Academic journal article Rural Society

Rural Young People's Perspectives on Online Sociality: Crossing Geography and Exhibiting Self through Facebook

Academic journal article Rural Society

Rural Young People's Perspectives on Online Sociality: Crossing Geography and Exhibiting Self through Facebook

Article excerpt


Much research on rural communities (Cheers, 1990; Scharf, 2006; Winterton & Warburton, 2011), particularly focusing on young rural residents, situates them in terms of disadvantage (Geldens, 2004). These disadvantages can be very real for young people who struggle to access transport, services, income opportunities, employment and entertainment (Alston & Kent, 2009; Cashmore & Townsend, 2006; Wyn, Cuervo, Woodman, & Stokes, 2005). Geldens (2004), however, indicated these disadvantages are constructions imposed homogenously on rural young people, casting them all as disempowered, thus negating their ability to negotiate their own lives. Consistent with rural deficit discourse, it has been claimed the Internet and other technologies can provide opportunities for rural residents by allowing access to global information portals (Sreekumar, 2007). Valentine and Holloway (2001) argue some studies infer spatial and temporal boundaries can be collapsed through the Internet to the benefit of young rural people. While such assumptions have been criticized (Awan & Gauntlett, 2013; Sreekumar, 2007; Stillman, Arnold, Gibbs, & Shepherd, 2010; Valentine & Holloway, 2001), few alternative perspectives are advocated.

This article answers calls for more research about young people's use of communication technologies in their everyday lives (Wyn et al., 2005), with specific focus on young people living in rural areas (Awan & Gauntlett, 2013). In particular, two specific aims to explore how young people living in two rural towns use social networking sites (SNS) are considered: (1) the degree to which young people use SNS to cross geographic barriers; and (2) how young people use SNS for self-expression and social interaction.

By exploring these aims, this article privileges the voices of young people from rural Australia, basing conclusions on their perspectives. It assumes young rural people are active and involved creators of cultural content (Panelli, Nairn, & McCormack, 2002) through the ways they report using online channels to socialize with others. The ways they report using these channels are indicative of their active participation in the construction of their unique social worlds. An analytical lens drawn from Hogan (2010) and Goffman's(1959) dramaturgical approach is used to explore the choices these young people make with regard to online presentations and to examine modes of interaction described by the participants. This framework (Goffman, 1959; Hogan, 2010) is used to approach the popular debate and understand how young people present, express and portray themselves in social network settings. Like Goffman (1959), we seek to examine individuals within social arenas, however, with a specific focus on rural places. We use Hogan's(2010) adaptation of Goffman's(1959) conception of performance in physical social contexts to the virtual environment of SNS, exploring the varying extent participants report crossing geography using these sites.

Literature review and theory

Rural deficit discourse

Rural living is commonly conceptualized in terms of deficit (Pritchard & McManus, 2000), particularly with regard to young people who seem adversely affected by various systems of disadvantage (Geldens, 2004). Frequently this dialogue is framed according to a set of given parameters, for example, educational disadvantage (Cashmore & Townsend, 2006) and fewer employment opportunities (Alston & Kent, 2009). According to this model, those in rural areas negotiate greater disadvantage intensified by the rurality of where they live (White & Wyn, 2004). Deficit models view rural places as lacking in comparison with urban locations, often ignoring unique and/or positive attributes (White & Wyn, 2004). These understandings of "rural" based on a deficit model have been challenged and critiqued (Bourke, Humphreys, Wakerman, & Taylor, 2010).

Young people's voices are obscured by such top-down approaches which impose deficit models in rural places. …

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