Posts Tagged ‘visual sociology’

Visual(counter)cultures on Twitter: an explorative research

luglio 23, 2010

An explorative research on Twitter presented at International Visual Sociology Association Conference 2010. Thinking, Doing and Publishing Visual Research: The State of the Field?, Bologna, July 20-20. Panel User Generated Visual: SNS and online worlds. Visual research methods.

Social Network Sites (SNS) like Twitter are web based services that exemplify the hybrid and cross-cultural nature of today’s multilingual Internet. Data that are shared in SNS are searchable, replicable, persistent and scalable. Therefore, researchers have a great amount of multimedia data available that are produced in a nondirective way. Furthermore, a worldwide population has adopted SNS; therefore they have become an interesting research field for the investigation of crosscultural communications. Since the 1990s studies on Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) applied discourse analysis to described how individuals negotiate their identities with online social groups and the functionalities of mediated technologies. However, SNS are
multimedia environments that emerge form the negotiation between designers (who built the interfaces) and the everyday practices of users (who customize them). The concept of visual capital, a contextualisation of Bourdieu’s cultural capital in the realm of visual and digital media (Parks 2002, Nakamura 2008), can be adopted to outline social and cultural differences related to access and use of (strongly graphical) digital media. Therefore, CMC research has to merge with Visual Cultural Studies to investigate how visual capital is embodied in online profiles to express membership to a (sub)culture. In fact, the activity of profile customization, through images and graphics, implies different tastes, skills and practices. Which kinds of skills emerge from these practices? Do users integrate the professional aesthetic of the SNS designer? Do
counter(visual)cultures based on different geographical or linguistic affiliation emerge? Early studies on Twitter analyzed discursive and networking practices; with this paper instead, we propose to turn the focus on how users negotiate their visual identity within the broader “Twitterverse” (the culture constructed by the adoption of Twitter). We thus propose a methodology that combines the analysis of visual profiles and “visual elicitation” online interviews. Through the “trending topics” feature we collected 1,500 Twitter profiles of three different geographical affiliation: Worldwide, United States and Italy. We analyzed avatars and backgrounds with NVivo8 categorizing visual data based on subject, source, techniques and linguistic affiliation of the users to define a typology of visual cultures on Twitter. We also considered how these practices embody web-specific skills, such as reconfiguration and remediation (Lievrouw 2009), and what kind of literacies people develop through them (Livingstone 2004). In our future work we will conduct “visual elicitation” online interviews with Italian users; we will use chat services to ask the interviewer to comment upon visual profiles (his own and others). The aim will be to investigate the reflexive process of the visual identity construction and the identification/differentiation with different visual cultures in a multilingual platform.