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E-seminar: Social media as practices: an ethnographic critique of ‘affordances’ and ‘context collapse’

May 3, 2017

by Veronica Barassi
via EASA Media Anthropology Network mailing list

We will be launching our next e-seminar on Tuesday the 9th of May 2017 at 00:00 GMT. If you are new to the list, our e-seminars run for a period of 2 weeks and they are vibrant spaces for discussion and confrontation on a specific paper.

For our 60th e-seminar we will be discussing the following working paper by Dr Elisabetta Costa (University of Groningen) and our discussant will be Dr Christian Pentzold (University of Bremen).

Social media as practices: an ethnographic critique of ‘affordances’ and ‘context collapse’


Drawing on data gathered during ethnographic fieldwork in Mardin, a medium-sized town in southeast Turkey, this paper examines people’s production of different online social spaces. The paper shows that social media users actively appropriate online platforms and change privacy settings in order to keep different social spheres and social groups apart. Social media users actively mould online social environments that largely resemble those existing in the offline world. Keeping different online social contexts divided from one another is the taken for granted way of using social media in Mardin. By contrast, social media scholars have extensively discussed the effects of social media in terms of context collapse (among others see Marvin 2013; Marwick and Boyd 2011; Marwick and Ellison 2012; Vitak 2012; Wesch 2008, 2009). This in turn has been described as a consequence of platform’s architecture and affordances. This paper shows that the theory of context collapse does not account for the uses of social media in Mardin. It demonstrates that the concept of affordance has been largely used to describe “intrinsic” properties of a platform and its architecture, which are instead the results of pattern of usage within Anglo-American contexts. The paper concludes by suggesting the importance of considering social media as an open set of situated practices, rather than architectures provided with unchangeable and intrinsic properties.

You can find the paper to download from our website

Really looking forward to the discussion

Dr Veronica Barassi
BA Anthropology and Media Programme Convenor
Department of Media and Communications,
Goldsmiths, University of London


EASA Media Anthropology Network

For further information please contact:
Dr. John Postill
RMIT University, Melbourne

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