MAS 963 The Virtual Society
What is Identity?

We can divide the notion of "identity" into two parts. One is individual identity - this is the identity of ID cards, fingerprints and authentication - it is one's singular identity as a unique individual. The other is social identity - this is the identity of accents, clothing choices, and characteristic expressions - it is one's presentation of self within a society. In this session, we will be mostly concerned with social identity.

assignment   ·   critiques go here

Identity is a dialog of presentation and interpretation. I present myself in a certain way; you interpret that presentation and derive a subjective impression of who I am.

How do people present themselves - what are the cues they provide about their identity, both deliberately and subconciously? Goffman looks at this question using the metaphor of theater, with society as a vastly complex play in which we all have multiple roles.

How do people get a sense of the identity of others? This question was posed a century ago by the early sociologist George Simmel; his model of increasingly detailed but never perfected views of the other is echoed in contemporary cognitive science accounts - such as Lakoff - of how we learn about the world through categorization.

Identity formation - both the presentation of self and the interpretation of the other - is greatly modified in the virtual world. Both Herring and Jacobson look at issues of identity in text-based discussions - and at the way real world categories are or are not recreated in these environments.

1. Please read all the papers.

2. Think about how you characterize someone you have just met - both in person and online. What cues did you observe that helped you "make sense" of that person - and how did your impression change over time? What cues do you think were, in Goffman's terminology "given" and which were "given off"? What was different/difficult about this process of social perception online?

3. Write a critique of the papers (you may do an overview of all 4 or examine 2 in depth). What did you find compelling in the account? What did you not agree with? How did it inform (or contradict) your impression of how you make sense of the social world?

Please submit the URL of your critique online by Sunday. Copies of the readings are available outside of E15-449.