Digital Identity

Digital identity is an interesting and complex (some say nebulous) concept and field of research. Recently, I have been digging a little bit deeper into current theory and research related to digital identities taking int account that the challenge of researching digital identities already starts with defining (digital) identity. Surely this can be and has been done from a number of different perspectives, including psychology, sociology, linguistics, media studies and many more.

Here I would just like to start with some of my favourite, thought-provoking conceptualisations of identity:

  • Social identity is not a fixed possession, but a social process, in which the individual and the social are inextricably related (Jenkins, 1996)
  • Patchwork-identities and identity construction as a dynamic and interactive process of patchworking of different identity components (Keupp, 1999)
  • Changing nature of identity (fluid identity), self-identity including self-reflexivity and creating biographical narratives (project of the self) as an inescapable issue in post-traditional societies (Giddens, 2002)
  • Collective identities as resistance identities, the identity-based social mobilisation in the network society and identities as reflexive achievement in post-traditional societies (Castells, 2006)
  • Identities in “liquid modernity” are negotiated, formed and reformed (Bauman, 2007)

And now I will add some of my favourite conceptualisations of digital identity:

  • Using virtual spaces to construct identity as multiple yet coherent notions with the identity on the computer as sum of the sum of distributed presence (Turkle, 1995)
  • The tripartite play of identities in context of video games: multiple real-life identities, virtual identities and projective identities (as a fusion between game-players and their avatars), as well as  the idea that learning involves taking on and playing with identities (Gee, 2003)
  • Digital identities as data that uniquely describes a person as subject or any other entity, which also includes information about the relationship of the subject to other subjects or entities (Windley, 2005)
  • Identity expression in digital media as part of community involvement, which in itself provides strong incentives for creative expression and active participation in terms of “participatory culture” (Jenkins, 2006)
  • Constructing digital identities as empowerment and personal growth through online self-expression by means of self-publishing, self-reflection, self-documentation (Stern, 2008)
  • Compulsory individuality and regulation of self-expression through consumer culture, exploring the relationship between the structured of consumerism and the agency in terms of the capacity to think and act freely (Willett, 2008)
  • Representations of digital identity as a constant process of negotiation and self-presentation (Boyd, 2004)
  • Digital identity narratives as stories we tell digitally about ourselves to the world linking digital identity to digital storytelling (Koosel, 2011)

Many times it is pretty hard to identify the relevant publications or initiatives as the concept of digital identity is often not explicitly referred to as “digital identity”, but for example as “self-presentations” , “personal brands”, “digital narratives” or “digital traces”.

As these are all different descriptions or different forms of digital identity, I have created a stack on Delicious dedicated to curating web resources related to (digital) identity that I find inspiring. I am aware there are probably many more good publications and examples out there and it would be great to hear from you about related research and practice!