Friday, 28 August 2009

The Use of Online Social Networks by Mexicans in the Context of Globalization

Lorena Nessi
is studying for a PhD at Nottingham Trent University. Here she discusses her research into the use of online social networks.

My research engages with current Internet studies by analysing the use of online communication through online social networks (OSN) such as MySpace, Hi5 and Facebook amongst young Mexicans. It aims at gaining an in-depth understanding of the relationship between the use of these networks, the representation of personal profiles and the creation of groupings online. In doing so, its principal objectives are the following:
  • To analyse how young Mexicans represent their identities in their online profiles.
  • To analyse how OSN and online groupings joined by young Mexicans are related to social, cultural and economic capital.
  • To explore how young Mexicans use these spaces to negotiate identities within a local and a global context.
One of the authors who has paid great attention to the study of networks and globalisation, situating the internet as the most important of these networks, is Manuel Castells, who argues that we are actually living in a 'Network Society', a society in which the key social structures and activities are organized around electronically processed information networks (Castells, 2001). OSNs seem to play an increasingly important role in the Network Society described by this author, in which interaction, interconnectedness, communication and information technologies (ICTs) are all interrelated. However, despite the growing use of the Internet in Mexico, and the popularity of OSNs among young Mexicans (MySpace even having created a special version for Mexican users, and Facebook having recently developed a version in Spanish) the academic analysis of these networks, and indeed cultural and social analysis of the Internet in general, is still rather lacking amongst Latin American academics. Most of the research of cultural and social practices on the Internet, specifically of OSNs, has been developed in developed Western countries. In Latin American, academics are predominantly focused on more general, often cultural questions related to information and communication technologies. One of my motivations is to contribute to this field of knowledge through analysing the use of OSNs.

These spaces are web based services which provide a range of ways for users to connect to and interact with each other. They contain large amounts of first hand information, consisting of symbolic content produced directly by individuals negotiate ways of representing their identities electronically and interact using these representations. (Have cut a sentence here) In the virtual world, personal images and information about our selves can become fantasies that find an online place to be presented to others. Some core social practices and values of specific groups, in this case, Mexican OSN users could be found in this space.

These dynamics raise questions related to the possible existence of common aspirations among Mexican OSN users. Can we analyse these aspirations through studying the construction of identities online? Are the Western models of success becoming aspirations for Mexicans? Beauty, fame, sex, a perfect figure, a nice house, health, and a good job and income, are amongst the common characteristics of the Western model of personal success. Happiness, defined according to a Western perception of it, is a common goal. The cultural, social and economic capital described by Bourdieu, are some of the main resources required to reach such goals, and are produced according to cultural models which are constantly reproduced in social spaces on the Internet and in other media. My research will analyse the extent to which these online representations on OSNs are related to global and local contexts.

Bourdieu’s work is a very original attempt to break with traditional academic use of research in its combining of aesthetic and philosophic analyses, using statistics, surveys, and ethnographic research. The complexity of his analysis and research is one of many obstacles that academics have to face when using his theories as a foundation for cultural or social research. Most of Bourdieu’s books have not yet been translated into Spanish. Nevertheless, many Latin American academics are interested in Bourdieu’s legacy and have attempted to apply his suggestions in anthropology, sociology, communication and cultural studies. The role of the Internet, and specifically whether OSNs increase or decrease our social capital, has also been explored by some academics within Anglo-Saxon traditions. His is an innovative contribution to the field of Internet studies. However, until now the question of how we can progress in studying other forms of capital represented in these spaces has remained open, and I am interested in elaborating on this concern. I will explore how the social, cultural and economic forms of capital of Mexican OSN users are constructed online, and how they can be studied through analysing online profiles and groupings in these networks.

Since Internet studies is a relatively new field of research, some of the main challenges for this investigation are concerned with the methodological and ethical issues which need to be addressed. However, this also situates this work in a unique and challenging position, since such a wide variety of innovative material is available for research. In addition many different approaches exist which have attempted to explore online communications and interactions, and these must also be examined.

(Photo credit: AJC1. Permissions)

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