Identity and privacy in the digital age

On February 27th, 2010, posted in: Technology by shaharm
Identity and privacy in the digital age

By Lorraine – February 5, 2010

Haawwooo (sound of dog/wolf howling in true Blues tradition)
Woke up this morning
On the world wide web
Tweeted my identities
To make one a celeb… [blues courtesy Ted Fuller, unpublished email]

I thought I’d start this blogpost off with a musical note, although my colleague Ted hasn’t recorded this classic blues piece [yet]. Although it does sum up the debate pretty nicely :-)

In my last post, I talked about the relationship between privacy, identity and status, following on from some great connections with Kieron O’Hara and Tim Greenhalgh. My main point of career interest thus far has been entrepreneurial identity. Like many authors, I have recognised the importance of entrepreneurial identity, that is, the need to construct, or perform a role that conforms with society’s expectations of what ‘being an entrepreneur’ is all about. One strand of the literature acknowledges entrepreneurs as skilled cultural operators manipulating perceptions of the entrepreneurial self to achieve desired outcomes for their new ventures (Lounsbury and Glynn, 2001; Down and Reveley, 2004; Down, 2006; Reveley, Down and Taylor, 2004; Downing, 2005; Warren and Anderson, 200; Down and Warren, 2008; Warren, 2004).

Through these studies, I have come to realise that identity is a much-debated concept in various fields, including sociology, psychology and social psychology. In all the detail there seems to be a consensus that identity is not located in the personality of the individual, but instead is constituted through interaction between the individual, society and culture. Giddens’ (1991) ‘project of the self’ is significant here, as is Goffman (1959), who describes how individuals ‘work’ their roles in relation to social expectations. More recently, in the 80s/90s, authors such as Turkle (1995), Haraway (1991) and Castells (1997) took the debate into the digital age. As Steve Wheeler summarises very effectively in an engaging set of blogposts, computers have now become pervasive and ubiquitous, identification through digital mediation has become the new cultural capital (Bordieu & Passeron, 1990).

Of course, the internet ensures that identity production and manipulation has never been easier. As Reid (2000: 35) points out:

“The freedom to obscure or re-create aspects of the self on-line allows the
exploration and expression of multiple aspects of human existence. The
research on virtual communities is filled with tales of masks for age and
race, gender and class; masks for almost every aspect of identity”.

There is a plethora of discussion on multiple identities from many disciplinary perspectives, not just the technical, and how identity manipulation may be carried out for many motives, good and bad. Taking twitter as an example, there are many instances of multiple account holding, often for quite valid reasons – the separation of business and personal identities makes obvious sense from the point of both business and personal reputation and privacy. This is an area that would benefit from further study, not just entrepreneurs, but as a broader issue for society, given the links between privacy and status I discussed in my last post.


Bordieu, P. and Passeron, J-C. (1990) Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. London: Sage Publications

Castell, M. (1997), Power Of Identity [Vol. 2: Economy, Society, And Culture], Wiley, New York.

Down, S. and Reveley, J. (2004) ‘Generational encounters and the social formation of entrepreneurial identity – “young guns” and “old farts” ’, Organization 11(2): 233-250.

Down, S. (2006) Narratives of Enterprise: Crafting Entrepreneurial Self-identity in a Small Firm, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Down, S. and Warren, L. (2008) Constructing narratives on enterprise: clichés and entrepreneurial self-identity, International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Research, 14/1, pp 4-23

Downing, S. (2005) ‘The Social Construction of Entrepreneurship: Narrative and Dramatic Processes in the Coproduction of Organizations and Identities’, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice March, 29(2): 185 – 204.

Giddens, A. (1991) Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life, Harmondsworth: Pelican Books.

Haraway, D J. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge. New York

Lounsbury, M, Glynn M.A. (2001) ‘Cultural entrepreneurship: stories, legitimacy, and the acquisition of resources’, Strategic Management Journal 22: 545-564

Reid, E. (1998). “The Self and the Internet: Variations on the Illusion of One Self.”
In Gackenbach, J. (ed). Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, interpersonal,
and transpersonal implications. San Diego: Academic Press.

Reveley, J., Down, S. and Taylor, S. (2004) ‘Beyond the boundaries: An ethnographic analysis of spatially diffuse control in a small firm’, International Small Business Journal 22(4): 349-367.

Turkle, S. (1995) Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet
New York: Simon and Schuster.

Warren, L. (2004) ‘Negotiating entrepreneurial identity: communities of practice and changing discourses’, International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, 5(2): 25–37.

Warren, L. and Anderson, A. R. (2009) Playing the fool? An aesthetic performance of an entrepreneurial identity, Chapter 9 in The politics and aesthetics of entrepreneurship, New Movements IV, eds Hjorth, D and Steyaert, C., 148-161, Edward Elgar

No Responses to “Identity and privacy in the digital age”

Leave a Reply