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Three case studies

This section presents the work of three researchers awarded doctoral studentships to work on Ego Media – who have all since completed their PhDs and taken up academic and research positions. Their research is a vital axis of interdisciplinarity in Ego Media, bringing fresh and original insights into the phenomena the publication addresses. Each focuses on different social media platforms through which users record aspects of their everyday lives and present themselves. If they are all studies of life writing online, they are also examples of research by practice.

Health management: Self-tracking and self-representation

In The Use of Self-Tracking Technologies and Social Media in Self-Representation and Management of Health, Rachael Kent explores the world of fitness trackers: how these have not only ushered in forms of self-presentation barely conceivable in the last century, but have also introduced new modes of interactive and iterative self-exploration, through the emergence of “the quantified self.” She analyzes how performed and curated “health(y)” identities impact health behaviors in users’ daily lives, through self- and peer surveillance of “health”-related content.

IRC and Twitter

While the prevalence of Twitter makes it a reference point throughout Ego Media, Stijn Peeters in Analyzing Online Expression Affordances on IRC and Twitter gives a fine-grained account of its development as a platform, offering a revealing comparison with the older chat network IRC. Focusing on widely used functions (such as those invoked by #’s and @’s), he opens a window on the surprising extent to which the platforms both prescribe self-presentation yet also change in response to the imaginative agency of users, as they find inventive ways to manipulate the technology.

Mommy vloggers

Mikka Lena Pers provides a rigorous and compelling analysis of the world of mommy vloggers – a type of microcelebrity YouTuber – in Researching the Narrative Construction of Mommy Vlogger Influencers. Their vlogging activities turn mothers into influencers, as they post serial videos of their and their families’ everyday lives, and attract and interact with followers. She considers how their public identities, status and, in some cases, careers are constituted around highly publicized performances of parenting and family life in social media.

Common themes

What all three projects have in common is their origin in the researchers’ use of the platforms they investigate. They are thus life-writing exercises in a double sense: explorations of the self-presentation of others on social media, but also autobiographical exercises in understanding the media that have played a part in their own lives. The contrast between their relationship with their topics, and those of the more senior team members, is partly a generational contrast between born-digital Millennials and digital migrants from Generation X or the Baby Boomers, as analyzed so brilliantly by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis in The App Generation (2013). But it is also a contrast between researcher stances. All members of the Ego Media team are participant observers, using the social media they are researching. But, as Lisa Gee shows in her Reflections essay within which she observes the observers, we all use them to different extents, and with differing degrees of involvement, immersion, and enthusiasm. While you can never analyze your own culture from the outside, with phenomena as multiple and multifaceted as social media, it makes more sense to talk of cultures rather than culture. And members of the same team can – and, in our case did – inhabit different cultures, or different sets of cultures, adopting varied positions towards them. The case studies here are not auto-ethnographies exactly. The subjects of analysis are not the researchers’ own internet practices. But the fact that they research platforms they use themselves poses a challenge to traditional academic assumptions about objectivity and distance, which seem increasingly outdated in the context of phenomena-as-topics as circumambient and pervasive as social media.