London School of Economics

Project Description

Private Lives Lived in Public: Weblogs and Self Performance

Project Abstract

In the few years since the technology emerged, weblogs have become increasingly popular - seven percent of online Americans have one (Rainie 2005) - and are the focus of media and academic interest. Much of this interest has concentrated on the use of weblogs for political expression or knowledge management, but according to one survey, around 70 percent of weblogs are created as personal journals (Herring et al. 2004). Several sociological theorists suggest that since the dawn of late or post-modernity, individuals in modern societies are increasingly enabled (or required) to choose their own lifestyles or define one of their own (Giddens 1991). Autobiographical writing can be a valuable tool for this self-performance (Bruner 2004 p. 692, Foucault and Hutton 1988).

This study will provide a qualitative description of personal weblogging practice in a particular context - that of London-based authors, purposively sampled to provide demographic variety, who have created their sites using either LiveJournal or Blogger's software. This description will be based on semi-structured interviews with the authors supplemented by examination of the sites they have produced. It will focus on the manner in which self-performance on weblogs may be constrained by a number of social factors. The first of these is the socio-economic status and gender of the authors, which is expected to both influence whether they feel able to and entitled to express themselves publicly (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992 p. 146), and the likelihood that they will expect and find an audience. The second likely influence is their relationship with their audiences (real and imagined). The third influence to be examined is the emergent norms of this genre - the extent to which webloggers come to believe that, for example, public revelation of what was once considered private is not just possible but expected in the context of a weblog (Finnegan 1997, Killoran 2003). And lastly the thesis will examine how self-performance is constrained by the capabilities and limitations of the technology they have chosen. Some weblog technologies allow authors to control who sees what they write - others do not. Similarly some assume authors will seek comments on what they write and others do not.

This study hopes to provides insight into a rapidly-developing "technology of the self" (Foucault and Hutton 1988) while bringing into focus the importance of the social context that is crucial to any analysis of a technology's effects.

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