Category Archives: Internet Culture

Coco & Woodward – Discourses of Authenticity in a Pagan Community

Discourses of Authenticity Within a Pagan Community: The Emergence of the “Fluffy Bunny” Sanction

by Angela Coco & Ian Woodward

[Coco, Angela, and Ian Woodward. 2007. “Discourses of Authenticity Within a Pagan Community: The Emergence of the ‘Fluffy Bunny’ Sanction.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 36 (5): 479–504.]

Points

  • Discussing “fluffy bunnies” is “a group boundary defining exercise based on moral judgments.”
    • It explores pagan ethics associated with the deployment of pagan artifacts and spiritual understandings.
    • Implicit in the discussion is a sense of a “them” who are seduced by media images and popular practices, or implicated in producing them, and a (serious, authentic) “us” who presumably distance ourselves from such things (480).
  • “In a consumer society one purchases objects—commodities such as Tarot cards, ritual tools, medieval dress—that enhance, edify, improve, and sustain self.
    • These objects then act as material boundary markers that suggest things people wish to cultivate about themselves and exclude polluting aesthetics/others” (482).

 

  • pagans are conscious of and practically engage in discussions about constructions of pagan identity and commodification of the craft which is exemplified in the notion of the “fluffy bunny” (499).
  • “A range of tensions emerges which we argue indicates the ways pagans in late-capitalist (or postmodern) society reflexively create meaning-structures around the production and consumption of goods and services that have become popularized as “pagan.” The nuanced features of these tensions reveal the conceptual distinctions and symbolic boundaries pagans create in establishing an “authentic” pagan identity” (483).
  • “The establishment of an “authentic” pagan identity is formed partly by one’s ability to discern the proper limits of commodification and consumerism in the pursuit of religious practice” (499).

 

  • Fluffy Bunnies defined:
    • “those people who gain a surface grasp of pagan practices but fail to incorporate pagan beliefs into their day-to-day life practices” (500).
    • “uninformed, immature, and lacking in their understanding of the forces of nature and consequently dangerous because they may misuse magic”—informant (500).
    • “a person who doesn’t know what they are talking about, or as was said not steadfast in there (sic) beliefs. I am sure that we have all met the 12 year old who is a high priestess and the leader of huge demonic armies and has alliances with the elves!!!!”—informant (500).
    •  “perhaps what bugs me most about these type (sic) is not so much the superficiality (which the ‘fashion-witch’ has in spades) but the hyposcrisy (sic) which often enables them todo harm whilst preaching love and light, and never once recognizing the results of their own actions”—informant (501).
    • “They refer to the superficial practitioner’s tendency to focus only on the light, happy side of life without balancing it with the dark and difficult aspects of experience” (501).

 

Abstract

The commodification of the religious impulse finds its most overt expression in the New Age movement and its subculture neopaganism. This article examines discourses in the pagan community in an Australian state. Pagans, who have been characterized as individualist, eclectic, and diverse in their beliefs and practices, network through electronic mail discussion lists and chat forums as well as through local and national offline gatherings. We explore community building and boundary defining communications in these discourses. In particular, we examine interactions that reveal the mobilization of pagans’ concern with authenticity in the context of late-capitalism, consumer lifestyles, and media representations of the “craft.” Our analysis highlights a series of tensions in pagans’ representations of and engagement with consumer culture which are evident in everyday pagan discourse. These notions of in/authenticity are captured by invoking the “fluffy bunny” sanction.

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boyd – It’s Complicated

It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens

by danah boyd

[ boyd, danah. 2014. It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven, CT, USA: Yale University Press. ]

Points

  • “Networked publics are publics that are restructured by networked technologies. As such, they are simultaneously
    1. the space constructed through networked technologies and
    2. the imagined community that emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology, and practice.” (8, my spacing added)
    3. they are “publics  both  in  the  spatial  sense  and  in  the sense of an imagined community. They are built on and through social media and other emergent technologies … [and] serve much the same functions as publics like the mall or the park did  for  previous  generations  of  teenagers.” (9)
  • “Four affordances, in particular, shape many of the mediated environments that are created by social media.
    • persistence: the durability of online expressions and content;
    • visibility: the potential audience who can bear witness;
    • spreadability: the ease with which content can be shared; and
    • searchability: the ability to find content.” (11)
  • Four affordances further explained:
    • “Content shared through social media often sticks around because technologies are designed to enable persistence… Such content enables interactions to take place over time in an asynchronous fashion.”
    • “Through social media, people can easily share with broad audiences and access content from greater distances, which increases the potential visibility of any particular message… In networked publics, interactions are often public by default, private through effort.”
    • “Much of what people post online is easily spreadable with the click of a few keystrokes. Some systems provide simple buttons to “forward,” “repost,” or “share” content to articulated or curated lists.”
    • “Since the rise of search engines, people’s communications are also often searchable. Search engines make it easy to surface esoteric interactions. These tools are often designed to eliminate contextual cues, increasing the likelihood that searchers will take what they find out of context.” (11-12, italics added)
  • “The internet mirrors, magnifies, and makes more visible the good, bad, and ugly of everyday life. As teens embrace these tools and incorporate them into their daily practices, they show us how our broader social and cultural systems are affecting their lives.” (24)

  • BUT, “As a society, we often spend so much time worrying about young people that we fail to account for how our paternalism and protectionism hinders teens’ ability to become informed, thoughtful, and engaged adults.” (28)

  • Because adults don’t understand teens’ use of social media:
    • we take posts out of context
    • we conflate cyberbullying and “drama,” (“performative interpersonal conflict that takes place in front of an active, engaged audience, often on social media” [138]) when teens feel that actual ‘bullying’ doesn’t happen nearly as much
    • we don’t recognize that teens use social media as a way of being social with each other, not as a method of withdrawing from sociality
    • we see their acts of protest and politics as illegitimate
    • many other reasons…
  • on publics—”People develop a sense for what is normative by collectively adjusting their behavior based on what they see in the publics they inhabit and understand.”(201)
  • definition of meme—”Memes start when a particular digital artifact—be it an image, a song, a hashtag, or a video—is juxtaposed with other text or other media to produce a loosely connected collection of media that share a similar base referent.” (210)

Abstract (blurb)

What is new about how teenagers communicate through services such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? Do social media affect the quality of teens’ lives? In this eye-opening book, youth culture and technology expert danah boyd uncovers some of the major myths regarding teens’ use of social media. She explores tropes about identity, privacy, safety, danger, and bullying. Ultimately, boyd argues that society fails young people when paternalism and protectionism hinder teenagers’ ability to become informed, thoughtful, and engaged citizens through their online interactions. Yet despite an environment of rampant fear-mongering, boyd finds that teens often find ways to engage and to develop a sense of identity.

Boyd’s conclusions are essential reading not only for parents, teachers, and others who work with teens but also for anyone interested in the impact of emerging technologies on society, culture, and commerce in years to come. Offering insights gleaned from more than a decade of original fieldwork interviewing teenagers across the United States, boyd concludes reassuringly that the kids are all right. At the same time, she acknowledges that coming to terms with life in a networked era is not easy or obvious. In a technologically mediated world, life is bound to be complicated.

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boyd—None of This Is Real

None of This Is Real: Identity and Participation in Friendster

by dana boyd

[Boyd, Danah. 2008. “None of This Is Real.” In Structures of Participation in Digital Culture, edited by Joe Karaganis. Social Science Research Council.]

Points

  • Based on fieldwork among users of the social networking site Friendster, specifically during the year 2003
  • Explores how the built in affordances of what was intended to be a dating site both constricted user communication and provided avenues for creative expression

Initial design of Friendster

  • Friendster allows users to see people at up to four degrees distance from themselves, which is much more than is possible in face-to-face social engagement
  • however—”Friendster flattens those networks, collapsing relationship types and contexts into the ubiquitous “Friend.” More problematically, Friendster does not provide ways of mapping or interpreting the contextual cues and social structural boundaries that help people manage their social worlds” (134).
  • So—”Not surprisingly, participants responded to the lack of differentiating texture and shared reference points in Friendster’s flattened social networks by negotiating new social norms and rules of conduct, communicable through the existing features of the system” (134).
  • This lead to the invention of fakesters—”fake profiles that signaled not the individuals behind the profile but communities, cultural icons, or collective interests” (139).

Participatory Performance

  • “The performance of identity relies on the active interpretation of social contexts. Familiarity with a context increases a person’s ability to navigate it—to understand what is appropriate or advantageous within it—and thereby shapes choices about the persona one tries to present within it (boyd, 2002). Contexts are not static backgrounds, but constantly evolve through this process (Duranti & Goodwin, 1992). Digitally mediated performance is no different, but the novelty and narrower channel of interaction affect our capacity to interpret context” (141).
  • The user interface started to interfere with users’ performance of impression management (Goffman 1956)
    • “A growing portion of participants found themselves simultaneously negotiating multiple social groups—social and professional circles, side interests, and so on. Because profiles presented a singular identity to the entire network, however, this diversification brought with it the potential for disruption of individuals’ carefully managed everyday personas” (142-43)

Articulated Participation

  • “Although transparency of information poses an interesting challenge, where the information comes from is also a problem. As Jenny Sundén (2003) noted, digital embodiment requires writing yourself into being. On Friendster this means an explicit articulation of who you are and how you relate to others, using the predefined mechanisms for expression. Through a series of forms, profiles must be crafted to express some aspect of identity and relationships must be explicitly acknowledged in order to exist within the system. Unlike everyday embodiment, there is no digital corporeality without articulation. One cannot simply “be” online; one must make one’s presence visible through explicit and structured actions” (bold added 145).
  • Friendships became strategic—”Impression management is encoded into articulated networks. The variable ways in which people interpret the term friend play a critical role, as does the cost of signaling the value of a relationship” (147).

Rise of the Fakesters

  • Many Fakesters began as practical endeavors to connect groups of people; alumni networks were constituted through Fakesters representing universities, and Burning Man was crafted to connect Burners .., Fakesters were a way of “hacking” the system to introduce missing social texture. These purposes were not limited to group networking: The vast majority of Fakesters were exercises in creative and usually playful expression” (148).
  • Friendster began cracking down on the Fakesters, deleting profiles that seemed fake, and the Fakesters became political.
    • “the Fakester Revolution … crafted “The Fakester Manifesto” (Batty, 2003) “in defense of our right to exist in the form we choose or assume” which included three key sections:
      1.  Identity is Provisional
      2. All Character is Archetypal, Thus Public
      3. Copyright is Irrelevant in the Digital Age (151).
    • Fakesters created Fraudsters, who impersonated other people on the service. Fraudsters were meant to confuse both the Friendster service and serious users …
    • Pretendsters combined random photos from the Web and random profile data. They were not fraudulent portrayals of any particular person, but automated Fakesters that mimicked real profiles” (152).
  • “Although Fakesters had taken on a collective impression of resistance, their primary political stance concerned authenticity. In discussing Fakesters, Batty was quick to point out that there’s no such thing as an authentic performance on Friendster—“None of this is real” …
    • “Through the act of articulation and writing oneself into being, all participants are engaged in performance intended to be interpreted and convey particular impressions” (153).

BIG POINTS

  • The abolition of distance—the classic Internet virtue—rendered many social distinctions invisible; the impact of Friends’ performances on individual profiles undermined the individual’s control over social performances; and the binary social network structure—Friend/not-Friend—erased a broad field of relationship nuances. Absent these strong orienting features, participants negotiated new norms and reintroduced new forms of social complexity” (154).
  • “digital networks will never merely map the social, but inevitably develop their own dynamics through which they become the social. The interaction of people with information systems is recurrently marked by play and experimentation, as people test the limits of their settings and manage the consequences of unexpected interactions and altered contexts” (155).

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Altman—Posthum/an/ous

Posthum/an/ous: Identity, Imagination, and the Internet 

graduate thesis by Eric Stephen Altman

[Altman, Eric Stephen. 2010. “Posthum/an/ous: Identity, Imagination, and the Internet.” Thesis, Appalachian State University.]

Points

  • based mostly on online written materials, as well as 10 interviews
  • an English department MA thesis
  • looks at Furry, Otherkin, and Otakukin as three fandoms with three similar aspects
    1. emphasize an online avatar that represents identity to members
    2. engages in fan fiction
    3. has a sexual, fetishistic component as a prominent feature
      • “The object of this thesis is to engage in and describe three different communities that engage in community behavior that deviates from and challenges mainstream culture. Each of these communities is primarily based on the Internet and their members consistently identify with an identity that is not human. These communities often express discontentment with their human body or existence and instead idealize the conception of another state of existence. Interestingly enough, many members justify their beliefs by stating that they must have once been the creature that they identity with so, believing their past lives to be the one where they were once happy and accepted, as opposed to the sham of their human existence” (7).

By describing Otherkin as a fandom, Altman misses the boat completely

  • the piece references the furry subculture along with Otherkin & Otakukin as if they were comparable levels of identity
    • the problem= Furries identify with a non-human entity; Otherkin/Otakukin identify as a non-human entity
    • this leads the author to treat Otherkin identity as a fundamentally fictional construct, which is not the case to Otherkin
    • “Through the implementation of fiction and narrative, the fandoms are able to create and sustain complex fictional personas in complex fictional worlds, and thereby create a “real” subculture in physical reality, based entirely off of fiction” (33).

Altman gets close to describing Otherkin belief as a valid religion-like system by linking fandoms to mythology and religious structure:

  • “The devotion of fandoms to media is a new kind of mythology. Fans have the opportunity to adhere themselves to a system of fundamental guidelines that appeal to them, and these moral and societal edicts are transmitted through the narratives that are crafted by media and literature. The heroes and saints of religion are transmitted within the narrative of popular culture, and archetypes of mythology continue to define the way in which the viewer experiencing the media understands characters … A key difference between fandoms and religions is that fandoms are inherently outside of cultural hegemony” (41).

But then falls prey to the fandom construct by viewing Otherkin personal histories and narratives of awakening as genres of fan fiction—governed by rules, but completely fictional:

  • “if I were to endeavor to make a persona in the Otherkin community, I would have the nearly limitless horizons of fantasy literature and media from which to draw inspiration. I could easily craft a creature that defies all logical sense, but under the loose framework of fantasy, could indeed be completely plausible; if I establish enough background and history then my idea could be “believable” within the context of the fan community” (63).

Since the Otherkin belief system is based around the cultural productions of a fandom, it is an alternative ontological choice the members have made rather than a true belief system

  • “trappings of humanity isn’t so much an indication of the fandom’s sanity so much as a critique of a world that discarded them; humanity hasn’t worked, and so therefore the alternatives are explored” (89).
  • This is not necessarily true or false, but the fact that Altman starts from the position of a fandom precludes any exploration of ontological possibilities and does not take the participants of his research seriously.

Abstract

The Furry, Otherkin, and Otakukin are Internet fan subcultures whose members personally identify with non-human beings, such as animals, creatures of fantasy, or cartoon characters. I analyze several different forms of expression that the fandoms utilize to define themselves against the human world. These are generally narrative in execution, and the conglomeration of these texts provides the communities with a concrete ontology. Through the implementation of fiction and narrative, the fandoms are able to create and sustain complex fictional personas in complex fictional worlds, and thereby create a “real” subculture in physical reality, based entirely off of fiction. Through the use of the mutability of Internet performance and presentation of self-hood, the groups are able to present themselves as possessing the traits of previous, non-human lives; on the Internet, the members are post-human. The members no longer need to suffer through the society of humans around them: they can reclaim their past lives and live out a posthum/an/ous existence

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Hine—Virtual Ethnography: Modes, Varieties, Affordances

Virtual Ethnography: Modes, Varieties, Affordances

by Christine Hine

[Hine, Christine. 2008. “Virtual Ethnography: Modes, Varieties, Affordances.” The SAGE Handbook of Online Research Methods, 257–70.]

Points

  • Great overview of the field of digital/virtual ethnography from nascence to 2008:
    • Gibson 84, Rheingold 93, Baym 94, Correll 95, Reid 94, Markham 98, Silver 00, Kendall 02, Boellstorff 06, boyd & Heer 06, etc
  • outlines three overlapping best practices
    1. participant observation
      • Much like traditional ethnography a digital ethnographer must actively participate in online activities, which implies a particular type of reflexivity in the case of the digital study:
      • “The use of the same medium to interact with subjects as forms the topic of the research places a particular emphasis on reflexivity: as Hine (2000: 65) argues, virtual ethnography is ‘ethnography in, of and through the virtual'” (262).
    2. presence
      • Lurking is easy online, and can generate positive results, but can not be taken as ethnography itself. The experience of the medium itself is a part of the participant aspect of the study:
      • “Even an asynchronous message board has its own version of ‘real time’ … an ethnographer who simply lurked without ever participating would miss the experiential knowledge that comes from feeling what it is like to post a message and wait to see if it will ever receive a reply” (262-63).
    3. skill
      • A certain amount of skill navigating the medium is necessary to interact with interlocutors adequately, not unlike learning the local language. This is especially true when researching in game worlds:
      • “Some naivety with the technology in question can be an asset in terms of questioning the taken-for-granted, but this can be an epistemological luxury when simply interacting with people and keeping up with the pace of game play requires an almost instinctive familiarity with game controls” (263).
  • issues of authenticity, trust, and ethics
    1. there is no real way of proving who anyone is when interacting online, however, is this really that different offline?
    2. Sometimes the onus is on the researcher to prove their legitimacy
      •  university email addresses and personal websites always help here
    3. ethical guidelines should be followed to IRB standards just like an offline study, with added levels of protection
      • Since online content (including text-based social interaction) is mostly searchable, anonymity becomes even more important

Abstract

This chapter begins with a review of the development of virtual ethnography as applied to online settings. The idea of the online community is explored, focusing on the involvement of virtual ethnography in establishing the existence of rich and complex online social formations. The next section then focuses on some of the lessons learnt from these experiences, looking at some emergent practices of online ethnography and the dilemmas that online ethnographers have faced. Specific issues include ethnographic presence in online settings, questions of authenticity and trust, the ethics of online ethnography, and the definition of field sites in relation to the online/offline boundary. A concluding section notes the relationship of virtual ethnography with other ethnographic traditions, questioning the extent to which there is any radical methodological innovation in the emerging modes of virtual ethnography Continue reading Hine—Virtual Ethnography: Modes, Varieties, Affordances

Postill & Pink—Social Media Ethnography

Social Media Ethnography: The Digital Researcher in a Messy Web

by John Postill and Sarah Pink

[Postill, John, and Sarah Pink. 2012. “Social Media Ethnography: The Digital Researcher in a Messy Web.” Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture and Policy, no. 145 (November).]

Points

  • great model for Internet ethnography
  • based on fieldwork both on and offline among political activists in Barcelona
  • Advances a new approach to Internet ethnography, moving away from a concept of online community, and toward concepts of routine, movement, and sociality.
    • routine (based on Postill’s fieldwork) five overlapping sub-practices
      1. catching-up— withresearch-related developments through Twitter, Facebook and face-to-face encounters and, to a lesser extent, via email, mailing lists, Google alerts, news feeds and mobile phone exchanges” (128).
      2. sharing—”The technical ease with which users habitually share news and other information conceals the fact that digital sharing is a skilled, embodied activity that the researcher must learn to perfect over time” (128).
      3. exploring—”often by following links provided in tweets. These explorations can end in a quick glance at a web page or in longer, more meandering explorations of a potential research site” (129).
      4. interacting—”a range of different forms and intensities, from an occasional ‘Like’ on Facebook to a long series of face-to-face, mobile and online encounters” (129).
      5. archiving— [tagging, bogs, public/private] raises questions about the changing nature of fieldnotes in the digital era. One intriguing question is how extensive tagging may shape the fieldwork process” (129).
    • movement—online social activity is not relegated to a single platform. Groups will interact on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Tumblr simultaneously, so following the movement of the group from one platform to the next through hashtags and hyperlinks is an important aspect in studying how social systems really work on the Internet.
    • sociality—Internet activity can not be thought of as occurring within a bounded area. This need for open edges is why Postill and Pink reject the use of “community” as a descriptor: it brings with it implications of spatial boundedness and the creation of a single social unit. Instead, they look at the “sociality” of individual actors aggregated across boundaries (platform to platform; online to IRL) to form a picture of the movement discussed above. Unlike a community, the group has no clear edges and is in constant motion.
  • BIG take away quote: “In existing literatures, a messy web has been ordered through concepts such as community, culture and network. However, in the context of doing social media ethnography, a different approach is needed. A plural concept of sociality that allows us to focus on the qualities of relatedness in online and offline relationships offers a better way of understanding how social media practices are implicated in the constitution of social groups, and the practices in which they engage together. Understanding the work of the social media ethnographer as mobile is important for gaining a sense of the shifting intensities of the social media landscape as it emerges online, but also as it is interwoven with offline activities. It is important to be able to see how the researcher’s online movement is both routine and subject to her or him being ‘carried’ through social media environments (e.g. through Twitter hashtags or Facebook threads), and becoming part of both digital and offline crowds in real, experiential ways” (132).

ethnographic place—”drawing on the work of Massey (2005) and Ingold (2008), are constituted through the emergent relations between things and processes. They are not bounded territories or groups/communities. Rather, they are clusters or intensities of things of which both localities and socialities are elements” (124).

Abstract

Social media practices and technologies are often part of how ethnographic research participants navigate their wider social, material and technological worlds, and are equally part of ethnographic practice. This creates the need to consider how emergent forms of social media-driven ethnographic practice might be understood theoretically and methodologically. In this article, we respond critically to existing literatures concerning the nature of the internet as an ethnographic site by suggesting how concepts of routine, movement and sociality enable us to understand the making of social media ethnography knowledge and places.

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Williams & Copes—How Edge Are You?

“How Edge Are You?” Constructing Authentic Identities and Subcultural Boundaries in a Straightedge Internet Forum

by J. Patrick Williams & Heith Copes

[Williams, J. Patrick, and Heith Copes. ““How edge are you?” Constructing authentic identities and subcultural boundaries in a straightedge internet forum.”Symbolic Interaction 28, no. 1 (2005): 67-89.]

Points

  • based on several years of online participant (and non-participant) observation on an Internet forum catering to the Straightedge community
  • good section on methodology of subcultural social media study
  • Uses Fine and Kleinman’s (1979) concept of communication interlocks, describing the way subcultures’ influence spreads to other areas. These work in four ways:
    1. members of a subculture are simultaneously members of multiple networks
    2. this involves maintaining weak social ties with many other people, so some subcultural info moves past subcultural boundaries
    3. some subculturists hold key structural roles (representatives, musicians, etc.) and spread cultural information officially through outside structures (fans).
    4. The mass media spreads information back and forth across subcultural boundaries, introducing nonmembers to the subculture through journalistic exposés or a subcultural music style finding mainstream success
  • articles argues against Fine and Kleinman, who assert that self-identification is a necessary part of Subcultural membership
  • Instead, the Internet “facilitates subcultural diffusion via nomadic internet users who may share subcultural values and feel a part of a virtual community but who do not feel the need to self-identify as subcultural members” (86).
  • Thus, Internet forums can be seen as a new communication interlock, lying between face-to-face interaction and mass media communication
    • acting as an example of the general ‘postmodern condition,’ characterized by “the fragmentation of identity and the weakening  of commitment to anything but oneself” (86).

straightedge—a subculture that mixes punk music and aesthetics with a non-drug/alcohol/sex lifestyle

Abstract

We analyze how participants in an internet forum dedicated to the straightedge subculture articulate and express subcultural identities and boundaries, with particular attention to how they accomplish these tasks in a computer-mediated context. Through participant observation, “focused discussions,” and interviews, we explore the complexity of identity-making processes in terms of cyberspace and subculture, conceptualizing identification as occurring at the intersection of biography, subculture, and technology. We find that the internet influences how individuals participate in subcultural communities by analyzing their claims for authenticity and how they position themselves in relation to subcultural boundaries. This article provides insight into the dialectic relationship between participation in a subculture and in an internet community. Continue reading Williams & Copes—How Edge Are You?