DOWNLOAD MY DISSERTATION: College Students, Social Media, Digital Identities, and the Digitized Self

Dissertation Cover.001I am happy to finally make my entire final dissertation available for all to download and read.  This document represents some of the first qualitative research into how traditionally aged college students use social media and its impact on their development and how they construct identities online.  If you want a more detailed description, I’ve included the abstract below.

Interested in downloading it?  In addition to the dissertation now being available on the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database, I’ve also made it available as direct download here from my website.

Suggestions for readers.  Depending on your purpose in reading it, you may want to focus in on some chapters more than others.  Those interested in the general findings should focus in on Chapters 1 and 7, the first and last chapters.  If you want to read the direct quotes from the students and their stories (perhaps the most interesting and accessible part) focus on Chapter 5.  College students educators interested in the implications of this research for their work will want to focus in on Chapter 6.  I’ve included the table of contents below if you want to get a sense as to how the over all document flows.

Supplemental materials.  The remainder of this post includes videos and slides from my dissertation defense, proposal defense, and various other presentations of my research material at various stages throughout the process.

Cite it.  Brown, P. G. (2016). College students, social media, digital identities, and the digitized self (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (Accession Order No. 1776598125)


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College students, social media, digital identities, and the digitized self


Social media and digital technologies are ever present in the surround of current traditionally-aged college students. Although research into understanding these experiences is increasing, there is a need for further research into what may be developmentally different for this generation. Postmodern theorists have posited that as a result of digitization, traditional conceptualizations of selfhood and identity may be changing. The contexts and affordances of these technologies are having an impact on human development and contemporary college students are uniquely situated to experience their effects.

This qualitative study aimed to understand how these college students conceptualize their sense of self and identity as a result of digital and social media immersion. In particular, this study explored aspects of digital identity and digitized selfhood to surface important behaviors and developmental processes that are being impacted. Sixteen traditionally-aged college students, primarily in their fourth year of college, participated in a series of interviews and observations to probe this question and were selected as exceptional cases for their heavy usage of social technology. During this process, students were asked about how they conceived of their identity and identities online and how it impacted their overall sense of self.

Findings for this study did not reveal fully realized postmodern conceptions of selfhood, such as Kenneth Gergen’s (2009) relational self, but participants did demonstrate understandings of selfhood and identity that hinted at this possibility, including what Robert Kegan (1994) would characterize as fifth order consciousness. Identities were found to be subject to contextual and relational processes that required constant maintenance and reconstruction. Additional findings uncovered college student developmental patterns that reach from being externally defined, and beholden to the views of others, towards internal definition, whereby students made conscious choices about social media use. Implications for practice include the need to educate students on digital reputation and identities, the importance of reflection and goal setting in relation to social media, and the necessity to partner with students as our collective understanding of technology evolves.

Indexing (details)

Subject: Higher Education Administration; Developmental psychology; Higher education
Classification: 0446: Higher Education Administration; 0620: Developmental psychology; 0745: Higher education
Identifier / keywords: Psychology, Education, College student development, Higher education, Identity, Social media, Student affairs, Technology
Title: College students, social media, digital identities, and the digitized self
Author: Brown, Paul Gordon (ORCID: 0000-0001-9373-9557)
Number of pages: 253
Publication year: 2016
Degree date: 2016
School code: 0016
Source: DAI-A 77/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication: Ann Arbor
Country of publication: United States
ISBN: 9781339565118
Advisor: Arnold, Karen
Committee members: Kane, Gerald; Rowan-Kenyon, Heather
University/institution: Boston College
Department: Educational Leadership and Higher Education
University location: United States — Massachusetts
Degree: Ph.D.
Source type: Dissertations & Theses
Language: English
Document type: Dissertation/Thesis
Dissertation/thesis number: 10053377
ProQuest document ID: 1776598125
Copyright: Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL:


Chapter One: The Problem of College Students, Social Media, and the Self 1
     Overview of the Study 2
          Research Aims and Question 4
          Research Purpose and Scope 5
          Research Perspective 7
     Key Concepts 9
          Digital Identity and Self-Presentation 9
          Online Identification: Anonymity, Pseudoanonymity, and “True” Identity 11
          Digitized Selfhood and Development 12
               Affordances and Functionalities 15
     Research Significance and Rationale 16
     Returning to the Research Question 18
     Conclusion 20
Chapter Two: Social Media and College Students 21
     Digital and Social Technologies and the Social and Participatory Web 22
          Web 2.0 23
          User-Generated Content and Microcontent 24
          Social Media 26
          Folksonomies and the Social Graph 27
          Definitions: Social and Digital Technology 29
     Social and Digital Technology Use and Adoption 31
          Internet Usage and Device Ownership 31
          Social Media Usage 33
     College Student Learning and Development With Social Media 35
          Theories and Frames 35
               Constructivism and Co-Constructivism 36
               Connectivism 38
               Critical Theory 40
               Usage of Frames and Theories 41
          State of the Literature 42
               Formal Versus Informal Learning 43
               Academic Life 45
               College Student Life Online 48
                    Qualitative Research 50
     Conclusion 53
Chapter 3: Postmodernity and a Changing View of the Self 55
     Young Adulthood and the College Years 56
          Developing an Identity and a Self 57
          Entering Postmodernity 58
     The Self: Saturated and Fragmented, Fluid and Fused 60
          Identity Fluidity 63
          Fusion with Technology 64
     The Self: Connected and Networked 66
     The Postmodern Self 67
          Evidence and Implications for a Generation 68
     Conclusion 70
Chapter 4: Methodology 72
     Definitions of Self and Identity 73
     Research Question 74
     Qualitative Research 74
          Grounded theory 75
     Conceptual Framework 78
     Pilot Study 82
     Research Design 84
          Population and sampling 85
          Data gathering procedures 88
               Participant Recruitment 89
               Pre-Interview Questionnaire 89
                    Instrument 91
               Interviews 91
                    Protocol 93
            Observations 94
                    Protocol 94
          Data Analysis 95
          Validity 97
     Ethical Considerations 100
     Positionality/Reflexivity 101
     Limitations 103
     Conclusion 105
Chapter 5: Findings 106
     Participants 107
          Technology Usage 107
          Demographics 111
     Curated Profiles And Digital Identities Online 114
          Being Seen By Others 114
               Context Collapse 116
               A Selective View Of “Reality” 119
          Curating Perfected Images 121
               The Importance Of Likes 123
               Deciding On The Perfect Photo 128
               Perfection By Omission 129
          Consuming Perfected Images 132
               Fear Of Missing Out 133
               Psychological Impact 135
          Developmental Patterns Over Time 136
               The Pre-College Years 137
               The Post-College Years 141
     Emergence Of Digitized Development and Selfhood 143
          In Real Life Versus True Self 145
          Digitized Selfhood. 147
               Heavy Usage Versus Integration 147
               One Self Versus Multiple Selves 149
               The “Real” You? 151
          Analogies. 153
               Lower Integration Analogies 155
                    Slide Projector 155
                    Outfits, Coats, and Masks 156
                    Parallel Tracks 157
               Higher Integration Analogies 158
                    Chameleon 158
                    Octopus 159
                    Horcruxes 160
     Conclusion 161
Chapter 6: Educational Potentials And Implications for Practice 164
     The Potential Of Social Media For Learning and Development 165
     Educating For Digital Identities 167
          Reputation and Rules 167
          The Importance Of Reflection 172
          Resetting One’s Relationship With Social Media 176
          On Authenticity, Being Genuine, And Being Vulnerable 180
     Helping Students Navigate Digitized Development 184
          Understanding The Technology 185
          Discussions Across Generational Lines 186
               The Positive Effects Of Social Media 188
     Conclusion 191
Chapter 7: Conclusion 193
     Findings and Interpretations 195
          Digital Identities And Digitized Development 197
               Digital Identities 197
               Digitized Development 205
                    Digitized selfhood 208
          Summary 211
          Limitations 213
     Implications for Practice 214
     A Future Research Agenda 217
     Conclusion 220
References 223
     Appendix A: Interview Survey 237
     Appendix B: Interview 1 Protocol 238
     Appendix C: Observation Protocol 240
     Appendix D: Interview 2 Protocol 242






If you’re interested in how my dissertation evolved over time you can compare it to what I defended during my Proposal Hearing.




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