Digital technologies have offered not only new possibilities for communicating but also new challenges for the way we express and represent ourselves and our lives through this communication. This paper explores the forms of communication and self-expression observable online, and especially studies the construction of identities through the narratives that emerge from the mediated communication through examples of user-created narrative texts on the Internet drawn from a case study on an online community of World of Warcraft players. Inspired by Paul Ricoeur’s thoughts on identity as something continually constructed and reconstructed by narrative configurations, the paper argues that we can see these user-created narrative texts as material traces of the continuing work on our narrative identity. This dynamic, constructivist notion of identity is echoed in much of the humanist conceptualizing of technologically mediated or online identity, e.g. Turkle’s observation that because communication in online settings is always dependent on some form of symbolic mediation, usually text, it is clear that identity on the Internet needs to be “composed”. However, while most studies on online communication tend to draw on sociological methods, this paper focuses attention on the mediated interpersonal communication as texts. By introducing a closer narrative analysis of such texts, the paper thus also aims to demonstrate that including analytical models and concepts taken from narrative theory and literary studies in the study of online identity and communication can lead to new insights into the way social media influence our ways of representing and understanding ourselves.
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Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), 2012