SoMeFamily - Language and Social Media in the Family
The SoMeFamily project investigates which communicative functions social media serves in the family and how social media affects family socialization today. This is studied by employing a linguistic ethnographic perspective on family life across online and offline contexts. This perspective allows us to study the intersections between family- and teenage life, (digital) linguistic practices and communication cultures across generations, and broader discourses of digital media- and family life. The research team carried out the fieldwork over 7 months among 39 high school students and 14 of the students’ families. We collected different data types such as field notes, interviews, social media data, media go-along conversations and sound recordings from peer and family contexts.
The project shows that social media are an integrated part of family members’ everyday lives and a significant part of their communicative repertoires. One of the main findings of the project is that family life with social media is more nuanced than depicted in dominating media panics, which reduces the understanding of peoples’ media use to matters of ‘digital addiction’ and ‘screen time’ habits. Based on ethnographic observations, interviews and interaction analysis, the project documents that teenagers and their parents are not mere victims of technology. Rather, they are reflexive media and language users who agentively negotiate: 1) norms of digital language use and mode choices, 2) the ethical aspects of digital monitoring, privacy and parental involvement and 3) rules of smartphone use and digital behaviour in the family.
SoMeFamily addresses the question:
Which functions does social media communication serve among different family members and how do social media influence family socialization?
With a combined focus on social media and family socialization and a linguistic ethnographic approach, the project contributes crucial new knowledge to both research fields and significantly nuances existing understandings of social media and family life.
Social media is an integral part of contemporary everyday life and a central concern for educators and family advisers. Yet, very little is known about how social media communication functions within families or about the impact on family life of the everyday status of digital communication across different generations. To study this we look into
- The digital communication cultures in the family
- the affordances (and limitations) that social media provides for identity work and social categorization in the family
- how social media does not only constitute a threat to family cohesion, but how online interaction also strengthen family relations and family networks.
- the ideologies of media use and family life as they occur in family members narratives and in the public debate.
It is a methodologically challenge to study all of these aspects. It is made possible through a multi-sited research design involving linguistic ethnography and interaction analysis of linguistic and semiotic data collected across online and offline everyday situations.
SoMeFamily project have yielded the following scientific results, which can be grouped in three sections:
1. Digital language practices and communicative repertories
- Teenagers and their parents orient to different norms of digital language use in private online contexts (Hansen 2020; Hansen & Stæhr 2021; Stæhr 2023), which points towards a pluralization of norms that indicate a higher acceptance of non-standard writing in such contexts (Madsen & Stæhr 2021).
- The parent generation (aged 33-56 years old) of the project have not only embraced social media, but they are also digital language users with their own specific recognizable linguistic styles (see Hansen 2020; Hansen & Stæhr 2021).
- Digital modes of communication serve communicative and social functions in family members’ co‐present everyday interactions; that is, while being at the same house or even in the same room. The main theoretical contribution of this finding is that the smartphone has introduced a new set of linguistic and semiotic resources, which can be more or less strategically employed in peoples’ everyday co-present interactions (Stæhr & Nørreby 2021).
2. Family socialization across time and space
- The smartphone and social media affords family members to become increasingly involved in each other’s everyday activities. Such socialization-at-a-distance both involves practices of parental care and control. E.g.:
- Parent-teen texting opens up an interactional space for teenagers’ independent decision-making that exceed the physical boundaries of the family home (Ag 2022).
- Private messaging affords acts of behavior regulation at a distance, while the teenagers are engaged in the away-from-home activity in focus of being regulated (Stæhr 2023).
- Some norms and rules of smartphone use are being more or less explicitly negotiated by family members in practice while other rules such as “no phones at the table” are more implicitly treated as truisms (Ag, forthc.). The latter indicates that dominating media panic discourses (to some degree) influence contemporary family life.
3. Panoptic youth and family practices:
- The new possibilities of digital involvement and monitoring practices in the family come with ideological and ethical dilemmas, which influence how parents deal with teenage independency (Stæhr, forthc.).
- Social media also affords young people to monitor each other in new ways. For instance, practices of taking, storing and subsequently circulating screenshots of digital communication across different social media platforms are strategically used by teenagers to expose and police each other’s social behaviors (Møller 2023).
- Social media afford young people with new digital tools in peer conflict situations (e.g. screenshots used as evidence). The use of screenshots as evidence results in negotiations of new norms of techno-social behavior where practices of sharing are balanced carefully against norms of online privacy (Møller 2023).
The project is based on Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics (NorS)
Andreas Candefors Stæhr is PI (principal investigator) of SoMeFamily and associate professor at Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics, University of Copenhagen.
His research focuses on everyday languaging and social media with a particular focus on linguistic normativity, sociolinguistic reflexivity and everyday language use across online and offline contexts. His research on SoMeFamily focuses on digital communication cultures in the family – that is, the ways in which different family members associate different ways of speaking and writing with specific values, norms and social practices. Such communication cultures are studied through analysis of interview data and by carrying out interaction analysis of family members’ online and offline communicative practices.
Astrid Ag is a postdoctoral researcher at The Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics (NorS).
She holds a Master of Arts in Danish and Ethnology and a PhD in Sociolinguistics. She pursued her interest in language and society in her recent research in which she studied the linguistic and cultural practices among ethnic minority youth in school and family settings. In particular, she focused on the relation between the participants’ local language practices and broader societal discourses and looked into if and how the youngsters and their families reacted towards these discourses. In the SoMeFamily project, her research once again centers on the linguistic everyday life of families. She examines the way social relations in families are being negotiated in on- and offline interactions and she looks at the role of social media communications in family socialization practices.
Thomas Rørbeck Nørreby is a postdoctoral researcher at The Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics.
His research investigates the dynamic interplay between situated language use among children and youth and wider societal processes and developments. In his more recent work, he pays special attention to institutional inequality and to examining the relations between contemporary ethno-cultural diversity, multilingualism and social stratification. In the SoMeFamily project, his subproject involves a focus on social cohesion. The subproject sets out to investigate how different family members´ constructed identities (and their associated values) link up with family life and family roles as well as the role social media play in this respect.
Janus Spindler Møller is associate professor at the Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics (NorS) at the University of Copenhagen.
He earned his ph.d. in 2009 with a thesis on longitudinal development of polylingual practices. His main fields of interest are languaging, interactional sociolinguistics, polylingualism, linguistic ethnography and language ideology. In connection to his studies within these areas, he recently developed an interest in social media interaction viewed from the perspective of the users. Within the SoMeFamily project Janus Spindler Møller especially focus on conflicts unfolding on social media platforms within peer groups and across generations. Apart from being a member of the SoMeFamily team, he is the current leader of The Everyday Languaging project (language use and language ideologies among students in a Copenhagen elementary school).
Lian Malai Madsen is associate professor of the psychology of language at the University of Copenhagen, Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics.
Her research includes the interactional- sociolinguistic and ethnographic analysis of linguistic practices among adolescents in school and leisure contexts, with specific attention to issues of social categorization and societal inequalities. Her research contribution to the SoMeFamily project focuses on existing and prevalent ideas about social media and family life and compares the family and media ideologies among the participants - as they are expressed and enacted in everyday communication - with public discourses about social media and family life.
Marianne Haugaard Hansen is a master student in linguistics at University of Copenhagen and is a student assistant at the SoMeFamily-project.
Marianne has primarily been working with data collection of both on- and offline data for the project, and the registration and coding of data.
Johannes Højgaard Nielsen is a MA student in The Psychology of Language at Copenhagen University and a student assistant on the SoMeFamily-project.
Johannes has primarily worked with the collection, registration and coding of on- and offline data, but is also writing his thesis alongside working on the project. The thesis is engaged in how first-year high school students use distinct linguistic stylizations in combination with other multimodal modes of expression and resources to navigate in and take a stand on the sociocultural differences and similarities represented by their class community. The thesis is particularly engaged in what role social media plays in such style constructions and performances.
The project’s advisory board reflects SoMeFamily’s interdisciplinary perspectives. It consists of national and international experts within the fields of sociolinguistics of social media, linguistic ethnography and media studies.
The advisory board is:
- Professor Jannis Androutsopoulos (University of Hamburg)
- Professor Sirpa Leppänen (University of Jyväskylä)
- Associate professor Piia Varis (University of Tilburg)
- Associate professor Jürgen Jaspers (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
- Associate professor Stine Lomborg (University of Copenhagen, MEF)
See programme for the Advisory Board Meeting, 14-15 November 2019 (pdf)
- Møller JS. ‘One is allowed to show the reality’: The creation of panoptic structures in social media communication. Language in Society. 2023:1-28
- Madsen, Lian M. (2022): Media panic, medical discourse and the smartphone. In: Linus Salö, David Karlander, Sirpa Leppänen & Elina Westinen (eds.), Spaces of upset in the Nordic region: Sociolinguistics beyond cohesion and consensus in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 275 (p. 111-128). 1613-3668
- Ag, Astrid (2022): Involved parenthood in digitally mediated interaction. Language & Communication, 83 (p. 49–60). 0271-5309
- Stæhr, Andreas C. & Thomas R. Nørreby (2021): The metapragmatics of mode choice. In: Jannis Androutsopoulos (ed.), Polymedia and digitally mediated interaction. Pragmatics & Society, 12 (5) (p. 756-781). 1878-9714
- Hansen, Marianne H. (2021): Sproglige generationsforskelle på sociale medier. Københavnerstudier i Tosprogethed, bind 81. København: Københavns Universitet. 0901-9731
- Madsen, Lian M. & Andreas C. Stæhr (2021): Sociale medier. Standardsvækkelse og sproglig liberalisering. In: Anne Holmen & Tore Kristiansen (red): Sprogets status 2031. Københavner Studier i Tosprogethed, Bind C13 (p. 64-78). 0901-9731
- Hansen, Marianne H. & Andreas C. Stæhr (2021): Sproglige generationsforskelle på de sociale medier. Nydanske Sprogstudier (NyS), 59 (p. 113-156). 2246-4522