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Rise of the Avatar

Here we turn to ideas on the construction and expression of identity in modern society, beginning with our introductory essay for this section titled “Through the Looking Glass of Facebook.” Our essay asks an important question not just for social theory, but also for many college students today, whether they are enrolled in a theory course or not: Who would we be individually without the many communities—both online and offline—that support our identities and senses of self? And what are the social and individual consequences of the different versions (or avatars) of ourselves that we present to others on a daily basis? To dig deeper into these questions, we begin with George Herbert Mead’s classic work on the self as a social object and two pieces by the great Georg Simmel on individuality and society: “The Metropolis and Mental Life” and “The Stranger.” We then move on to Erving Goffman’s more contemporary but no less pioneering The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. The final three selections address more poststructuralist and postmodern takes on the issue of identity with excerpts from Foucault’s History of Sexuality and Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, and Zygmunt Bauman’s provocative essay on contemporary identity, “From Pilgrim to Tourist.” From the modern to the postmodern, these readings uncover the social origins of identity and that which we often take for granted most—our own sense of self.


  • Liquid modernity
  • Modernity and the Holocaust
  • Pilgrim/tourist
  • Social forms
  • The metropolis
  • The stranger
  • Tragedy of culture
  • Discourse
  • Panopticon
  • Power/knowledge
  • Scientas sexualis
  • Generalised other
  • Pragmatism
  • The self

Writing Out Loud

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(George Herbert Mead)
(Georg Simmel)
(Michel Foucault)
(Judith Butler)
(Anthony Giddens)

Interactive Readings