Edinburgh Research Explorer

School Pupils Negotiating the Blurred Boundaries Between Online and Offline Social Contexts: Implications for Bodily Perceptions and Practices

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


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 year-long ethnographic study within a Scottish secondary school, where participant observation and qualitative interviews were used to explain pupils’ informal social relationships. These findings evidence how pupils engaged in self-presentation within and across online and offline social contexts, whilst being under pressure to ‘keep up appearances’ between the two. The online environment afforded pupils with greater control over self-presentation, especially in relation to bodily appearances. Here participants had time and tools at their disposal to construct ‘virtual idealised fronts’ and to amass ‘virtual physical capital’. In some circumstances, this virtual capital could have exchange value within offline environments. However, young people were at continual risk of having their carefully constructed identities discredited when in a face-to-face setting. We explore resulting for pupil health, wellbeing and learning and provide suggestions of how educators may respond, especially within subjects such as physical education where the body is central.

ID: 154656579