“Me, my selfie and I”: an exploration of subjectivity and identity portrayal in the social media use of 10-and 11-year-olds

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study explores how children of 10 and 11 years old, so-called ‘tweens’, experience social media use within digital spaces and how they make sense of their digital identities. Using social media is a widespread phenomenon and plays a significant role in modern life. Notably, there is little research with children of this age and what is known is often viewed through a problematic lens, for example within a discourse of risk and harm. The study implements a social constructionist perspective, that views children as capable social actors and experts in their own lives, allowing situatedness of their experiences reported through their own narrative. In addition, Goffman’s (1959) theory of impression management is used to allow consideration of the way social media may provide an additional stage for performances to be acted out and may also offer individuals the opportunity to manipulate and shape their identity. Finally, a poststructuralist lens is employed to recognise the ways in which children’s social media use is not free from power and control.

A socio-economically and culturally diverse sample of forty children in their final year of primary school took part in this study. Utilising focus groups with activities related to social media and the creative participatory method of collaging with interviews, allowed for both collective and individual narratives to be heard. Thematic analysis was used with the focus group data and the collages with interviews. Following this, analytical questions were used with the creative participatory data and a visuo-textual type of analysis. This allowed for the richness of the data to be analysed using multiple layers.

Focusing on children’s own cultural practices, findings suggest a lack of homogeneity in responses to identity portrayal on social media, emphasising the differing subjectivities children encounter that may not be as distinctive as an online/offline binary in terms of how they portray their identities. Consequently, this may affect some children more than others in terms of their well-being. This was evident with the girls in this research, where identity portrayal was linked to physical appearance and the use of filters and viewing idealised body shapes affected how they felt about themselves. Other pressures within digital spaces,such as seeking validation, and external factors, like celebrity culture and advertisements, also impacted on children’s sense of self. E-safety was well understood and enacted by children in the form of privacy settings and awareness of potential predatory behaviours.

This qualitative study contributes to the existing body of research by suggesting that children aged 10 and 11 years old are co-producers of their own identities within digital spaces, albeit with differing degrees of agency, and that social media use enables them to connect to their peers in meaningful ways.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorCarmel Conn (Supervisor) & Susan Haywood (Supervisor)

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