New research with young people on social media
The purpose of her doctoral thesis is twofold. It is partly about contributing knowledge about how young people reflect on and analyse their use of social media to present identity, and partly about contributing knowledge about participatory research with young people as a research method, and what challenges, opportunities, and consequences it may entail.
“Although it has become more common to make children's and young people's own perspectives visible in research, it is still mostly the adults’ interpretations that come across in discussions about young people's use of social media, both in research and in public debate. I think we need to get better at listening to how young people themselves think about and interpret their lives,” said Amira Sofie Sandin.
In the doctoral thesis (I) kindly like: Participatory research with young people about identity and social media, three groups of 16-year-olds with immigrant backgrounds contributed to shaping the direction and content of the research. For example, they analysed screenshots of their own posts on social media, worked with peers with a starting point in the question "Who am I in social media?" and in group discussions explored and analysed the different ways they expressed themselves on social media.
Strategies for presenting one's identity
In the work Amira Sofie and her co-researchers did together, the role social media held in their lives became clear.
“These were ambitious young people and social media was a way for them to socialise with each other on their own terms. At the same time, they had to navigate various norms and expectations, from parents, friends, and others. “
In the doctoral thesis, Amira Sofie Sandin described three different strategies that the co-researchers used to present their identity on social media.
The ideal self – the most prominent strategy. The ideal self is carefully curated to show an interesting life, cool clothes and gadgets and an attractive body. This strategy adhered to social norms and could be used to impress the audience as well as to provide an image for oneself to live up to.
The downplayed self – this was a strategy used to try to avoid social sanctions by expressing oneself in a way that others would not find provoking. When expressing content that might be provoking this was done using other people's quotes or by using memes.
The (seemingly) unpolished self – this strategy was reserved for a more exclusive audience and included showing oneself as funny, politically incorrect, crazy or ugly – for example, to show a double chin on Snapchat, which would not be done on Instagram.
The desire to be listened to
The young people expressed that their view of research changed during the course of the project. They also said that they felt that they had contributed something important by participating in the study, namely an understanding of what it is like to be young today. One of them described how their expectations before the study had been that there would be "an old woman" who would ask questions that they would answer, and then they would get their movie tickets and go home. Instead, the young people themselves had been very active and contributed in the research.
Amira Sofie Sandin reflected, “One of the most important things I have learnt is that there is a desire among young people to interact with adults, provided that they are listened to and taken seriously. Working with participatory research has given me knowledge that I could not have gained in any other way. We have obligations, in both the research and adult worlds, to invite more perspectives.”
As a child, she dreamed of becoming a professor of history, and even though the choice of subject ended up being different, the desire to learn has remained strong. That was one of the reasons why she applied for a doctoral education programme. Democracy and rights issues are close to her heart and motivated her in her profession as a librarian, when she worked with children who have a mother tongue other than Swedish. Since 2010, she has been teaching courses on user studies, children's and young people's libraries and about the public libraries' activities, at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science.
How would you like your results to be used?
“I hope that the experiences reported from the process of doing participatory research can make others want to involve children and young people, both in development and research projects. I have tried to be open with what worked and what did not, and hope to convey that it is okay if it does not always turn out quite right, as long as you reflect on and learn from why it turned out the way it did.”
What happens now?
“First and foremost, I will have a holiday; I have not had a real one for several years. I would also like to do research with others, to have a chance to share thoughts and ideas with each other. In addition, I will devote myself to teaching. The work on the doctoral thesis has given me new perspectives about myself as a teacher and about pedagogy, and I look forward to implementing that in teaching.”
On 18 June, Amira Sofie Sandin defended her doctoral thesis (I) kindly like: Participatory research with young people about identity and social media, at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science.
External examiner: Professor Anna Sparrman from Linköping University
Principal supervisor: Helena Francke, Associate Professor at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science
Assistant supervisor: Anna Lundh, Associate Professor at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science
Illustration by Johanna Hedberg, translation by Eva Medin