Interactions Through the Screen: The Interactional Self as a Theory for Internet-Mediated Communication

Marcelo A. Vieta
School of Communication, Simon Fraser University
August, 2004
 

Abstract

This thesis presents an emerging concept called the interactional self to illustrate how, contrary to theories of “cyberspace” and “cyberselves,” there tend not to be sharp socio-phenomenological distinctions between “virtual” and offline sociability within one’s life-world. As such, using aspects of the philosophies of experience of Heidegger, Mead, Schutz, and Husserl as foundations, this thesis argues that social interactions online, for most, are extensions of and not apart from their everyday, situated life-worlds.


After briefly introducing the path towards our contemporary “will-to-virtuality” and various utopian and dystopian visions of “cyberspace,” an alternative conceptual picture of the interactional self is gradually revealed using the metaphor of a portrait painted on a “social-world canvas.” In this painting, the ontology of Heidegger’s Dasein supplies the first brushes for outlining the early sketches of the interactional self, showing that online, as in offline settings, we encounter the world and others from the position of beings deeply engaged in practical daily acts and “interpretative understandings.” These brushes are then dipped into Mead’s intertactionist colours and Schutz’s socio-phenomenological textures, eventually filling in the portrait. Illustrated via a case study of blogging practices, Mead’s theory of the “generalized other” highlights the notion that the interactional self does not concretely distinguish between offline and online social settings but instead, as in more traditional “off the network” situations, uses Internet-mediated communication for performative practices that afford self-expression and maintain social cohesion. Schutz’s phenomenology of the life-world gives further perspective to the interactional self, showing that online sociability should not be viewed as being apart from the “intersubjective” intersection of life-worlds rooted in everyday life. With some help from Husserl’s phenomenology, Schutz is subsequently relied on for understanding online textual embodiment, spatial extensions, community, role-playing, and fantasy, adding yet more socio-historical shadings to interactions online.



Ultimately, the picture that emerges is framed within the following four concluding hypotheses: 1) The interactional self encounters social acts, online and off, as part of its greater life-world, practicing performative and group-enforcing self-management through 2) varying and interlinked dimensions of sociability and 3) pragmatic yet meaningful uses of the communicational tools at hand in 4) contextually relevant degrees of self-disclosure.
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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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