The initial investigation around the development of the theoretical frameworks will focus around the concept of self and has identified the theories of “Symbolic Interactionism” by Mead (1934) and the “Presentation of Self” by Goffman (1959). Moreover this section will also consider Hyper Symbolic Interactionism which is a revised theory by Lynch and McConatha’s (2006). These theories will then be used to analyse the data from the focus groups.
Firstly when we consider George Herbert Mead’s theory of “symbolic interactionism”, the theory focuses on the idea that in order to identify our “self” we must imagine how we look from another individual’s perspective and he states that the way we interact with individuals and the relationship an individual has with society can mould our identities and affect our actions (Mead, 19340). Moreover Griffin (2009) argues that in order to build our own identities we must think of ourselves as objects and must reflect on our behaviour by visualising ourselves through a looking glass to understand how others see us in order to create our own identity. Therefore our interactions play a key role in shaping our identities, each time we communicate with individuals (verbal or non verbal) we change our perception of our “self” in order to evolve ourselves based on the way in which others perceive us.
The “presentation of self” concept by Goffman (1959) however focuses on the fact that when individuals interact with each other two types of information are shown, these are verbal and non verbal. Verbal information is focused on an individual’s intentional manners and the way in which they want others to perceive them, according to Goffman (1959) the self is dramatised as the manner in which we are performing is how we want others to see us, we are trying to persuade others into believing our act. However non verbal information is the expressions we show unintentionally and have no control over i.e. our body language or facial expression may express the opposite of our intention (Goffman, 1956). Moreover in terms of performance Goffman (1959) categorises our interactions on the basis of a stage play, for example “front stage” is the performance we give to the audience which in this case is the individuals we interact with, however the “back stage” are aspects we do not reveal about ourselves(Goffman,1956).
Thus when considering the differences between Mead (1934) and Goffman (1956), the symbolic interactionism theory (Mead, 1934) is based on the fact that a individuals self is dictated by the interactions they have with members of society (Mead, 1934). However the concept of self (Goffman, 1934) is different as it focuses on the fact that individuals will give an altered dramatised performance based on who they are interacting with (Goffman, 1956).
Therefore symbolic interactionism and the concept of self can play an important role in understanding and analysing online communities on social media platforms. When we consider the “presentation of self” (Goffman, 1956) it is argued by Papacharissi (2002) that the social networking environment is perfect for presenting a performance of one’s self. The reason for this is that individuals have more control over verbal and nonverbal indicators (Papacharissi, 2002), individuals have more control over their self presentation also known as face (Goffman, 1956). This consists of our “intentional impressions given or ‘expressions given’, and unintentional impressions given off or ‘expressions given off” (Papachraissi, 2009, p211).
Furthermore, on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter our online performance is seen by friends or our social community members, the messages, language and content we post are the main sources of our intentional and unintentional expressions (Robinson, 2007). The performance we choose can be altered and changed in order to conform to the expectations of the individuals we are interacting with i.e. the audience. Its argued by Robinson (2007) that on social networking sites individuals hope to share information that is similar to the interests of their friends or online community members, which in turn determines whether the performance is achieved. This information is what the individual wants others to perceive of them and will therefore continue the so called “performance”. For example if someone is perceived to be a well dressed individual they may purchase a group of products in order to enhance this belief among his or her friends, the individual may then post a picture of themselves wearing a new blazer and smart shoes on Facebook in order to stay consistent with the image others have of them (Leigh and Gabel, 1992). Therefore from this we can see that through social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter individuals are able to present the “self” through what they share on these platforms i.e. photos, texts and videos (Robinson,2007). Thus each post or interaction is the perception individuals are trying to create of themselves.
Therefore, because of the internet and social media networking the way we interact with others is now through digital symbols and digital imagery. The theory of symbolic interactionism was revised by Lynch and McConatha’s (2006) who created the Hyper-Interactionism theory which focuses on the fact that today’s digital age is full of marketers and advertisers which can impact our attitudes and perceptions(Lynch and McConathas,2006). What this means is that we are no longer creating our perception of self based on our interactions with other individuals because we now live in a world where from a young age we are gaining information online through the internet and social media (Lynch and McConatha, 2006). The digital age is full of advertisements and marketing messages which affect the reality we live in; our perception of self therefore changes constantly in order to conform to advertising messages, therefore the concept of “self” isn’t just based on interactions with other individuals, it’s about how the media interacts with us.