Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: Anthropological work on identity has emphasized its iterative nature: individuals must continually re-perform their identities, and they must do so using the preexisting performative resources their society has established. Yet traditionally, identity construction obscures its reliance on collective norms in the name of individual agency and uniqueness. Internet communication, on the other hand, is explicitly, even joyfully iterative. Social media is designed around retweeting and reblogging the words of others, creating and circulating memes, and playing with seemingly rigid constraints, all on the unifying playing field of a medium equally accessible and equally limiting to everyone.
This panel explores the role of iterativity in online identity construction by considering the ways that people appropriate and reappropriate linguistic and technological resources, using them in new and innovative ways in order to construct and maintain identities and social relationships. The presenters on this panel ask: (how) does the iterativity of identity construction change on the internet? To what extent is appropriation — of registers, of jargon, of topics, of technological affordances — overt or even celebrated? Are some forms of appropriation more acceptable than others?
Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein looks at how online survey respondents appropriate features of face-to-face conversation in order to personalize a medium that lacks overt social interaction. Elise Kramer considers the reappropriation of feminist discourses of female empowerment by women using social media for multi-level marketing. Christina P. Davis looks at how members of the Tamil diaspora make use of existing social media platforms in order to construct both a unifying sense of community and a unified notion of what it means to be — and sound — Tamil. And Dominika Baran analyzes how Polish refugee women recontextualize memories in online discussions, transforming not just their relationships with one another but their interpretations of their own experiences.
Rather than framing social media as an impoverished version of face-to-face communication, these presenters treat it as a different type of social space with different norms and possibilities. As the internet plays an increasingly dominant role in social life, this panel explores new ways of conceptualizing and studying online encounters.