Why We Post




Facebook in Trinidad

Daniel Miller and Jolynna Sinanan

Fieldwork for this study was carried out in the winter of 2009/10. It was an offshoot of a different project on migration and transnational communication that was being conducted by Daniel Miller with Mirca Madianou and which produced the book Migration and New Media: Transnational Families and Polymedia. Once in Trinidad it became clear that Facebook was now of considerable significance and so additional research was undertaken to focus specifically on this.  As background I also used the experience of many Trinidadians who had become Danny's own Facebook friends over the proceeding two years.

The results of that study were published as D. Miller Tales From Facebook in 2011 with Polity Press. The book was largely intended for a popular audience with the first two thirds of the book consisting of 12 portraits of individuals from Trinidad and how their lives had been changed. This was followed by more academic essays on how Trinidadian this had become, on 15 thesis about Facebook in general and finally a highly academic essay proposing an anthropological theory of Facebook based on the work of Nancy Munn. Since then this book has been published in a shortened version in German as Das Wilde Netzwork by Suhrkamp. A translation is also planned into Portuguese to be published in Brazil.

The most important conclusions from this study included an argument that social networking should not be overly associated with its point of origin in the US or amongst youth. Rather it seems destined to play a larger role amongst those who want to maintain sociality but are inhibited from doing so. Examples included the housebound, the shy, the elderly. The book also shows how as with other media it is better to understand Facebook as something constructed by Trinidadians and specific to the region, rather than merely an appropriation of something whose authenticity lies elsewhere.

The study of Facebook combined with the earlier work in the Philippines has also been used by Miller and Mirca Madianour to create a new theory of Polymedia. This argues that social networking sites alongside other new media. Once issues of price and access move to the background we see a re-socialising of our relationship to communicative media in general as people are held morally responsible for their choice of one media over another. This point is summarised in a forthcoming paper in the International Journal of Cultural Studies.

The Facebook study was followed by further research by Jolynna Sinanan and Miller in Trinidad during the winter of 2011/12 which concentrated on the impact of webcam and will result in a further book called Webcam which will also be published by Polity. We also continued investigations of the use of Facebook during this research

The Trinidadian study will now form a base line for the further work by us both which forms one of the seven case studies within the ERC program. This will become the most long term of these studies with the previous work in 2009-2012 to be followed by further fieldwork over the next four years to 2016.