MAS 965 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

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

How do people present themselves - what are the cues they provide about their identity, both deliberately and subconciously? These cues can be presented in our interaction with others - Goffman looks at this through the metaphor of theater, with society as a vastly complex play in which we all have multiple roles. People also create self-representations in their everyday accumulation of objects, clothing, etc. Csikszentmihaly looks at how the objects in peoples homes acquire meaning and in turn present a portrait of their owners.

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 Tuesday morning. Copies of the readings are available outside of E15-449.