On 'being' online - Insights on contemporary articulations of the relational self

Anu Harju

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


One of the growing research interests in media and Internet studies concerns how the self is constructed in the digital environment, while the complex relationship between the self and consumption continues to be of interest in consumer research. This thesis is an examination of relational being at the intersection of digital media and consumer culture. The thesis takes a critical perspective to examine the conditions under which the contemporary self is constructed and how the self is articulated in digital contexts, and thus views the online as embedded in the offline. Rooted in social constructionism, the relational perspective sees the self as an intersection of multiple and shifting relations. The aim of the study is to gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of self-construction in our media-saturated consumer society. The study examines bloggers and fans and their mediated consumption practices through the lens of the social imaginary. The empirical material is collected from social media sites, plus-sized fashion blogs and YouTube, and analysed in the discourse analytic tradition combined with digital ethnography. The findings of the empirical studies show how 'aspiration' is constructed in the imaginary, with two conflicting, yet mutually constitutive notions of 'being yourself' and 'improving yourself' being negotiated at the site of the self, in the relational flow of the Internet. The studies also discuss disenfranchisement and marginalisation as properties of relationships, and show how imaginaries, in offering a range of interpretative resources for the self, also provide opportunities for counter-discourses. The study makes several theoretical and methodological contributions: within media and Internet studies, this thesis contributes to a better understanding of the embeddedness of the digital and to the ongoing discussion of how the digital is shaping the self; within consumer research, to the theorisation of relational self in the contemporary consumer context. Treating imaginaries as semiotic systems allows us to see imaginaries as constructed terrains of aspirations with complex significations. Thus, as sources of relational tension, imaginaries can be seen as implicated in the positioning, even othering, of individuals. The study suggests that the self is a fluctuating process of various alignments and disalignments within the matrix of social, cultural, and economic forces, with momentary discursive and relational achievements translating into temporary and situated congruence with others.
Translated title of the contributionOn 'being' online - Insights on contemporary articulations of the relational self
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Ventola, Eija, Thesis Advisor
  • Moisander, Johanna, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-7435-1
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-7434-4
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • digital culture
  • relational being
  • self
  • social imaginary
  • media
  • consumption
  • digital ethnography
  • discourse analysis

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'On 'being' online - Insights on contemporary articulations of the relational self'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this