danah boyd's PhD thesis: Teen sociality online

Dr danah boyd's newly-minted PhD from UC Berkeley was awarded based on her fantastic thesis project, "Taken Out of Context: American Teen Sociality in Networked Publics." danah's ground-breaking research on how kids (especially marginal kids) use the Internet has been featured here a lot — she was one of the contributors to Mimi Ito's gigantic Digital Youth Project, and the attorneys general's report on the relative absence of pedophiles online. I read about half of the thesis on Christmas break and I've been champing for the chance to blog it here — and now that it's public, I can!

As social network sites like MySpace and Facebook emerged,
American teenagers began adopting them as spaces to mark identity and
socialize with peers. Teens leveraged these sites for a wide array of
everyday social practices – gossiping, flirting, joking around, sharing
information, and simply hanging out. While social network sites were
predominantly used by teens as a peer-based social outlet, the
unchartered nature of these sites generated fear among adults. This
dissertation documents my 2.5-year ethnographic study of American teens'
engagement with social network sites and the ways in which their
participation supported and complicated three practices –
self-presentation, peer sociality, and negotiating adult society.

My analysis centers on how social network sites can be understood as
networked publics which are simultaneously (1) the space constructed
through networked technologies and (2) the imagined community that
emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology, and
practice. Networked publics support many of the same practices as
unmediated publics, but their structural differences often inflect
practices in unique ways. Four properties – persistence, searchability,
replicability, and scalability – and three dynamics – invisible
audiences, collapsed contexts, and the blurring of public and private –
are examined and woven throughout the discussion.

While teenagers primarily leverage social network sites to engage in
common practices, the properties of these sites configured their
practices and teens were forced to contend with the resultant dynamics.
Often, in doing so, they reworked the technology for their purposes. As
teenagers learned to navigate social network sites, they developed
potent strategies for managing the complexities of and social
awkwardness incurred by these sites. Their strategies reveal how new
forms of social media are incorporated into everyday life, complicating
some practices and reinforcing others. New technologies reshape public
life, but teens' engagement also reconfigures the technology itself.

Taken Out of Context: American Teen Sociality in Networked Publics (PDF)

(Thanks, danah!)