Walter Hart

Mind, Self, and Facebook

Mind, Self, and Facebook
Sociologists must develop postmodern tools in order to interpret the postmodern self.
Interpreting the self is problematic for contemporary sociologists. The discipline of sociology
has relied on the theories of Herbert Mead and Ervin Goffman to interpret the construction of the
self. Mead’s Mind Self and Society was published in 1934 and Goffman’s Presentation of Self in
Everyday Life was published in 1959. The theories in these works were constructed in response
to the social dilemmas of modernity1 and therefore, are not sufficient to interpret the
development of the self in postmodernity. The postmodern individual interacts with the self, the
community, and the world in ways that differ from the modern era. The shift from modernity2 to
postmodernity is confusing to many sociologists. Instead of interpreting the postmodern self,
sociologists condemn the postmodern self as fragmented, narcissistic, fantasy driven, empty,
image driven, and superficial (E 136,138, Agger 1988). The postmodern self may be all of these,
some of these, or none of these. Without the correct theoretical orientation, the interpretation of
the self is difficult. Mead and Goffman’s theories provide tools to interpret the self in
postmodern society, but these tools are insufficient. In this paper I posit that to interpret the
postmodern self and postmodern society, sociologists must move away from the modern era’s
interpretation of the self, utilize postmodern technology to reorient theories in order to address
postmodern dilemmas, and utilize the tools of modern social theory, within the postmodern
context. First, I examine how modern sociological theory is similar to postmodern theory and
how theorists are frustrated with postmodernity because they are still attempting to apply modern
analysis to the postmodern dilemmas. Next, I suggest that sociologists should resist criticizing
1 Sociology is usually considered an Enlightenmnet project, and outcome of the Frenchman Auguste Comte s attempt to create a science
of society that would rival the sophistication and methodologies of Newton s physics. Comte went as far as to term sociology social
physics. Agger
2 The term often given to this new social order, which involved both the enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, is modernity, and the
process of achieving it is termed modernization by sociologists. Agger


and local method of study contends. symbols are assigned meanings that make up the “structure of our consciousness” and the “lenses through which we see. such as Facebook. individual level. Charles Tilly (1984) claims that grand narratives are meant to be timeless and placeless should be replaced with concrete. total narratives” and values social analysis that is “captured in fragments. There is no (egelian evolution revealing that the pure essence of the human being is individuality and inwardness. will likely be different then the kinds of selves considered normal 200 years from now4. even intuitive methodologies. Through chains of interaction. Postmodern Theory. considered normal today. and eventually into the postmodern theories. 4 2 . through Freud and psychoanalysis. 91) Contemporary sociologists also privilege the local fragments over the global narratives. Postmodern theory “resists global. . Elliot traces the development of symbolic interaction theory from Mead and Goffman. places.” (Collins 2005.” Instead Collins states that selves. “there is no guarantee that the larger historical pattern always flows in one direction. requiring local. Douglass.” (Agger 1988. to develop a “radical micro-sociology” to illuminate the unique nature of the self during the postmodern turn3. Self. Elliot chronicles sociological 3 The phrase postmodern turn is taken from Best. 374) Micro-sociology reveals the self as socially constructed and historically situated.. Collins . Similarly. Steven and Kellner.Walter Hart 2-24-11 Mind. and things. historical analysis of real people. individual. It is in the discussion of the postmodern self that pessimistic view of the self and society emerges. Randall Collins (2005) posits a radical micro-sociology that privileges the study of situations and chains of interaction. …and there is no guarantee that the larger historical pattern always flows in one direction…. Tilly and Collins do not seem to be at odds with the postmodern rejection of grand narratives but resistance is encountered when Anthony Elliot (2001) addresses the postmodern construction of the self in Concepts of the Self. onto Foucault. Collins’ fragmented. and Facebook postmodern self construction and instead utilize the fragments of the culture. NY: The Guilford Press.

and equality is understandable in a postmodern age where reality seems “unordered and ultimately unknowable.” (Best and Kellner 1991. and Facebook descriptions of the postmodern “dislocation and decomposition of identity. Although not explicitly postmodern. Reason. 9) Huston Smith contends that unordered. and things within their historical context. 9) Postmodernity is a time of transition in world history and sociologists should utilize the fragments of the culture to develop a new micro-sociology. like Facebook. reason. Interpreting the Self: Two Hundred Years of American Autobiography. By moving away from the modern interpretations of the self. analyzes change in the historical development of the self. Justice. to analyze how postmodern selves and cultures are developing from within a postmodern medium of communication. justice. they will be able to re-appropriate modern theories of social research. I contend that this discomfort stems from attempting to apply theories of modernity to postmodern dilemmas. Autobiographers employ a number of rhetorical 5 Elliot is discussing Richard Sennet s views on the postmodern self 3 . and Equality) dissolve or become irrelevant. sociologists can free themselves to embrace the changing culture and utilize cultural fragments. She chooses the autobiography because of the way the authors imagine themselves within the community. Bjorklund uses autobiographies to study real people. Further.” (Best and Kellner 1991. Once sociologists move away from the modern paradigm and begin to utilize the tools of postmodernity. Elliot’s fear of the dissolution of truth. as Tilly suggested. Self.Walter Hart 2-24-11 Mind.” (Elliot 131) is either a nostalgic longing for the comfort of modern simplicity or a confusion regarding the shifting dynamics of culture. Diane Bjorklund’s 1998 book. 132) I interpret Elliot’s assertion that the “grand objectives of the enlightenment (including Truth. postmodern skepticism is “only a transition to yet another intellectual perspective. places.5” (Elliot 2001. one that will be characterized by a more holistic and spiritual outlook.

Individuals are authoring real time stories with cultural significance. Communities are developing and strengthening as content is produced. which induce people to spend hours watching television and Web surfing. individuals are daily authoring and re-authoring micro-autobiographies on Facebook. however. superficial. we see identities being negotiated in real time. Likewise. Embracing the postmodern reality will also allow for a more accurate critique of the social formation and domination that exists when “selves’ psyches are engaged by the culture industries. Self. not only to make sense of their lives 4 . and Facebook techniques that reflect the values of their society. commercialized. Bjorklund’s method of analyzing autobiographies is a good model to start with. The response they call out in others when they post a status or upload a picture evokes the same response in the poster. We don’t have to wait sixty years for the autobiography to be written. they appear disconnected. consuming advertising images that form identity. When sociologists conquer their fear of the unknown postmodern future. in 2011. When selves are observed un-critically. we can re-appropriate modern social theory.Walter Hart 2-24-11 Mind. have even more to offer when we also recognize them as rhetorical accomplishments. but we also discover the culture speaking through the self. Autobiographers use vocabularies of the self.” (Agger 2004:107) The pessimistic worldview many sociologists hold is prohibiting opportunities for social research and social critique. Now that we have loosened our grip on modernity and have begun to utilize the postmodern tools of interaction. they will be able to approach this postmodern form of communication and develop a deeper understanding of identity construction and social interaction. and trivial. Bjorklund noted: We discern the individual voices of the autobiographers. But when selves are observed sociologically. Today. These selfnarratives. Selves are being formed as they place themselves in the role of the other to communicate. the presentation of self takes on multiple forms on-line and off-line.

Bjorklund extracts how the self is developed by analyzing how each author. they can join the dialogue and help shape the free flow of information. are not the same as traditional autobiographies. they will be able to gain better understanding of how the postmodern self is developing. By moving towards the postmodern. rhetoric. dealt with the literary constraints of modesty. When sociologists stop longing for the comfort of modernity they can join the excitement of the new era with its new possibilities. imagination. social networking. art. (Bjorklund 158. and selfpresentation. it can adapt the grand narratives of modernity and re-appropriate them to study the development of the postmodern self. written in Facebook. Bjorklund privileges the localized nature of autobiographies to draw conclusions about the larger society. and discourse that may lead to a better stage of society. This postmodern turn is a cultural shift that sociologist must confront.” (Bjorklund. Although many sociologists conduct research in ways that are similar to postmodern styles of research there is still confusion or fear of the unknown. changing dynamics of society. Her study analyzed 110 autobiographies from 1800 to 1980. They will be able to conduct better postmodern research and critique. and Facebook but also to present a praiseworthy self to their audiences.Walter Hart 2-24-11 Mind. honesty. A third way that Bjorklund interpreted the self through autobiographies was by analyzing how the authors spoke about their relationships with others. Her analysis explores “their use of shared cultural ideas about the self as well as the social situational constraints of impression management. like autobiographies. scruples. The micro-autobiographies. and will) differed over the four time periods. reason. and anticipating the response of their audience. but they are expressions of individuals sharing their lives. Xi) Facebook. over different time periods. 5 . reflecting on their identity. and the need to be interesting.159) Similar to postmodern theorists. political power. These similarities make it possible for us to appropriate Bjorklund’s modern sociological methods for the study of postmodern study. Once sociology accepts the transition out of modernity. Self. Instead of nostalgic research that stands in condemnation of the postmodern self.” (Bjorklund 1998. are an “amalgam of cultural ideas. media. She then looked at how the author’s emphasis on components of the self (passion. x) Both keep a record of how people interpret their own lives. Once they are able to move away from the sacred texts of modernity they will be able to embrace the new postmodern technologies.

Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations. and Facebook Works Cited Agger. Malden: Blackwell Publishing. Self. Elliot. The Virtual Self: A Contemporary Sociology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Malden: Blackwell Publishers Inc. Diane. Bjorklund. 2004a. Anthony. 1998. Douglass. 1991. Concepts of the Self. Ben. 2001. 6 . Best. Steven and Kellner. NY: The Guilford Press. Interpreting the Self: Two Hundred Years of American Autobiography.Walter Hart 2-24-11 Mind.