The construction of a common identity through online discourse: a socio-cultural study of a virtual community

  • Carlo Perrotta

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis investigates the relationship between identity and discourse in a networked collaborative environment in order to explore the following question: Is the construction of a common identity taking place? The research question draws on the socio-cultural theory and, in particular, on the view according to which the development of a common identity is an important dimension of learning. More specifically, the thesis builds upon recent criticism attracted by the sociocultural notion of ―Community of Practice‖ for its inadequate account of the relationship between identity, language and practice, both in traditional and computer-mediated settings. The empirical section of the thesis reports a study which applies the concept of recognition work developed by James Gee to the discursive dynamics identified in a ―discussion room‖ of an Italian online community of young psychologists and psychology students. In the study, discourse analysis was carried out on 20 online discussions and on 23 semi-structured interviews. The findings demonstrate that the notion of recognition work can be used to study how identities are constructed and negotiated through discourse, and provide an additional insight into the role of computer-mediated communication in the relationship between identity and learning. The findings also have theoretical implications, raising the question as to whether the emphasis on communities of practice has exhausted its possible contributions to a socio-cultural theory of learning. Additionally, the thesis also considers the implications for the design of virtual learning environments that try to foster collaborative learning through networked discourse.
Date of Award1 Dec 2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorRichard Joiner (Supervisor)


  • identity
  • community
  • discourse
  • online

Cite this