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Dilemmas of the Self and the Internet

( via Charlene Croft’s blog )

This is taken from a paper I wrote in 2005 which compared the relation of the self to the Internet through both symbolic interactionist theory (Goffman) and structuration theory (Giddens).   The section below deals specifically with Anthony Giddens concepts of the ”dilemmas of the self” (as discussed in his “Modernity and Self Identity”) and Internet use. 

In structuration theory, the self is denoted as an “agent” that can not be separated from the “structures” of society.  Agents are viewed as beings that “continuously monitor their own thoughts and activities as well as their physical and social contexts.”  Agents are continually rationalizing their interactions with the world around them as a means of making sense of, justifying and efficiently managing their social lives.  The self is a “project” which requires continuous work and “reflexivity”; it is not based on a specific set of traits or observable characteristics (Gauntlett, 2002). Reflexivity in Giddens refers to “direct feedback from knowledge to action” (Beck; Giddens et al., 1992).  Giddens states that the self “must continually integrate events which occur in the external world, and sort them into the ongoing story about the self” (Giddens as quoted in Gauntlett, 2002).  Giddens proposes that the relationship between the agent and structure is one that is symbiotic and self-perpetuating.  In expressing themselves through the processes of rationalization and reflexivity, agents engage in social practice, which in turn produces consciousness and structure.

Giddens analogizes the self in terms of literary approaches such as “narratives”, “fictions” and “biographies”; “a person’s identity is not to be found in behavior nor… in the reactions of others, but in the capacity to keep a particular narrative going” (ibid). Giddens believes that “roles” no longer exist; the individual can manipulate his identity to accommodate for whatever lifestyle he chooses (Gauntlett, 2002). The self has continuity and is only a product of his reflexive beliefs about his own biography.  By “living in the world” of late modernity, humans are faced with a variety of tensions and difficulties that manifest as “dilemmas of the self” (Giddens, 1991).  He states that these dilemmas must be resolved “in order to preserve a coherent narrative of self-identity” (ibid).  These dilemmas present themselves in forms of: “unification versus fragmentation,” “powerlessness versus appropriation,” “authority versus uncertainty,” and “personalised versus commodified experience.”

Fragmentation of the self occurs with the individual’s realization of an indeterminate amount of possibilities.  As social contexts become more diversified, traditional social ties are spread out in the ‘empty’ dimensions of time and space.

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Filed under: academic, new media, social, space/place, technology

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