Social Networking Sites & Social Science Research Project
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Research Foci

  • Impact of cultural difference on social networking
  • Politics, privacy and exposure
  • Social networking and low income groups and social welfare
  • Social networking and memorialisation grief and loss
  • Social networking and migration/diaspora
  • Social networking and Parent-child relationships
  • Social networking and polymedia
  • Social networking and separated families
  • Social networking impact on older users and housebound individuals

Research Objectives

Woman with painted fingernails using iPhone 3


The primary research foci for our project are largely determined by the original proposal that was funded by the European Research Council. The larger ambition of the research was founded on the insights which a study of social media might bring to social science more generally. For example how does a discipline such as anthropology which was founded in kinship studies relate to the wider social networking found on sites such as Facebook and QQ? Equally we may ask whether the online platforms we now call 'Social Network Sites' are a manifestation of what sociologists such as Castells and Wellman term social networks? 

We hope to be able to contribute to these wider issues since our method as ethnography will encompass a broad context. But within that, the project proposal specified certain key topics that we will emphasis and which as research foci also help us develop the comparative aspects of our research, since these will be examined simultaneously across all nine projects. 

Several of our research foci will help us explore these issues of kinship in conjuncture with other forms of social relations. We will give close examination to parent-child relationships. After all, 'my mother wants to friend me' was a defining moment in the cultural transformations we associate with Social Networking Sites. This expands to a wider concern with separation in families, which is an issue that, sooner or later, is the experience of most families today as children leave home. To take this a stage further, our third topic looks at examples where this results in transnational separation, because it seems a reasonable assumption that social media are used to at least attempt to ameliorate the absences that come with modern migration. Though one of our projects focuses on rural to factory town relationships in China which, while not transnational, is one of the largest migrations in the world today.

The next set of foci are dealing with issues which dominate public discourse regarding the impact of new social media. We will look at both privacy and politics, but we hope that rather than taking these from more sensationalist and ideologically charged representations, we can provide a more grounded assessment of just how much these pertain to ordinary populations in small towns across the world. Does politics appear within most people’s online communications and have these new media had a demonstrable impact through changing the conditions of private and public space?

A third set of foci will follow our orientation to welfare issues as a deliberate choice simply because ultimately we also want to have an applied aspect to our research that allows the results to be used to improve the conditions of populations. We are especially concerned with low income populations and issues of the digital divide. We will include a focus on people with impaired mobility who have come to rely on these communications. We will also cover increasing usage by the elderly. Finally we will look at the way social media have become sites of memorialisation and the way people deal with death and grief through social media.

Our final declared focus is on polymedia which returns us to the value of ethnography as the basis of our work. We recognise that no particular media can be understood today outside of the context of all the other media and forms of communication including face-to-face which that same person will make use of. This then leads naturally to the wider context of ethnography, that is a study which takes people in terms of the actual breadth of experiences of daily life. The intention is an assessment of new social media relative to everything else that a person, or indeed a society, does. 

Image by Jhaymesisviphotography (Creative Commons)

Page last modified on 24 oct 13 02:45


European Research CouncilEuropean UnionUCL Department of Anthropology