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This modified and intensified return, in our online lives, to the difficulties of managing contextual selves native to dramaturgical identity, combined with additional pressures to present oneself in a unitary fashion, as if each presentation were clearly and immediately a presentation of a singular true self, gives rise to a distinctive variety of selfhood required in the era of Facebook.

We can call this dramauthentic identity. Identity in the Facebook era: Strategies of self—exposure. In dramauthentic identity, we must perform selves to constitutive communities not variously — as in much of off—line life, where within one context one aspect of the self may be presented, and within another context, another aspect — but simultaneously. In dramaturgical self—presentation, identity is variably anchored , whereas in dramauthentic self—presentation, identity is multiply anchored. It should be emphasized that I do not mean to presume that a unitary and singular performance of self is more authentic than variably anchored and contextual self—performances — but, instead, that I mean to draw out how the perspective placed in code in Facebook and to a significant extent in other SNS as well implies this privileging of unitary self—performances.

Direct Speech, Self-presentation and Communities of Practice

The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co—workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly The point is instead merely that authenticity as a social norm and as a constant task at hand in communicative practice, structured in new ways in code, is a pressing issue for us in the age of SNS more so than in not only our previous online lives, but more so than in our previous off—line lives as well. In multiply—anchored self—presentation, multiple aspects of the self must be either 5.

Some users circumvent the lack of control of self—presentation created by the ability of others to post and tag by simply refusing to friend anyone who is not likely to understand the acceptable boundaries of such actions, or by refusing to friend anyone who they do not wish to be audience to the majority of anticipated third—party sharing.

The strategy of exposure of unifying self—presentation by a challenging sharing of aspects of identity we might usually hide from some communities, we could call an agonistic exposure. These paradigmatic examples are representative of numerous smaller disclosures which, though perhaps less dramatic, represent thoroughgoing ways in which small, contextually—relative interactions targeted to a particular audience become directed indiscriminately towards a promiscuously—intermixed assemblage of audiences.

Each of these disclosures can be a challenge to others; they say this is who I am, accept me; or this is the way my life is lived, how does yours compare?


When a coworker with whom we have only a formal business relationship posts funny cat videos, we must ask whether we choose to make ourselves the audience by responding, and in so doing, bring a new element into that relationship. The costs of adopting an agonistic strategy exposure are potential alienation or abandonment, but the potential benefits may also be significant. The potential benefits for the user in finding that some separation between various self—presentations was unnecessary is clear: maintaining such separation requires effort and care, may be psychologically difficult or stressful, and may diminish the value and depth of personal relationships.

The potential benefits for others are perhaps less obvious: by choosing an agonistic exposure which embraces the promiscuous intermixing of audiences, recipients of communications are freed from the normal constraints placed on relationships, and may choose to pursue connections forestalled by the contextual communication which takes place offline and online outside of SNS. A professional contact may never have been approached as, for example, a person to turn to for casual conversation or discussion of parenting, but agonistic exposure allows constant opportunities to allow parties to a relationship to reimagine their relationship and explore what it may or may not be able to become.

The third strategy of exposure, reducing the scope and depth of our self—presentation on SNS to limit exposure of information which may be troubling to some members of some communities, we could call lowest—common—denominator exposure. Some users, moving even further, respond minimally to the obligation to sign up and sign in, using SNS only as necessary to maintain non—SNS—based relationships with those who generate obligations to sign up or sign in — for example, accepting friend requests in order to avoid perceived impoliteness, but never making friend requests; choosing not to upload a profile picture; or accessing the account only when notified of a message or posting, but choosing not to post or initiate interactions.

These three strategies of exposure in the context of multiply—anchored self—presentation have focused on ways in which aspects of the self may be revealed or hidden from various communities. They have, in this way, spoken as if the performance is an attempt at a representation of a previously— or elsewhere—formed self, whether that performance is as in agonistic exposure a performance before constitutive communities, intended to reveal information, or as in lowest—common—denominator exposure a performance intended to conceal information tied to one or more constitutive community, or as in mixed exposure a performance intended to reveal information differently to different constitutive communities.

Surely, though, there are no clear boundaries to be found here, for at least three reasons. First, there is no clear boundary between online and off—line identity construction. Character formation is not an off—line—only process and, especially as successive generations get online earlier and earlier in life, the self that we expose through online performances cannot be assumed to be pre—formed prior to online performances, but is instead formed through online and off—line performances.

Second, when we join a community or adopt an identity under an aspirational self—performance, this process of self—reinvention does often enough lead to an internalization of self—consciously adopted values, and a transition from aspirational attributes into more permanent and unselfconsciously held elements of character.

Sometimes we just fake it, but sometimes we fake it until we make it. Third, we are not always well aware of when we are performing a truthful exposure of an existing self or facet of ourselves, and when we are performing an aspirational or even fairly fictionalized self.

For these reasons, we should take care to note that self—performances involve a dialectical relation between self—exposure and character formation — each takes place only alongside and by means of the other, as Aristotle b noted long ago in the Nicomachean Ethics ,.

It is beyond the scope of this investigation to consider what role dramauthentic identity plays in character formation — the important point to be made here is more simply that we cannot easily separate aspirational or even fictitious self—performances from truthful self—representation, but find instead a complex and dialectical relation to be at work.

The remaining question, then, is how these strategies of self—exposure are used to construct self—identities. While remaining agnostic regarding how these identities are related to authentic selves or true character — indeed, remaining agnostic regarding how meaningfully such things can be said to exist — we can outline four strategies of identity construction that, along with these three strategies of self—exposure, constitute dramauthentic identity. Identity in the Facebook era: Strategies of identity—construction. We may chart different strategies of identity—construction on two axes, resulting in a way of imagining a field of possible modes of interaction falling into four quadrants.

On the x—axis, we can chart a continuity from -1, 0 divergent constructions of identity to 1, 0 unitary constructions of identity, and, on the y—axis, a continuity from 0, -1 reactive constructions of identity to 0, 1 proactive constructions of identity.

Charting on these axes results in four quadrants which can be characterized by their extreme points; I will describe them under these terms: I. These are strategies of interaction which most SNS users move among — this is not meant to be a typology of users, but rather a view of different strategies of use that users engage in at different moments, although it is certainly true that users may have a more—or—less strong tendency towards or away from one or more certain kinds of use. These strategies are shown on a field to represent how, while what will be described below are four extremes of behavior, interactions exhibit these different strategies not absolutely but to a greater or lesser degree.

Here, a unitary identity is actively produced as a medium through which the network is intended to interact with the user. Spectacular identity is groomed as a representative of the user through judicious choice of profile identifications, through kinds of postings and comments, and through those included and excluded in friend lists, circles, or on Twitter, follows, influence, and proportion of follows to followers.

But, while this is an important and troubling possibility, I see no reason to suppose that the spectacular use of SNS identity—construction as an ambassador of the self should preclude also actually striving for or achieving those aspects of identity of which it is a spectacle. Spectacular identity is not necessarily merely a front; it may be an idealized, aspirational, or fictitious self, but may also be a false identity only insofar as any such spectacle of self necessarily differs from that of which it is a spectacle.

The spectacular self, then, is a groomed identity manufactured as a consumable product and as an image preceding and conditioning interactions, whether or not it is constructed of veridical representations. This is a strategy of interaction which is proactive in posting, sharing, and demonstrating values, commitments, and identity, but does not seek to present a groomed, unitary self—image, instead allowing divergent markers of character and identity to coexist.

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This untidy self—presentation — or, perhaps, refusal to present a unitary self — occurs primarily through two common sorts of interaction: unedited third—party construction of the self through tagging and posting, and personal over—sharing through broadcast of communications emerging from or proper to a narrower audience. In third—party self—construction, users are tagged or mentioned in notes, photos, etc. In addition to this involuntary self—construction, users will not infrequently post generally something proper to a more specific audience.

Through involuntary third—party projection of identity and various forms of over—sharing, an untidy identity may emerge, in which identity on SNS appears as an overlapping and kaleidoscopic pastiche of different concerns, interests, contexts, communities, and moods. A unitary identity is not constructed, as in spectacular identity, but the self is instead projected backwards as some center point or line of contiguity connecting this variety of appearances. This strategy of interaction is reactive rather than proactive, choosing to respond to the content of others rather than creating or posting content.

This allows the user to maintain divergent self—presentations while minimizing untidiness, due to the lack of connections between friends to whom the user might present herself differentially. As noted previously, in off—line communications, the mundane conditions of space and time provide architectures that determine audiences contextually, limiting the threat that the actor will be called to account for disparities between self—presentations.

As a strategy for self—presentation and identity—construction, distributed identity allows for contextual communication, avoiding both untidiness and the construction of a unified identity by at least attempting to decline to participate in wider and perhaps more contentious forms of social interaction. This is a strategy of interaction, also reactive rather than proactive, but unitary in presentation, in which the user makes no active attempt at unitary self—performance, but instead maintains a unitary self—presentation through filtering of viewable content, creating a locked—down representation of self.

This minimization may be accomplished by selective untagging and choosing not to post or upload pictures, sometimes refusing to post even a profile picture. By choosing to avoid self—presentation altogether, speaking only when spoken to, so to speak, a user may avoid a positive construction of self on SNS, maintaining only a placeholder onto which their friends may project the image of the user presented elsewhere online or off—line.

It may be that the user makes us of SNS privately and only when and as necessary — responding to the obligation to participate by setting up a minimal profile and visiting only when notified of friend requests, messages, or wall postings — but this may not be the case: this minimized strategy of identity construction is actually compatible with a fair amount of regular SNS use.

It may be that the user feels no impulse to perform the self, or to share with or respond to friends, but still chooses to be a silent audience to their communications. It may be that the user, out of discomfort with the other compromises above, chooses to respond to SNS communications off—line, or through chat or private message, rather than constructing an SNS identity. Regardless, a minimized strategy of identity construction does not necessarily imply a lessened amount of time spent on SNS, but only a lessened engagement with others through the SNS itself.

In some sense, the minimized strategy of identity construction is a form of dramauthentic identity that attempts to opt out of performing a dramauthentic identity at all. SNS are viewed as a source of information rather than interaction, and self—performance is engaged in only in the more familiar or less dangerous spaces of off—line communication, through one—on—one electronic communications, or in online spaces, like Web forums, that grant users greater architectures of context control.

Through these three kinds of SNS exposure mixed, agonistic, and lowest—common—denominator and these four kinds of identity construction spectacular, untidy, distributed, and minimized , we see a great variety of ways of performing dramauthentic identity, suitable to the great variety of kinds of social circumstances we find ourselves within, and the great variety of psychological, emotional, and social dispositions which influence identity management in circumstances, like those on SNS, where managing personal identity represents an unending succession of uncertain and imperfect compromises between our various roles, relationships, and responsibilities.

This detailed investigation of conditions, limits, and strategies of post—Facebook navigation of identity in community has hopefully made clear why I began by claiming that the problematic relationship between the online and off—line selves has been settled in a troublesome manner: the question of whether the online self is a true representation of the off—line self has been resolved — but it has been resolved by tying the online self to the variety of off—line selves in a way that requires a stability and unity of the online self which no longer represents, but instead constricts the off—line self, and, furthermore, produces ever more blurring between off—line and online self—presentations.

I hope, also, that another of my initial claims will now be no longer suggestive and obscure, but quite clear and concrete: in the current moment in technologically—enmeshed identity, the strikingly voluntary construction of self—narrative of earlier online self—identity has been re—attached to less—voluntary and involuntary aspects of off—line life, collapsing the wild and limitless freedom of identity—construction partially back into the familiar and everyday dramaturgical self—construction of multiple self—presentations to various constituent communities — but now with an in some ways far greater architecturally imposed need to reconcile those selves with one another, due to the promiscuous intermixing of communities in the information feeds of our Facebooked sociality.

The online self is no longer a reflection of or departure from the off—line self, or at least not merely so, but is instead a space in which off—line and online selves are called to account for their diversity, sublating these public, private, and contextual online and off—line performances in a way requiring a new kind of self—performance within the collapsed contexts of our constitutive communities. While this investigation has been quite lengthy, it should be noted that it is nevertheless still quite incomplete.

I hope that it shall prove of use to those seeking a model and a theoretical framework to support more specific, applied, and concrete research on particular aspects and dynamics of identity performance on SNS. I also hope that it will provoke theoretical critique and expansion. A specifically feminist or queer—theoretic perspective on the topic would, I am confident, identify important and quite general aspects of identity performance on SNS that I have either failed to give proper weight and consideration to, or have failed to even notice and outline.

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Similarly, Marxist or post—Marxist perspectives will discover important constraints and dynamics which do not appear in this account, but which are also necessary for this theory to be synoptic and well—founded. Consideration of kinds of social capital construction could helpfully expand this model by considering strategies directed towards either bonding or bridging social capital Aldridge, et al.

Considerations of regional or national cultures of SNS use would certainly be revealing and valuable enrichments of the model. I am also aware of some scholarship currently underway which could add valuable considerations of generational dynamics in strategies of exposure and identity construction.

E—mail: dwittkow [at] odu [dot] edu.

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The common use of personally unidentifiable images as profile pictures and of pseudonyms rather than real names, in the Thai context, is due in part to limits on freedom of speech — but, certainly, this behavior, though more widespread in the Thai context, is seen elsewhere as well. Although only insofar as those norms and code enter into the phenomenology of the user.

In less commonplace examples, such as the much—maligned furry community, we may be skeptical that self—presentation is the proper term for interacting with others as e. Searches by name or zip code can in fact be done at the U. Jodi Dean has noted another rather different connection with authenticity endemic to blogs but applicable to SNS as well:.

Although the way that this connection with Debord is being used here is somewhat different from that in Vejby and Wittkower Social capital: A discussion paper. London: Performance and Innovation Unit. Aristotle, a. Barnes editor. Complete works of Aristotle: The revised Oxford translation. Princeton, N. Aristotle, b.


Roland Barthes, Camera lucida: Reflections on photography. Translated by Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang.