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Who Do They Think They Are?

Teenage Girls and Their Avatars in Spaces of Social Online Communication


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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5. That’s Not Who I Am Today: Making and Remaking Identity 117


Chapter Five That’s Not Who I Am Today: Making and Remaking Identity Much of what dominant psychology and education consider free will and expressions of innate intelligence are simply manifestations of the effects of particular social, cultural, political and economic forces. While we can make decisions on how we operate as human beings, they are never completely independent of these structuring forces. Joe Kincheloe hen the girls in my study set out to define themselves by creating a personalized avatar, they were not long in learning that culture’s hegemonic forces were at work helping to define what they could do. This chapter explores what happened when the girls created their avatars. Even with the vast range of choices the WeeMee site offers to individualize these identity constructions, it was still sometimes difficult to create the autobiographical stories that they wanted to tell. Besides their stories being limited by what they choose to tell and what they choose to keep hidden, sometimes the autobiographical intent of this exercise is shut down for another reason altogether. Share (2004) reminds us that in writing about identity, language is a non-transparent political artifact. Put another way, language is never neutral. In its traditional print form, self-writing offers a “safe place where students can take apart the culture and come to know themselves” (p. 82). I contend that even in this kind of visual manifestation self-writing can work “to expose power relations and disrupt the apparent seamlessness of autobiographical narratives (p. 82). When we look...

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