This blog has basically turned into some sort of online stage for me to ramble away on and purge my mind of its latest bugbear, but I mustn’t forget its original purpose – as coursework for my MA in Media, Culture and Communication.
I have become so addicted to writing it that I almost cannot imagine life without it. I’m afraid I am not entirely joking. Very. Sad. Indeed.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, I wrote about blogging and identity, which gave me the excuse to display some pretty heinous old photos of myself. I jumped the gun a bit – I was supposed to be writing about blogs and education but wrote about identity as well. Oh well. I’ll try not to write about blogs and education in this post, although I’ve spent much of today filling in a course planner for the college, where under the heading Learning Activities (including homework) I have repeatedly written ‘students must post this task on their blog’. Our college has gone nuts for blogs and it’s made such a difference.
Anyway. I’m supposed to be writing about identity today. I’ve already critiqued (or rather praised) the David Buckingham article Introducing Identity, where Buckingham sounds a warning bell for those who believe that just because something is online, it somehow removes it from real world social forces such as race, gender, geography, class, age, disability and so on. Indeed the whole point of this blog has been to show how seemingly mundane events like going to the supermarket or taking a walk in a park are bound up in a series of complicated socio-political relationships. The personal is indeed political – as the Seventies (as opposed to modern free-market) feminists would say.
See – I’ve even made myself a little badge. I even thought about giving this blog that title but thought it might be a)a bit pretentious and b)prevent me from talking about some of the more frivolous things I like such as Kate Bush or 90s pop music. I guess I also liked the idea of having an identifiable online persona and therefore decided to go with Reese – my real name (though I do have a married name that I use in connection with child related matters such as schools and hospitals). Evidence of a rampaging ego? Never!
Anyway, since I’ve already written about Buckingham, I should probably move on. The second reading is an essay by Guy Merchant of Sheffield Hallam University from 2006 and is called: Identity, Social Networks and Online Communication.
I preferred the Buckingham piece to this, probably because Buckingham’s views chime with my own – namely that attempting to isolate the online world from politics, economics and society is nuts.
This paragraph – at the start of Merchant’s essay – was a bit of a worry in itself: Merchant (2006: 235-6) writes:
The rise of a new capitalism (Gee, 2004) with a global reach has given rise to a
system in which it is less likely that goods are produced and consumed locally, and more likely that production is coordinated across locations and that goods are marketed to consumer types, rather than geographical locations. This sort of arrangement requires the development of particular communicative tools, but more pertinently leads to the emergence of new social identities; identities that are more accurately defined by lifestyle, media consumption, and affinity spaces than by the more traditional markers of race, class, gender and place.
The idea that there are consumer “types” outside of race, class, gender and place just doesn’t wash with me, fitting as it does into the Nu Labour/neo-liberal ideology of “choice” – I am who I am because I am wearing Adidas rather than Nike or because I shop at Waitrose rather than Asda.
I loved this picture – a bit of an internet LOL from a few weeks back. Look at it carefully – it’s FUNNY.
Anyway, you may (or may not) have read my recent post about how I largely shop in cheapo supermarkets these days. This is not a lifestyle; my husband and I are both self-employed, believe in keeping our money under control and have three kids to feed. I would have never considered doing this as a single person with a highly paid job in TV and thought shops like Iceland or Morrison’s were naff. I had the economic power to make this choice. We were also living in a boom (OK a fake one based on crazy credit) rather than a stagnant recession bound economy.
When everyone is spending like it’s going out of fashion it’s hard not to get caught up in the madness; I ‘chose’ to invest in buy-to-let property (don’t all shoot me now) during the boom, a ‘choice’ that certainly wouldn’t be available to me now (less money, terrible economy, no-one lending any money).
Merchant continues by discussing the performance element of online identity – I won’t argue with him there, because I know that every time I start tapping away at my keyboard I am putting on a little show. However, is this so different from ‘real life’? And also, how ‘free’ is this performance from the constraints of class, race, gender, geography, age, disability etc that constrain the way we act in the outside world?
I guess it all comes down to our old friends structure and agency – the eternal balancing debate as to whether we are social constructs or free agents. I think it is tempting to believe that somehow it’s different online, but I’m afraid I don’t think it is (the gist of the Buckingham piece).
Further alarm bells ring when Merchant quotes Giddens – author of The Third Way and guru to one T. Blair (sorry if I appear prejudiced….) Merchant (2006: 238-9):
Social theorists like Giddens (1991) and Bauman (2004) convincingly argue that identity in the late modern world is contingent, multiple and malleable. It is suggested that the individual is active in producing and performing an ongoing narrative of the self. As Giddens explains:
The existential question of self identity is bound up with the fragile nature of the biography
which the individual ‘supplies’ about herself. A person’s identity is not to be found in behaviour,
nor – important though this is – in the reactions of others, but in the capacity to keep a particular
narrative going. The individual’s biography, if she is to maintain regular interaction with others
in the day-to-day world, cannot be wholly fictive. It must continually integrate events which
occur in the external world, and sort them into the ongoing ‘story’ about the self. (Giddens, 1991,
I’m afraid I just don’t buy this. Our identity is about so much more than this – both online and in every aspect of our daily lives. Identity is not like shopping where you can pick up something you fancy and put it in your basket; anyway, as I’ve explained, I believe that even where we shop and what we buy speaks volumes about the social, political and economic conditions of the world we live in. And very, very unfashionable things like class – after all, how many bus drivers, dustmen or single mums on benefits do their weekly shop in Waitrose?
I’ll try and wind this up now as it’s getting late and I’m feeling a bit tired. I’m also worried I’m being a bit mean about poor Guy Merchant’s article – which reflects a perfectly valid point of view. It just clashes with what I think.
His conclusion (2006: 242) is fair enough:
The online environments that new technology provides offer new challenges and possibilities for
self-presentation and impression formation in human communication. Whether or not online
environments actually create new people or simply help us to see ourselves in new ways may be a
debate that we need to leave behind in favour of a more sophisticated analysis of digital interaction.
I guess I just have trouble with the premise that you leave all the real stuff behind the minute you go online, just as I have trouble with the cyber utopianism of someone like Henry Jenkins. I’m mindful that I need to finish off my theory essay and have been trying to temper my “neo-liberalism is evil” rant with something a bit fluffier. So I’ve been ploughing my way through Convergence Culture. It’s an interesting read but sidesteps issues of class, power, politics and economics – something I find a bit hard to do.
Good old Karl would be turning in his grave.
And with that thought I’ll leave you. Night, night.