“She’s Pretty in Her Pictures but in Real Life She’s Ugly”: School pupils negotiating the blurred boundaries between online and offline social contexts

Sarah MacIsaac*, Shirley Gray, John Kelly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Online social interaction has become integral to contemporary social life, adding new dimensions to how young people learn, interact, and perceive themselves and one another. We present findings from a yearlong ethnographic study within a Scottish state secondary school to explain pupils’ informal social relationships. We particularly investigate how school pupils experience social life inside and outside of school in relation to presenting themselves on social media and consider how they negotiate the overlap between their online (social media) representations and offline (school) encounters with their peers. Our findings evidence that pupils engaged in self-presentation within and across online and offline social contexts, whilst experiencing pressure to ‘keep up appearances’ between the two. The online environment afforded pupils greater control over self-presentation, especially in relation to bodily appearances. Here, pupils had time and tools to construct idealised fronts and to amass online capital. In some circumstances, this capital could have exchange value within offline environments. However, young people were at continual risk of having their carefully constructed identities discredited when in an in-person setting. We explore these issues in relation to pupil health, wellbeing, and learning, and we consider how educators may respond.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)897-912
Number of pages16
JournalYouth
Volume3
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jul 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • social media
  • self-presentation
  • the body
  • schooling
  • youth
  • ethnography
  • Bourdieu
  • Goffman

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