MAS 961 · Designing Sociable Media
Instructor: Judith Donath

09.10 · identity



1. Please read the papers listed above. The readings from Simmel and Holland & Skinner look at how we form an impression of others given the rather minimal cues we have to go on. The Goffman reading uses the metaphor of theatre to describe how people attempt to control how they are perceived by others.

2. Write a short essay about the readings. Why does Simmel say "We cannot know completely the identity of another". Simmel describes identity formation in terms of social role, e.g. priest or officer. Does his theory extend to less clearly defined social categories? Holland & Skinner say that the categorization of types they observed was event based. How might that play out in an online community? How does this event structure relate to Goffman's notion that "the individual effectively projects a definiton of the sitration when he enters the presence of others"?

3. Observe a mediated interaction. This can be a discussion on an email list, a newsgroup, a chat exchange, etc. Describe 2 of the participants using the framework of any (or all) of the above readings.

4. Sketch the interaction you observed in part 3. This can be a very freeform sketch, but I'd like you again to incorporate ideas from the readings. For instance, Simmel's view (pg 11) of the fragmentary nature of observed identity is a very visual metaphor, as is Goffman's social masks, and Holland&Skinner's scales of prestige.

Please submit the URL of your critique and sketch online by Monday evening. Copies of the readings are available outside of E15-449.