Communication ETDs

Publication Date



New ways of creating and presenting the self in the "space" of the Internet are fascinating, but not yet fully understood. Framed in the theoretical literature of Goffman's presentation of the self, and Burke's conception of rhetoric, the study's primary concern is to explain and understand how Facebook users construct identities using narrative fragments on their profiles and the offline effects of these narrative performances. Specifically, this study argues that narratives are a type of rhetorical performance, and that both narratives and identities have symbolic meaning and rhetorical components. While the effects of online identities occur at the macro-level, the actual process of construction and presentation occur at the micro-level. The method of narrative criticism informs the primary framework, called the Narrative Performance Model (NPM), that I created and used to analyze 100 Facebook profiles of undergraduate students at a large, southwestern university to understand the micro-level process of the performance of identities and to answer the following research questions: (1) What features are used in the narrative performance of identities on Facebook? (2) What types of identities result from the narrative performances on Facebook profiles, and (3) What role does cultural capital play in the narrative performance of self? Focus groups discussions of undergraduate college students added a depth dimension to the narrative criticism, helped answer questions that could not be answered in the analysis of Facebook profiles, and answered the following research question: What are the offline consequences of communicating online identities on Facebook? The micro-level analysis of 400 pages of text from Facebook profiles reveal that students use both linguistic and paralinguistic features in their narrative performance of identity. Students challenge and alter traditional conventions of grammar, writing, and narratives to present specific narratives of self. Students use these features to communicate five types of identities on their profiles: (1) the essential self; (2) the desired self; (3) the preferential self, (4) the dynamic self; and (5) the demanding self. Cultural capital makes possible the above mentioned narrative selves, and in effect, perpetuates the hierarchical arrangement of society by highlighting class differences. A thematic analysis of focus group discussions reveal that offline consequences fall within four general themes: (1) keeping it real; (2) Facebook official; (3) friending; and (4) relationship boundaries--family as friends. In addition to an in-depth discussion of macro and micro-level findings, the practical, theoretical, and methodological contributions are discussed.




Internet, Facebook, Identity, Narrative, Rhetorical Criticism, Narrative Performance Model (NPM)

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Schuetz, Janice

First Committee Member (Chair)

Woodall, Gill

Second Committee Member

Foss, Karen

Third Committee Member

Burris, Beverly