Mediated young adulthood: social network sites in the neoliberal era

Gangneux, Justine (2018) Mediated young adulthood: social network sites in the neoliberal era. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Young people's engagement with social network sites have predominantly been depicted in binary ways, overplaying either the risks posed by digital technologies or their positive benefits. Adopting a critical perspective, this thesis understands young people’s uses and perceptions of social network sites as continuously negotiated and deeply entrenched in their everyday lives; and analyses them within the social struggles and power structures in which they are embedded.

Based on qualitative interview material with 32 young adults aged 20-25 and on an innovative research design incorporating digital prompts, this study explores the meanings that participants ascribed to social network sites and their everyday uses of the platforms. Drawing on Bourdieu’s theory of practice and Foucault’s work on power and governmentality, the thesis argues that young people actively negotiate social network sites. Yet their uses and understandings of the platforms are constituted through a 'practical knowledge' of the world which reflects existing social divisions and, are embedded within broader neoliberal narratives of entrepreneurship, choice and responsibility, producing corresponding forms of governmentality.

Throughout the interviews, participants described their engagement with social network sites, for example their attitudes towards privacy or the ways in which they managed and maintained relationships through the platforms, in terms of individual choice, personal preference and growing up. The analysis of the data suggests, that their engagement were, nonetheless, substantially informed by the economic interests and the monopolies enforced by private corporations; by the technological affordances and playful designs of the platforms; by social processes of differentiation rendering specific uses legitimate; and by neoliberal discourses encouraging individual responsibility and understandings of the self as enterprise. All of the above combined to actively shape and produce participants' understandings of social network sites as 'useful' and 'necessary' tools for managing the everyday and their relationships, for maximising professional opportunities, and for engaging in practices of profile-checking and monitoring.

In short, the thesis argues that young people's uses and understandings of social network sites are complex and cannot be reduced to risks or positive leverage, nor can it be understood without an analysis of the asymmetrical relations of powers between private corporations which own the platforms and users, and a critical engagement with the pervasive neoliberal discourses that shape them.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Social media, youth studies, media studies, Foucault, Bourdieu, neoliberalism, digital methods.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Furlong, Professor Andy and Batchelor, Doctor Susan
Date of Award: 2018
Depositing User: Dr Justine Gangneux
Unique ID: glathesis:2018-8954
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 25 Apr 2018 15:03
Last Modified: 02 May 2018 15:33

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