Meaning and Identity in “Cyberspace”: The Performance of Gender, Class, and Race Online

Kendall, Lori
Symbolic Interaction

This article explores issues of gendered, classed and raced identities using examples drawn from my research on a type of online forum known as a mud. I critique previous accounts of research regarding identity online which have suggested that online interactions encourage greater identity fluidity and multiplicity. Drawing on examples from face-to-face interviews and online interaction, I discuss several aspects of identity. I first examine participants' efforts to meet face-to-face and discuss their privileging of offline information regarding identity. Using two examples of “gender-switchers,” I then show how some participants distance themselves from experiences of gendered identities which might otherwise disrupt previously held beliefs about gender. Next I discuss classed and raced identities, which participants express in conversations about income and ethnicity. These discussions point to the interconnections between online and offline interpretations of class and race. Thus, in discussing these examples, I emphasize the need to examine not just online performances, but also the participants' interpretations of such performances. Despite the potentially disruptive effects of online ambiguity, many participants continue to believe in essence and continuity of identity.