So… I have chosen ‘gender’ as my topic for consideration. Why am I looking at gender? Over the past few years, whilst using social networking systems, and generally being ‘online’, I have become increasingly interested by the representation of identity online, in particular in virtual communities, and the ways in which social constructs in the real world, impact on, and in some cases dictate, social constructs in the online world. I am going to be looking at the topic of gender over the next few weeks, concentrating on the ways in which gender (and perhaps also sexuality) are represented on the web, and how traditional ideas about gender are being challenged by the way that the web ‘works’. By this I mean the ways in which the communities of the web work; how these communities communicate with one another, how they promote themselves, and how they understand one another through online profiles.
Some of the questions that I have been thinking about in the lead up to putting together my research question and looking to identify the best approaches to tackling these questions:
In some instances, is gender constructed online and then reified in the real world, rather than, as we would imagine, the other way round? Are the possibilities identified in online communities really a way to escape hegemonic gender representations? Does removal from the corporeal constraints of the real world allow for a reaffirmation of notions of gender, or do the social constructs that bind gender in the real world apply within those worlds that we have created on the web? What are the differences online between actual and perceived gender and how do these manifest themselves? How would we begin to look at these from different perspectives to try to analyse the effects of adopting different genders online, or the effects of having to abide by the gender rules online, to which you are traditionally bound offline?
Themes in online communities like dynamics, harassment, recommendations, are all impacted on by understandings and interpretations of gender. Sociology seemed like an obvious approach to tackling this issue, and I have chosen also to look at gender (and therefore identity) from the perspectives of biologists. I think that this will provide me with two seemingly diametrically opposed perspectives to the construction of gender in the real world (although I am sure that this will not be the case when I start digging into the methods and methodologies of these two disciplines), and this could lead to some useful tools for looking at the construction of gender in the online world. The use of gender to compartmentalise online users of virtual communities, for targeted advertising, gaming experiences, etc. could benefit from a better understanding of the ways in which gender can be constructed, and also deconstructed, online from both sociological and biological perspectives.
That’s all a bit repetitive! I am going to put together a more concise research question and a list of expected key readings and key discipline perspectives later, I just thought I’d get my first thoughts up while they were fresh in my mind.