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Who Do They Think They Are?

Teenage Girls and Their Avatars in Spaces of Social Online Communication

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Connie Morrison

Who Do They Think They Are? Teenage Girls and Their Avatars in Spaces of Social Online Communication documents a descriptive case study of teenage girls who created autobiographical avatars for their social online spaces. It explores the complex and often conflicted negotiations behind girlhood identity and representation in a cyber-social world. Comparisons are drawn between autobiographical avatars and the profile pictures that teenage girls use on their social networking sites as they consider the manner in which identity is negotiated, constructed, co-authored, and represented. The contradictions and expectations of online social and popular culture make representations of identity simultaneously limitless and limiting for the girls who create them. Given the nature of the identity-defining and social act of creating an autobiographical avatar, a critical media literacy frame provides a pedagogical opportunity for bringing avatar construction into the secondary English language arts classroom.
This book provides guidance for educators and researchers interested in the social construction of identity in an increasingly visual world, and will be valuable in courses ranging from literacy studies, media education, cultural studies, youth studies, educational research, teacher education, and popular culture to feminist, gender studies, and women’s studies courses.

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2. Avatars, Identity and Autobiography: A Theoretical Perspective 18

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Chapter Two Avatars, Identity and Autobiography: A Theoretical Perspective want to be clear: I do not believe in grand narratives, nor do I hold any convoluted notion that the girls who participated in my study speak for and/or represent all girls in all places. What this book offers instead is a recounting of a simple case study in which ten teenage girls in a particular place and at a particular time created avatars intended to represent who they are. Perhaps more accurately, it describes who they were at the time. Their stories, which are written through the creation of their avatars, contribute to a growing understanding that addresses notions of identity and representation in social online spaces. However, before I can ask for these avatars to be read in ways other than through the dominant social lens, I must first acknowledge that such texts are also social practices infused by notions of race, gender, class and ability (Berlak, 2004; Bloustien, 2003; Boler, 2004; Houston, 2004; Luke, 2002). Seen this way, creating a visual representation of a physical self for use in a communicative and social environment is much more than a rhetorical act. It also has significant consequences for how notions of the body, gender, race and ability can be represented. The accuracy of a deliberately accurate avatar creation as a form of representation also has a profound impact on the kinds of conversations that might occur in the intersection between culture and power when visual representations of self are...

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