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CFI seminar: The Internet and the Self

CFI will host a seminar on the Internet and the Self on October 4 2013 from 10.00 am to 12.30 pm. The seminar will be taking place in room 297 in the Nygaard building (corner of Helsingforsgade and Finlandsgade).

2013.09.20 | Janne Nielsen

Everybody is welcome. As we have to order coffee and cake, please send an e-mail to linaa@imv.au.dk if you plan to attend :-)


This informal seminar is a chance to discuss and reflect upon some of the more philosophical perspectives of the Internet, not at least related to developments and renegotiations of the selves and identities. This seminar will be interesting for everybody who wants to dig a bit deeper into our understanding of self and society in the Internet Age. We have gathered five researchers with very different perspectives on this. However, all share a sociological and philosophical interest in such issues. The presentations are inspired by thinkers like George Herbert Mead, Michel Foucault, Charles Taylor, Marcel Mauss and Marshall McLuhan. Each presentation will be between 10 and 15 minutes, leaving plenty of room for discussion and reflection.

Jakob Linaa Jensen: Social media, George Herbert Mead and the social self

Social media contribute to fulfill the social expectations (positive and negative) ascribed to the Internet since the 80’s. They are used in everyday life and for many they now form an important part of interpersonal relations. As media are neither deterministic nor neutral this might have effect on personhood, self and identity. Inspired by the work of for instance George Herbert Mead I will argue that the self is basially relational. By discussing the case of social media I will argue that the self is also fragmented and dispersed and that we, contrary to utopian expectations, have to realize that the self, even in the online world, is fundamentally embodied.

Finn Olesen: The category of the person – Personhood in the age of the Internet

The overall aim of the presentation is to highlight certain apparent limits and paradoxes tied to our present understanding of identity-making and actions in light of contemporary, heterogeneous life on and off the net. Following the French sociologist Marcel Mauss in his famous essay from 1938. "A Category of the Human Mind", the person came to equal the self during 19th century; and the self came to equal consciousness and is its primordial category, as he stated. In the presentation I will discuss the difficulties to remain true to this image of personhood in the light of present day sociotechnical life experiences. It is increasingly difficult to perfect our individual self while simultaneously engaging in more and more technologically mediated practices. Perhaps the category of the person as self has to be overcome?

Dorthe Refslund Christensen: To be a parent or not to be a parent…

On the website Mindet.dk, parents (that is, mothers) design memorial pages for their dead children and interact with other mourners in their grief work. Like the memorial culture on children’s graves heavily evolving these years, these practices seem to be about 1) celebrating the (short) life of the dead child, 2) performing parenthood/motherhood (how can I be a mother when my child is dead?) 3) negotiating the new life conditions for the family without the child. In this short presentation, I will present some reflections on these practices and present some of the material collected through 5 years of fieldwork on- and offline.

Anders Albrechtslund: Self-surveillance

The proliferation of networked self-tracking technologies opens up new questions relating to surveillance, privacy, ethics, and the self. Often, surveillance is understood as something externally imposed, controlling and disciplining (Norris and Armstrong, 1999; Foucault, 1977; Fuchs, 2008; Gandy, 1993; Lyon, 2001), but this conception is challenged when individuals perform self-surveillance to collect quantified data for purposes of evaluation, management, optimization, and social interaction. Sharing collected personal data with peers online change the individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy (Ess, 2009; Nissenbaum, 2010), and issues of ethical responsibilities regarding data ownership, commodification and sharing practices also become pertinent (Fuchs et al., 2011). Finally, the increasing documentation, quantification and broadcasting of the self change the dynamics of performing and producing subjectivity (Papacharissi, 2011; Vaz and Bruno, 2003; Warner, 2005).

Charles Ess: The fragmented / dispersed self

As Medium Theory suggests, the emergence of “electric media” – first radio and TV as mass media, followed by computer-mediated and -networked communication – correlates with a shift from high modern notions of selfhood and identity as primarily an individual and rational autonomy to late modern notions. These include first of all more strongly relational – and, almost certainly, more emotive – senses of selfhood.  At the same time, “the individual” – along with high modern notions of privacy and other norms (first of all, equality, including gender equality) – have not gone away.  But they may be transforming into more of  (a) what Charles Taylor has identified as “the expressive self,” as fostered by Romanticism and now apparent in what Giddens calls “lifestyle politics and/or (b) what Beck characterizes as “institutionalized individualization,” whereby individuals are forced to make decisions vis-à-vis various risks and challenges previously taken to be the responsibility of the social-welfare state. My interest in tracking these transformations – first of all, as they are manifest in our online practices and performances, as documented within the empirically-oriented work of Internet Studies – focuses on their ethical and political implications.  On the one hand, these transformations may bode well for an emergent virtue ethics, as rooted in relational conceptions of selfhood and shared more or less globally.  On the other hand, these transformations bode ill for what Giddens has characterized as the “emancipatory politics” of high modernity – the politics grounded in high modern notions of the individual and rational autonomy.