Community, Diversity and Visuality: – an ethno-case study on constructing identities and becoming legitimate participants in online/offline communities

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles

Abstract

Since the launch of the first web browser, the early-nineties was dominated by a view of the Internet as a utopian space for identity play and community building. However online platforms are currently not utopian environments where people can be a anyone or anything they want. This thesis discusses how these online platforms continue to be shaped by the identity categories we inhabit in offline contexts. Here, I view identities as multiple yet parallel, somewhat stable but simultaneously renegotiated and changing with social context. Additionally, the focus is on what characterized the identities that the participants construct rather than the identity categories they inhabit. The overarching aim of the thesis is twofold: a)to explore what frames identity construction online and how the youth participants (co)construct identities on online platforms as well as b) to discuss methodological implications for employing screen recordings in an ethno-case study within educational research. The aim is approached through the following research questions:

RQ1. What frames the possibilities for identity construction online?
RQ2. How is the participant identity (co)construction shaped by these frames?
RQ3. What are the practical ethical challenges with employing ethnographic methods when conducting research on identity (co)construction online?

This thesis is a qualitative case study informed by ethnography, or an ethno-case study. Case study as a methodology focuses on an immersed understanding of a phenomenon trough a specific case and can offer insight into how previous research and empirical data are connected. Both case study and ethnography focus on a participant’s perspective of a phenomenon and use varied forms of data collection. However, in ethnography, more emphasis is put on extended periods of time in the field and gaining insight into this phenomenon from multiple contexts, whereas a case study can be more limited in terms of time and researcher immersion into the field.

Here, the research questions are answered through insight into two cases. The first is ethnographic and thereby spanning a longer time period, with multiple sources of data and where research immersion spans both online and offline contexts. The second is framed as an ethno-case study and thereby employs ethnographic methods on a specific case yet is shorter in timespan than the first and where the data collection primarily focuses on the online context.

The first case, Textmöten, was an ethnographic research collaboration focusing on exploring how students in upper secondary schools in Finland used mobile phones in school. The data consisted of video recordings of students during their school day, during lessons as well as breaks, and at the same time as there was a recording of their mobile phones. The application that allowed the mobile phones to be recorded was student controlled, and the students were thereby in control of the material being recorded. During a total of 18 days, the data was collected between the spring of 2015 to the autumn of 2016 at two different Swedish language upper secondary schools with a total of seven students (of age 16-18 at the time). In addition to the video recordings as well as the recordings of the mobile phones, five of the seven students were interviewed.

The second case, esports in education, was conducted in collaboration with a Swedish language vocational school with an esports programme in Finland in 2017-2018. The aim of the project was to explore online gaming through players that took their play seriously. Seven students (of age 17-18 at the time, all identifying as male) playing CS:GO took part in the study by sharing screen recordings of their in-game matches (ten matches and almost six hours in total) and by taking part in interviews (seven in total). The focus students volunteered to participate in the study through a teacher. The design of the study was dependent on the students’ engagement due to the physical distance between the researchers and participants. Regular meetings, held at their school, functioned as interviews and were recorded.

The thesis focuses on three of the platforms the participants engaged with; Instagram, Tumblr (case 1) and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (case 2). The results show that the participants identity (co)construction online was framed by both the platforms technical affordances as well as the online and offline communities they were part of. Additionally, their identity (co)construction was characterized by visuality, community and diversity. The practical ethical challenges revolved around maintaining participant integrity in terms of; a) gaining informed consent from players that became co-observed, b) defining privacy online during the analysis as well as in the published results and c) portraying participants accurately despite stakeholder interests.
Original languageEnglish
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Sahlström, Fritjof, Supervisor
  • Hannah, Kaihovirta, Supervisor, External person
Place of PublicationÅbo
Publisher
Print ISBNs978-952-12-4126-0
Electronic ISBNs978-952-12-4127-7
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2021
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

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