Title

Simulated social spaces: Exploring interactions in a Web chat room

Date of Award

2005

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

Advisor(s)

Marjorie DeVault

Keywords

Internet, Inequality, Simulated social spaces, Web, Chat room

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology | Women's Studies

Abstract

Within the last decade, the Internet has become one of the fastest growing technologies, with approximately 60% of the U.S. population online. Part of this Internet usage is communication in various forms. This study explores the everyday interactions and cultural formations within a Northeast Romance web chat room. My research utilizes a variety of media including written text, voice chat, emoticons, and web cameras, and contributes to current literature with this multi-media approach. Using the methods of virtual ethnography and a multiperspective version of discourse analysis, data collection consisted of observing the public space of the room, logging public communications, and keeping detailed field notes from 2001 through 2004. The study is contexualized in relation to rapid technological changes that are occurring globally. Findings highlight the active presence of a virtual community in Northeast Romance. In addition, rather than separating the offline and online, participants moved back and forth between these spaces by meeting in the room daily and attending offline parties. Besides being a hangout for regular participants, Northeast Romance is also a meeting ground for many people. The room is especially important to participants since many of them live in rural areas and the room offers them a place to meet others from their geographical region. While participants performed hegemonic gendered and sexual identities that seem very similar to interactions in the offline world, many also experimented with these identities through "performative parodies." Similarly, while the chat room is often used as a space for harassment, participants also actively resisted "discursive acts of oppression." In addition to these findings, this study also draws attention to changes in interaction connected to the possibilities of a technological, network society which include exhibitionism and voyeurism, the blurring of dichotomies, and interactions where space and time have different meanings.

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