About the project

With the rise of new technologies, forms of communication are based increasingly on the use of images. Communicative practices on Social Media in particular are becoming more and more visual. This raises the question of how social interaction and even social order might be transformed through new technologies of visual communication and also how established social practices will continue with new means. The proposed project draws from this broad perspective; however, it is centred on the specific social concept of biography. The research project addresses the question of how biographies are constructed both online and offline through oral or written narration, as well as visually by photographs, collages and other means.

From a sociological perspective, the theoretical concept of biography enables us to understand social formation as a process. This is because it relates to experiences, practices and discourses in the temporal frame of a lifetime, with references to (changing) generational and societal contexts formed by specific social structures and discourses. Biographies constitute a relation between the ongoing life and its formation in narrations, images or other forms of expression. While biographies have always been mediated, the implications digital visual communication has or will have on biographical construction and meaning-making has yet to be studied. The project, therefore, aims to develop empirically grounded concepts to enable an understanding of how biographies are formed in a networked lifeworld.

We will apply an interpretative-reconstructive approach with a unique and innovative combination and triangulation of narrative and visual methodologies of data collection and interpretation. In order to grasp potential differences and changes in constructing biographies in relation to media practices we will compare three different media generations: 30–40 year olds, 14–20 year olds and those aged 60 plus. Extensive analysis of their visual communication on Facebook and other Social Media will be undertaken and compared with analyses of related narrative biographical interviews. Additionally, a comparison with analyses from material collected in other cultural contexts, namely Brazil and Greece, will help to reveal cultural specifics. As a result of the cross-case comparison, we will propose a typology that allow to identify relevant aspects and dimensions concerning the emergence of biographies in different media contexts. Moreover, we will develop systematic strategies to handle the massive amount of visual data, especially to identify meaningful data sets that will be related to case-centred reconstructive analyses.

Our in-depth inquiry offers insights into the complex dynamics of continuities and changes of biographies-in-the-making in relation to major media transformations that have never before been researched with this kind of approach. Our team consists of the PI (Sociology), a Post-Doc (Sociology), a Pre-Doc (Sociology) and a student assistant (Sociology and Fine Arts). It has been partly working together in a previous project. The project is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) from March 2020 until March 2023.