information to make a statement about the veracity of information on the service. Another closed off her Facebook wall during her job search process. Along with managing their identities through privacy settings, many participants also used social network sites to manage data, archiving songs they have listened to in, organizing images through Flickr, and building an inventory of yarn owned through a social network site for knitters called Ravelry. The experiences that the participants discussed in this chapter demonstrate the ways in which navigating interfaces, settings, and site structures become important literacy skills in the twenty-first century. Users of social network sites engage in purposeful and thoughtful interactions in these online spaces, negotiating different friend groups, different site designs, and different layers of settings as they manage professional and social identities across online and offline spaces. My dissertation argues that these practices represent important literate activity in the twenty-first century, as individuals learn to negotiate interfaces, user agreements, and personal data, as well as rhetorical situations, in their online writing. In considering the roles that social network sites play in individuals’ literacy and identity practices, writing researchers and educators can better understand the literacy practices that students engage in outside of the classroom and the experiences they bring to their academic writing. My research also suggests methodologies for observing and studying the distributed literate activity that takes place on social network sites. Examining the social, technological and structural factors that influence digital literacy practices in online environments is crucial in understanding the impact of these sites on writing practices.
Issue Date:2012-06-27
Rights Information:Copyright 2012 Amber Buck
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-06-28
Date Deposited:2012-05

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