University of Twente Student Theses


Revisiting Goffman: towards a social constructivist approach to the presentation of the self within virtual environments

Gossler, G. (2015) Revisiting Goffman: towards a social constructivist approach to the presentation of the self within virtual environments.

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Abstract:Purpose: The purpose of this explorative study is to (re-)introduce, and thereby explore, the question, how the presentation of the self in the virtual environment relates to the presentation of the self in the in-vivo environment as experienced by adolescent e-users (main question). Drawing on Goffman’s theatrical metaphor (1956), prior research investigating self-presentation on social networks is predominantly limited to an individualistic approach to the self. From a social constructivist approach, however, revisiting Goffman’s theatrical metaphor provides for another and potentially more explorable theoretical approach. In particular, it will, then, be explored how the authentication process, which underlies the constitution of the self, takes shape (sub-question). Method: A group of eight adolescents aged 16-21, constituting a ‘micro social network’ of strong and latent social ties, participated in a focus group discussion. After they were invited to give two written self-presentational performances both directed to a virtual audience (Facebook) and an in-vivo audience (group meeting), they reflected on the experience of the self-presentation in both environments. First, a qualitative thematic analysis was applied to investigate emerging themes mentioned during the focus group discussion. Second, each theme was analyzed as to how it relates to the authentication process. Third, an integrational representation model has been constructed summarizing and structuring the given findings. Results: Four themes have been identified as covering for the adolescents’ experience of the presentation of the self: isolative potential (I.), controllability (II.), realness and make-belief (III.), and sharing and echoing (IV.) According to the adolescents’ experience the authentication process was found to be impaired on Facebook as it fails to account for meaningful sharing (=communication). Conclusions and Discussion: According to the adolescents the content being shared on Facebook as well as the lack of sufficient response are unsatisfactory regarding the purpose of engaging in an authentication process within social discourse. The study reveals the self-reflective potential of adolescents in exploring environments offered to them to engage in social discourse. Technology, meant to provide a channel for communication, is abandoned as soon as it disappoints in serving as platform for meaningful self-presentation, that is, meaningful sharing which contributes to the process of self-construction. The value of the social constructivist approach to the process of self-constitution is discussed including implications and recommendations for further research.
Item Type:Essay (Bachelor)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:77 psychology
Programme:Psychology BSc (56604)
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