“White Flight” Through the Lens of Culture Study? Rhetorical Study?

Danah Boyd discusses the way of engagement with MySpace and Facebook of American teen. By analyzing the data from four years of ethnographic fieldwork, Boyd investigates the social divisions of the digital social network through the lens of culture study, sociology and rhetoric.

According to Boyd’s research, at the beginning, MySpace attracts teens through bands and the family members, whereas after being bought by News Corporation, MySpace was filled with teen participants and the potential dangerous emerged (7). On the contrary, Facebook targets the customers as college students and accepts the registration of high school students gradually. As soon as Facebook accepts the teens, the division begins: “teens from less-privileged backgrounds seemed likely to be drawn to MySpace while those headed towards elite universities appeared to be head towards Facebook “(9). Some marketing research firms and some scholars also support her observation.

Boyd tries to explain the divisions on the social network. She discusses the social categories in the school and suggests the labels come from some stereotypes and connect to the race and class. But teens don’t have a very clear mind in dividing the races and classes. The division of race and class only identifies through the skin color and the physical space in the eyes of the teens. And online social networks are often organized by identity and social categories.

Tastes, aesthetics, patterns of consumptions and fashion are strong connected to the class distinctions. Boyd takes the online profiles as a form of digital fashion, which reflects the taste, identity and values. Facebook stresses the simple and clean layouts and design and it is coincide in the middle class’s taste whereas MySpace prefers more complex layouts, which serve as a source of pride and authenticity. The philosophy of MySpace is more like less-privileged class. Students choose to leave MySpace to Facebook.

In her conclusion, Boyd draws analogy of “white flight” to explain the networked movement from MySpace to Facebook. I think this analogy “digital white flight” is the most innovative idea for this research. Actually the reason of “digital white flight” is the same as the physical “white flight”——the division of class.

I like this article because Boyd uses theories of culture studies to explain a phenomenon of digital media. It is amazing to me because I didn’t know the “subculture” theory before. Adopting culture theory to explain the rhetorical phenomenon is a good choice; however, on the other hand, I can’t see any rhetorical theory applied in this paper. And the research object is another question for me: is the “digital white flight” as a rhetorical question which needs discussion in our field? In that case, what’s boundary of the research in the digital media. Since we can use culture studies, sociology theories or communication theories to explain the research question perfectly. The research overlap of digital media among different fields is a challenge, or a chance to rhetorical guys?

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One thought on ““White Flight” Through the Lens of Culture Study? Rhetorical Study?

  1. I, too, liked this article and its interesting application of “white flight” to a digital medium. One of the points that I thought could have also been included in the analysis was the influence of gender as another very visible representation of identity. If feel like the inclusion of this factor would have aligned her argument even more so with the points Feenberg addressed in last week’s readings.

    As for the rhetorical portion of the argument, I took to considering the impact of “digital white flight” as part of the context influencing and generating these webpages expressing identity on the two social media platforms. In this light, “digital white flight” influences the reception (whether it gets traffic or not, who will actually see it, how it will be received by those who see it) of the text by the audience. Feenberg would then argue that this reception would influence the production of further digital media and technology along with other sources of influence. In this way, I think that the concept of “digital white flight” could be considered a rhetorical question for study.

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