Relational, Role, and Social Identity as Expressed in Grandparents' Personal Web Sites

Article excerpt

As we seek to understand the nature of human relationships, it is important to examine communication within and about those relationships in a variety of contexts. Such examinations can enhance our understanding of the relationships themselves, and can increase our knowledge of the relational partners--how they understand the relationship and how it relates to other aspects of their lives. The current study examines one way in which grandparents communicate about their relationships with their grandchildren-grandparents' personal websites. The research aims to enhance our understanding of the grandparent-grandchild (GP-GC) relationship and the ways in which communication about this relationship relates to a grandparent's more general conception of his/her own self.

Increasingly, scholars are recognizing the ways in which identity is contextually determined or constructed through discourse. Research has described the ways in which age identities are expressed and constructed in intergenerational conversations (e.g., N. Coupland, Coupland, & Giles, 1989) and the ways in which age identities are manipulated in medical encounters (J. Coupland, Robinson, & Coupland, 1994). Similarly, Hecht and colleagues' model of cultural identity recognizes its essentially malleable nature (Hecht, 1993) and hence the importance of examining discursive constructions of identity. Such work intersects with research adopting a discourse analytic perspective on social psychology (e.g., Billig, 1996; Potter & Wetherell, 1987). From this perspective, understanding the ways in which identity functions requires understanding how it is represented in everyday discourse. Hence, examining themes of identity in discourse is essential to our understanding of people's self-concepts and relationships.

The current research focuses particularly on on-line communication. The growth of the Internet as a communication medium is well recognized and its relevance as a site for self-expression is growing. It is used for multiple forms of self-presentation such as artistic expression, autobiographical narrative, self-disclosure on illness, and posting curriculum vitae. Increasingly, the Interact is being used for collective purposes-hate roups are spreading their messages via the WWW (Leets, 2001), political groups are seeking members through on-line expression (Holmes, 1997), and cultural groups are using the Internet to join together (Mitra, 1997). Hence, interest is growing in the ways in which identities are expressed on-line (e.g., Baym, 1999; Lin, Hummert, & Harwood, in press; Mitra, 1997; Turkle, 1995; Wynn & Katz, 1997). As the Internet becomes accessible to diverse populations, such work provides a new avenue to understand identity. Web pages are a context in which individuals present themselves in monologue for an extended period of time. Generally we only obtain this sort of self-description in autobiographies or research questionnaires. The former tend to only be produced by "famous" people, while the latter are solicited. The Web's naturally occurring discourse allows the examination of individuals' unprompted, conscious and deliberate constructions of their identities. Such written texts may reveal a somewhat different take on the social constructionist approach to identity. While identities may fluctuate and be negotiated "on the fly" in interpersonal interaction, when individuals set down who they are in writing for a public context, they might take particular care to present themselves in ways that are acceptable to the self across multiple audiences and over time.

In the current research, personal web pages created by grandparents were examined to understand more about the GP-GC relationship and how identity as a grandparent interacts with identity as an older adult. The introduction to the paper reviews relevant work on the GP-GC relationship and examines the concept of identity as it might relate to these websites. …


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