Dissertation Research: Growing Older in the Information Age: A Symbolic Interactionist Study of Stigma and Online Community in China and ... View Homepage


Ontology type: schema:MonetaryGrant     


Grant Info

YEARS

2004-2006

FUNDING AMOUNT

12000 USD

ABSTRACT

This Science and Technology Studies Dissertation Improvement Grant aims to produce new knowledge about how Internet use contributes to identity formation, focusing on older Internet users in two cultural contexts: China and the United States. Specifically, the study focuses on how older people cope with oldness-associated stigma through the process of "virtual" interaction that takes place in senior-oriented online communities. A focus on stigma will both foreground cultural contexts and provide a way to track between people's online and offline lives. This study has three main objectives: 1) to generate primary empirical knowledge about older adults' interactions in senior-oriented online communities, 2) to explore the mutual shaping of older adults' online and offline worlds, and 3) to compare and contrast older adults' online and offline interactions in China and the US. These objectives lead to three primary research questions: 1) How do older adults interact and form identities in senior-oriented online communities? 2) How do the oldness-related stigma that older adults face in the physical world and the social interaction that takes place in the virtual world mutually constitute each other? And 3) How is the aging experience of older American Internet users different from and similar to that of older Chinese Internet users? The symbolic interactionist perspective will provide theoretical and methodological guidance for exploring these research questions: the three basic premises of symbolic interaction addressed by Blumer (1969) form the foundation of the study, while Goffman's (1963) framework for understanding stigma and coping strategies will direct this project. Matthews's (1979) argument that oldness is a stigma bridges this study and Goffman's work. Finally, Koufaris's (2001) work on organ transplant recipients using the Internet to cope with stigmatized identity suggests the possibilities of older adults using the Internet in similar ways. Because offline situations play a crucial role in shaping online interactions, this study chooses to focus on two specific groups of older adults: older Americans who are members of the SeniorNet online community and currently live in New York City, and older Chinese who are members of the OldKids online community and currently live in Shanghai. By matching both the virtual and physical sites of the two case studies, this study can explore the mutual shaping of online and offline experiences. Twenty-five members of each of the two groups will be interviewed to collect data about their online and offline experiences. Content analysis of these fifty people's online self- descriptions and discussion messages will be conducted to provide additional data about their online interactions and identities. Data analysis will be guided by grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). This study will make important empirical and theoretical contributions to studies on aging and technology, and on technology use in different cultures. Specifically, this study will 1) produce new empirical data about older adults' interaction and identity formation in online communities, 2) enrich the larger literature on the mutual shaping of online and offline worlds, and 3) contribute to a better understanding of the differences and similarities between Chinese and American cultures in the information age. One broad impact of this study will be to help older adults, especially those who aren't Internet users, understand how the Internet can be used to improve their aging experience and quality of life. Learning from their peers. experiences, older adults can make better use of the resources and opportunities available on the Internet. The findings of this study can also shed light on how other stigmatized individuals and groups may employ the Internet to cope with similar situations. Furthermore, this study points out the importance of having appropriate, effective social and political interventions to facilitate older adults' use of the Internet. Therefore, this study can be valuable to policy makers, social workers, and anyone else who cares about older adults. More... »

URL

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