smsociety14 has ended
Saturday, September 27 • 16:11 - 16:30
"Looking for acceptance: Negotiating online community through selfie-bios"

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Background: The internet has created a rich social space where affinity groups gather to share experiences and learn from each other (Haas, Irr, Jennings, & Wagner, 2011; Parr, 2008). For individuals with health problems, the virtual world has provided another point of access to resources, services, support, and healing through online support groups.  Counter to beliefs that the virtual world is open to anyone interested in participating, exclusive communities often obstruct the entrance, locking the doors to many communities. For those looking for acceptance into an online communities, the task of gaining entry includes negotiating both technological and discursive obstacles as there is often a requirement to introduce the self, and sometimes a need to apply for membership, when entering a community space. Digital discourse analysis provides an approach to explore how individuals negotiate online communities by using selfie bios to gain acceptance into a community of practice to gain entrance and belonging. When applied to mental health communities, this approach provides information on how people attempt to find support and the importance of particular types of literacy skills needed to access help.

Objective: This research contributes to the field of new media sociolinguistics (Thurlow & Mroczek, 2011) to consider intersections between discourse, technology, multimodality, and ideology by demonstrating how people navigate the norms of the digital and discursive landscape of online community spaces. This paper explores how the affordances of new media provide people opportunities to create communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; McLure Waski & Faraj, 2000) online while simultaneously creating barriers to entry.

Methods: This paper applies digital discourse analysis methods to examine the point of contact between selfie-bios and the application form required to gain access to journal within the online community HealthyPlace. By looking at a constellation of texts related to the online journal application process (journals homepage, journal interest form, and twenty eight corresponding selfie-bios), this case study sheds light on how people take up and reproduce community discourses in hopes of gaining admission into this virtual community.

Results: This case study extends on research that suggests becoming a member of an online support community requires strategic discursive competence (Stommel & Koole, 2010) by demonstrating how people reproduced discourse community ideologies and construct recognizable self-identities in relation to mental health disorder(s) through selfie-bios through the application process to the online journaling community. The digitally-mediated life story that is produced by responding to electronic application forms is unique to the digital age, reflecting the demands and constraints of the technology (Page, 2012). This paper will show how people exhibit discursive competence about mental health along with digital competence about digital auto-biography writing through selfie-bios.

Conclusions: Online community bios show how the online application process can facilitate access to community, or conversely, failed uptake brings the possibility of exclusion—raising the stakes of successful discursive performance. Digital discourse analysis allows us to rethink the intersection of language and technology at the point of entry into community by shedding light on the moves people make to gain acceptance into such virtual spaces and the affordances offered (and constraints of) new media.

Haas, S. M., Irr, M. E., Jennings, N. A., & Wagner, L. M. (2011). Communicating thin: A grounded model of Online Negative Enabling Support Groups in the pro-anorexia movement. New Media & Society, 13(1), 40 –57.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

McLure Waski, M., & Faraj, S. (2000). “It is what one does”: why people participate and help others in electronic communities of practice. Journal of Strategic Information Systems, 9, 155–173.

Page, R. E. (2012). Stories and Social Media: Identities and Interaction. New York, N.Y.: Routledge.

Parr, H. (2008). Mental health and social space : towards inclusionary geographies? Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Stommel, W., & Koole, T. (2010). The online support group as a community: A micro-analysis of the interaction with a new member. Discourse Studies, 12(3), 357 –378.

Thurlow, C., & Mroczek, K. (2011). Digital Discourse: Language in the New Media. Oxford University Press, USA.

avatar for Riki Thompson

Riki Thompson

Graduate Program Director & Associate Professor Rhetoric & Composition, University of Washington Tacoma
Graduate education, program assessment, online self-identity construction, language and online dating, narrative, visual rhetoric, & comix.

Saturday September 27, 2014 16:11 - 16:30
TRS 1-149 Ted Rogers School of Management

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