Face Off: Identity in French On-Line Debate
Hanna, Barbara E. (2004) Face Off: Identity in French On-Line Debate. Australian Journal of French Studies, XLI(3), pp. 103-115.
Popular wisdom teaches that a primary characteristic of internet interaction is a proliferation of false identity. Yet despite this potentially discouraging uncertainty, interaction on, for example, media-related discussion sites continues to flourish. A less paranoid reading of such interaction might focus on the apparent anonymity it makes possible. This particular aspect has been seized upon by language teachers and learners as providing the potential for the development of a foreign-language speaking identity by students.
Meanwhile, much scholarly work on electronic discussion presents it as a reduced version of face to face discussion, subject to the same rules, but with the physical element removed. Again, there are potential spin-offs for language learning, with the claim being made that it is easier to construct a viable target language identity on-line than in person.
Without wanting to imply that new identities are necessarily false, my paper takes as a starting point accusations of imposture noted in a study of interactions on media discussion sites, with particular reference to data from Le Monde, Le Nouvel Observateur and Libération. These will lead me to look at the way in which identity is constructed, used and contested in on-line debate, and the way in which it is tied to generic stakes.
The accusations of fakery reveal what is taken to be culturally or generically inappropriate behaviour, and lead me to question whether it is indeed easier to assume cultural otherness in a typed exchange than in a face-to-face encounter. Implications of these findings for the teaching and learning of language, and for participation in internet discussion as a cultural outsider, are presented.
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