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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Constructing, presenting, and expressing self on social network sites : an exploratory study in Chinese university students’ social media engagement Guo, Yu


During past few years, social media, particularly social network sites (SNS) have emerged and attracted an increasing number of young people. SNS is a significant venue for youth to construct their identities through the interaction with their peers. Most current literature, available in English, focuses on the experiences of youth with SNS who live in Western societies. This exploratory study explores how undergraduates at universities in China construct, present and express their identity on SNS in relation to others. Five semi-structured interviews were conducted with college students to capture their lived experience with SNS. I drew on concepts of identity, subjectivity and dramaturgy and literature that examine tensions between concepts of collectivism and individualism in China. This study concludes that: Firstly, SNS provides a space for young people to explore and perform themselves towards what they see as their ideal self. However it does not mean young people can construct a brand new identity without the intervention of their offline identity. How they construct themselves and how they are constructed occurs in relation to their offline friendship circle as to the discursive world they live within. Participants spoke about the tensions in trying to balance collectivistic culture and individualistic culture, which influenced participants' sense of self and the way they presented themselves on SNS. Young people are deeply involved in their online presence and reality, and so both discursive worlds influence who they think they are in relation to others. Secondly, SNS is a “front stage” for young people to deliberately present themselves and manage the impression they gave to others. Both written texts and visualized pictures afford young people to “give” or “give off” their performance to their online audience (Goffman, 1959, p. 3). However on SNS the boundary between “front stage” and “back stage” is blurred and it is difficult for participants to keep track of different online and offline connections and, based on this, what to post. The study points to the importance of understanding SNS use within the particularities of cultural contexts.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada