A. Qualitative Research
My research began with a critical review of theory and research in the field of identity, identity online, identity and social networking sites, and queer identity and social networking sites, with each section forming a foundation for the next.
Non-essentialism sees identity as multiple and continuously shaped, co-produced, and reaffirmed through participation in social practices and contexts. The literature suggests the experience of identity online is just as powerful offline, and to which a non-essentialist perspective is just as applicable.
Social networks afford the construction and performance of identity, and play an active role in the formation of people’s identities and their understanding of themselves. And because of this, we need to consider the constraints within social networks, and the types of identity and degree of exploration and expression that they allow or facilitate.
This is especially true for queer people, who, in the absence of formal institutions – family, friends, school, social organisations – that usually assist in enculturation, frequently rely on social networks to construct identity and community. This activity happens in various ways – experimental behaviour, enacting the identities of others, learning to negotiate queer life – all exploring the boundaries of identity and sexuality.
B. User Research
I used semi-structured interviews as a form of exploration into design possibilities and to discover more personal narratives of queer experience on SNSs, guided by my research question
The first part of the interview was concerned with gathering information on people’s relationship between their queer identity and the social networks they use or have used. We used a list of these platforms as a talking point and I framed their identity in key periods if they were having trouble recalling or talking about it – ‘discovery’, ‘formation’, ‘evolving’, and ‘learning’. The next part covered non-social network elements that relate to participants’ queer identity. I gave the participant a mapping exercise to identify these and asked them to talk me through the diagram, prompting a deeper exploration into each. Finally, I asked the participants to draw on the first two sections and consider what is missing from current offerings that would help in supporting any aspect of their queer identity.
To analyse the interviews I first highlighted any quotes relevant to queer identity, annotating them with a description and overarching theme. I then grouped the themes and corresponding quotes into broader categorisations of experience.