3.3 What is a digital identity?
Physical, temporal and social psychological contexts can seriously impact on a person’s identity, their ability to learn and to re-form their identity. ‘I’m at university now so I’m a student, I’m at work now so I’m an employee, I’m home now so I’m a daughter/son/mother/father’. Who we are, is very tightly interwoven with what we have learned (Bernstein and Solomon, 1999; Lave and Wenger, 1991). However, as Lave and Wenger (1991) emphasise, sharing within any domain is more than a formal acquisition of knowledge. It has a strong social element. The concepts of situated sharing highlight how its development relates to the socio-cultural contexts and how this impacts on our identities. Goffman (1969) highlights that our identities are not fixed commodities that can be simply traded up or down.
As individuals, we often inhabit multiple social worlds, and so need to make judgements about the degree of openness we offer within each of them. We have complex identities that we adapt and present for different social situations or communities within which we live. However, as the boundaries between real-life situations and our digital identities blur we need to have a deeper understanding of the impact of merging digital identities to support changes in acceptable sharing (openness) practices that fit with the different sides of our identity (as a student, a colleague, an employee, a daughter/son/mother/father).
The concept of ‘communities of practice’ emerged from a learning theory developed by Lave and Wenger (1991) called ‘legitimate peripheral participation’. Sharing, it could be argued, should be through a process of participation in communities of practice.
Wenger (1999) extends this to a framework in which two basic streams are ‘practice’ (from collective social norms of practice to accounts of meanings) and ‘identity’ (from impacts of organisational power and social structures to those of personal subjectivity). Both our identities and the context of our practice impact upon our perception of openness and acceptable sharing.