The Social Oikos: Examining Arendt’s concept of a public-private divide through the lens of a YouTube vlog > READ

Persona Studies (2021), Volume 7, No. 1, pp. 20-32.

In one of the foundational articles of persona studies, Marshall and Barbour (2015) look to Hannah Arendt for development of a key concept within the larger persona framework:“Arendt saw the need to construct clear and separate public and private identities. What can be discerned from this understanding of the public and the private is a nuanced sense of the significance of persona: the presentation of the self for public comportment and expression”(2015, p. 3). But as far back as the ancient world from which Arendt draws her insights, the affordance of persona was not evenly distributed. As Gines (2014) argues, the realm of the household, oikos, was a space of subjugation of those who were forced to be “private,” tending to the necessities of life, while others were privileged with life in the public at their expense. To demonstrate the core points of this essay, I use textual analysis of a YouTube family vlog, featuring a Black mother in the United States, whose persona rapidly changed after she and her White husband divorced. By critically examining Arendt’s concepts around public, private, and social, a more nuanced understanding of how personas are formed in unjust cultures can help us theorize persona studies in more egalitarian and robust ways.

The ‘Imagined Author’: Contingent Selves in an Anonymous Life Writing Subreddit > READ (PDF)

Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics (2021), Volume 44, No. 4, pp. 164-174
With Elias Gbadamosi

In a small corner of Reddit, with just 4,000 followers, a subreddit called “life stories” demonstrates the rich possibilities of life writing beyond the strict purview of identity markers. When considering how little we know about those individuals who post, an interesting set of questions arise about identity, authenticity, and authorship. What is known begins and ends with the texts themselves, and thus an “imagined author”(Das and Pavlíèková) emerges. Using narratives-in-interaction research (De Fina and Georgakopoulou), we examined forty well-engaged posts within the “life stories” subreddit to track the negotiations of meaning and identity within the writings and their responses. What emerges is not different from other digital life writing—confessions, vignettes, and reminiscences—but the level of intimacy and intensity does appear to rise.

The Narratable Self lost in a cave > READ (paywall)

Storytelling, Self, Society (2021), Volume 16, No. 2, pp. 225-243

The philosopher Adriana Cavarero argues that each person is born unique and through speech and action with others creates an unrepeatable story. This article explores whether that theory, called narratability, holds up in digital spaces, especially on platforms such as Instagram, which favors repetition and fast consumption. One account, called Insta_Repeat, gathers images that are strikingly similar and lays them out together to reveal a proclivity to repetition for what otherwise might appear to be original expressions of experience. In this article, I examine one such post, made up of twelve images from the same cave with a similar pose of a person in the mouth of the cave. By tracking the photographers to their own Instagram account, and by conducting visual analyses of the images, I find that each does reveal a unique individual. However, the platform’s pressures for rapid consumption and repetitive tropes makes this endeavor far harder than a system that would favor true relationship-building.

Career Construction in volatile settings: seeking congruence in a journalist’s world today > READ (paywall)

Life Writing (2020). Volume 17, Issue 1: Career Construction Theory and Life Writing, pp. 75-88.

In the section of his book Career Counseling on how to compose a life portrait, Savickas (2011) addresses the issue of setting, or the ‘social niche and preferred environment in which the client wishes to situate the self’ (124). Self and setting are integrated through the stories clients tell themselves (scripts), and are drawn from a community’s master narratives. But what happens when a setting becomes unstable within the master narrative because of social and economic pressures?

No Greater Than Who I Actually Am: Virtue Ethics in Digital Life Narratives > READ (Book Chapter)

Communication and Media Ethics (2018). ed. Plaisance, Berline, Boston: DeGruyter, pp. 407-424

The events, thoughts and actions we create in digital space form identities in two distinct ways. The purposeful communication of life events is a rough analog to traditional life writing, but the introduction of algorithms creates a new complication. Whether there has been an ethic of autobiography in the past is a debate of its own, but now we have entered a phase of human life which prompts fresh questions: How is a digital life narrative formed in a just way? What are the limits of agentive identity creation, both for the self and the software? G.E.M. Anscombe (1958) provides a useful lens onto these questions, by suggesting the modern moral perspective should guide us toward “flourishing.” In this paper, I argue that individual storytellers (anyone who is presenting the semblance of an authentic self on a digital platform to be consumed by other users), by the nature of the “publicness” of their act are subjecting themselves to a new kind of life identity ethical scrutiny.

Confession narratives and mass kinship of YouTube celebrities: A narrative rationality analysis > READ

Interactions: Studies in Communication & Culture (July 2018). Volume 9, Number 2, pp. 225-237

Walter R. Fisher argued that human beings are homo narrans or storytelling animals who make decisions using narrative rationality, which is the ability to choose among competing stories. The question I consider is whether Fisher’s arguments have explanatory power in quick media, especially a specific type of everyday autobiography: narratives of well-known YouTube vloggers confessing intimate details or turning-point moments about their lives. Examples of videos include coming out as LGBTQ, serious illness, relationship dissolution and depression. This textual analysis looks at both sides of YouTube discourse – creator vlogs and audience comments.

‘I Am In No Way This’: Troll Hunters and Pragmatic Digital Self-Reference > READ

Persona Studies (2017).  Vol 3, No 2

If personae are masks used to communicate a certain character in performance, what happens in rapid unmaskings, especially as they occur in digital space? That question is central to the phenomenon of “troll-hunting.” Employing both journalistic and algorithmic tools, troll hunters unmask the offline identity of purveyors of digital hate speech, child pornography, illegal commerce and more. Digital citizens have concerned themselves with the efficacy, privacy, and ethics of such hunting, but have not as frequently explored another area: The narrative distance between a digital persona and a perceived “real”person behind that persona. Such distances can range from some version of the sentiment, “I am in no way this kind of person” to a comfortable coupling between online-offline selves, even during public shaming. Using textual analysis, I critically examine statements of those whose digital troll persona were unmasked, with special attention to the word I and the dissonance in offline-online personae, long discussed by academics, but also becoming an increasingly practical concern.

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