Avatars and the cultural politics of representation: girlhood identity in social networking spaces

Morrison, Connie (Connie M.) (2011) Avatars and the cultural politics of representation: girlhood identity in social networking spaces. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

Within social media and popular culture, new and diverse forms of online identity representation are emerging in virtual spaces. As traditional literacy practices yield to newer literacies, these forms of identity representation require and receive critical scrutiny. Personalized avatars are one such form. They provide a site through which individuals may represent themselves as a constructed product of identity and the discursive practices that contribute to it. -- This qualitative study explores the cultural politics of representation with ten teenaged girls who constructed personalized avatars for social networking sites. Its purpose is to investigate the truth effects about representation, girlhood identity and culture, and to analyze the power structures present in the narrative and graphic images of girlhood self-representation. As part of this analysis, personalized avatars are deconstructed as forms of visual language within a broader context of critical media literacy. -- The ubiquitous character of social networking places girls and their images under a scrutiny within which they become objects of a regulatory gaze. Drawing from a cultural studies methodology, this study utilizes critical ethnography informed by feminist poststructuralism to examine the politics of this gaze and to articulate the tensions between attempting to be true to lived experience while remaining cognizant of the always partial and ever political nature of representation. This framework challenges normative notions of the self and attempts to expose how power structures within a site of avatar production intersect with girlhood performative desire. -- This study finds that normative discourses around gender, ability, class, ethnicity, and beauty govern representation for teenaged girls in online spaces in a manner similar to real life locations. Despite a widely held belief that girls have an expanded capacity to represent themselves through online forums of individual creativity, this study suggests that structures of social media continue to contribute to the power of these regulatory discourses. This study finds that girls report a constant insecurity and questioning around their self-representations and, as such, these findings have implications for critical media education as well as future research related to girlhood identities in new media spaces.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/9499
Item ID: 9499
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 208-221.
Department(s): Education, Faculty of
Date: 2011
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Internet and teenagers--Psychological aspects; Identity (Psychology) in adolescence; Teenage girls--Psychology; Avatars (Virtual reality)--Psychological aspects; Online social networks--Psychological aspects; Security (Psychology) in children

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