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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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3. Making a WeeMee One Click at a Time 59

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Chapter Three Making a WeeMee One Click at a Time o begin, this chapter will look at the discursive practice of online identity and representation, as well as the form of this type of avatar construction, by situating them within the larger theoretical frameworks of new literacy scholarship and autobiography. Next, I will briefly explain the process by which this research was conducted, including a detailed look at the avatar creation web site, WeeWorld.com, and how it works, since this bears relevance to the semiotics of identity representation and notions of autobiography. As the site is examined for the possibility for nearly constant reinvention (Turkle, 1995), I will take a brief look at the apparently limitless and sometimes limiting choices the girls faced when they constructed their WeeMee avatars. Finally, I will briefly introduce the participants involved in the study. Constructed Identity and Online Representation Youth have complex and social lives (Thomas, 2007), which often blend offline and online worlds in a manner that does not distinguish between the two. Today’s Western world teens have never known a world without cyberspace, where “identities are fluid and are constructed through social and cultural experiences” (p. 38). Thomas argues that one of the most important aspects regarding how identity is shaped online relates to the sense of belonging to a community. When this is viewed in regard to the sense of community and belonging to the community within the vast popularity of social networking sites like Facebook, the issue of online identity...

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