Blog Post

My (in-progress) dissertation DH project

As a media scholar, I have committed myself to bridging the gap between users and academics. Studying social networking sites, I see more and more of this disconnect between how academics talk about their studied media and how users understand the digital spaces that have become so intertwined into their daily lives. We quantify users' profile selections and analyze their posts. We ask them to fill out surveys and answer our prying questions about their uploaded pictures. However, it is not often that we ever really go back to our sources to share our research with them and to help them become more critical consumers of media.

This task of sharing becomes even harder when we think about how, as in all fields, our academic jargon becomes more and more engrained, and we fall deeper and deeper into the pit of writing for only those who perhaps already know our theories and findings anyway. Therefore, I have always made it a priority to at least try to write in an accessible manner and to publish my ideas and findings in a way that is accessible to as general a group of people as possible. It seems clear, then, why DH is right for me. Visualizing data and making our projects accessible on multiple fronts is, among other things, about helping those who wouldn't be able to access our work. In fact, in my mind, DH is also about helping people to know that these kinds of conversations are happening in the first place.

My dissertation explores how the structures and affordances of social networking sites work to alter the way we perceive identity, especially notions of authenticity, agency, and anonymity. I use Facebook as a case study to break down the different aspects of social networking sites and to highlight the ways that the site acts as a filter for our information, creating a type of fun house mirror that we then use in the reflexive self-constitution process.

As a HASTAC Scholar, beyond writing the traditional dissertation, I have also started creating a web component. The site displays my breakdown of Facebook and discusses certain aspects of each of the structural parts. While certainly not exhaustive, my project will hopefully help users to see the many moving parts of the site from a new perspective. My online project also provides ways to enact agency within the structure, subverting some of the normative uses and default settings.

I invite all that are interested to view my project and to comment, make suggestions, and ask questions. I will note that it is still in the early stages, so any small comments regarding typos or design flaws are also very appreciated.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your feedback! A longer description of the project can be found by clicking the "about the project" link on the homepage in the bottom, right corner. :)


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