MAS 965: Techno-identity: signalling identity in the real and virtual worlds

Instructor: Judith Donath

Spring 2004
Thursday 10-12
Graduate level · 12 Units
Permission of instructor required
Course assistant Veronica Lupampa


Identity plays an essential role in communication. Yet it is problematic: the goals that motivate one’s self-presentation may be at odds with those of the perceiver, and often we are only vaguely aware of the cues that we use to assess each other. In the online world, these issues are particularly acute, for many of the usual identity cues are missing or greatly reduced, and the body, which anchors identity in the physical world, is absent.

This seminar examines identity in the real and virtual worlds. This semester, we will focus on signalling theory as a way of deepening our understanding of how identity is constructed and perceived. Our analyses will focus on the design aspects - how has the design of the system created a particular identity signalling dynamic, and how might changes in the design change people's behavior. We will use this approach to look at identity in these contexts:

There will be weekly reading and writing assignments. Active participation in class discussions is required. There will also be a final project.


Feb 5 introduction: what will we learn? why do we care?

Feb 12 thinking about identity: categorization, prototypes, stereotypes

Feb 19 signalling identity

Feb 26 identity and deception

Mar 4 the market for relationships: dating, employment, tennis partners

Mar 11 displays of social networks and status

Mar 18 gossip and reputation

Mar 25 [no class: spring break]

Apr 01 final project proposals; fashion part I - countersignaling

Apr 08 gifts of time and things

Apr 15 fashion, part 2: temporal change and reliable signaling

Apr 22 the face: recognition, attention, and expression

Apr 29 CHI [final reviews]

May 06 hiding and expressing emotion

May 13 signaling humanness: the not quite human other (robots, agents, augmented humans)

May 20 final presentations