25 June 2007

Another Gem From danah: Class Divisions Between Facebook and MySpace

Although she would categorize her latest contribution more as a diamond in the rough rather than a gem, danah boyd's latest thinking-out-loud casts her critical eye to the class divisions defined by MySpace and Facebook users among American youth.
In sociology, Nalini Kotamraju has argued that constructing arguments around "class" is extremely difficult in the United States. Terms like "working class" and "middle class" and "upper class" get all muddled quickly. She argues that class divisions in the United States have more to do with lifestyle and social stratification than with income. In other words, all of my anti-capitalist college friends who work in cafes and read Engels are not working class just because they make $14K a year and have no benefits. Class divisions in the United States have more to do with social networks (the real ones, not FB/MS), social capital, cultural capital, and attitudes than income. Not surprisingly, other demographics typically discussed in class terms are also a part of this lifestyle division. Social networks are strongly connected to geography, race, and religion; these are also huge factors in lifestyle divisions and thus "class."

I'm not doing justice to her arguments but it makes complete sense. My friends who are making $14K in cafes are not of the same class as the immigrant janitor in Oakland. Their lives are quite divided. Unfortunately, with this framing, there aren't really good labels to demarcate the class divisions that do exist. For this reason, I will attempt to delineate what we see on social network sites in stereotypical, descriptive terms meant to evoke an image.

The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other "good" kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we'd call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.

MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, "burnouts," "alternative kids," "art fags," punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn't play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn't go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. Teens who are really into music or in a band are on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.
The commentary thread on her site is also worth following. The majority of the commenters find that the piece resonates with their experiences, which is not surprising to me given the nature of danah's work in general, and those that might tend to follow her writing. However, what also fascinates me is the presence of those who demonstrate the emerging classism in the academy that I describe in How Do We Know: The emerging culture of knowledge. My comment on danah's site captures the flavour of my fascination:
I'm also fascinated by the classism being demonstrated in the methodological critiques. 90 interviews in a qualitative, ethnographic study is a huge sample (let alone the volume of your profile analyses). The domination of the positivist paradigm, and the infiltration of deterministic methods into social sciences (what a colleague of mine calls "physics envy") has created yet another hegemonic discourse in the academy. Consequently, researchers like you (among many others) see their work and methods trivialized and marginalized. Ironically, it is positivism that has become less able to adequately describe and account for the complexities of a massively interconnected world.
For a commentary that goes far beyond the more trivial issues of exposing oneself online, and what future employers may think, danah's insights are hard to beat.

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