Transculturation of Online Identity

Stephen J. McNeill, Ph.D.

Through the need to get clear, more crystallized clarification, we enter into a paradox of having every-thing, and nothing, all at our fingertips.  While this most affects our mental image of proximity, the objective of infinite thought and its transcultural notion begins to become an event in the encountering of online perceptions and projections… veering from the capacity of our analog mind.

While Melanie Klein has spoken at length about projective identification (1975), projection of online identity leads to propinquity and ambiguity when achieving crystallization, leading to the uncanny digital-propinquity-effect (McNeill, 2009).  The way we view identification in this digital mindset is to examine what we see and how we are seen in a digital landscape.  Klein always had a notion that identification has to do with not only how we relate to others, but how we relate to objects in our reality.  In a digital landscape, commonalities of object relation are turned on their ear in favor of an unrelated, uncanny encounter with an identity without physical form, temporal or spatial notions.  The ability to alter and continuously change your online identity definitely echoes Klein’s intent to display ever-changing and evolving interactions in the real.  False identities and interactions are doubled with the refined, inauthentic personalities presented in an online exchange that borders on the Freudian notion of the Uncanny.

However, the symbiotic projection of the Web evolves into a kind of collective community…  Ettinger’s (2005) co-emergence destabilizes and provides hope for those are unable to engage in collectivity community.  This development in how social networking users use the Internet for a cultural experience brings forth Ortiz’s idea of Transculturation (1995) as a possibility with users from fringe societies in the real and then displacing their identity in an online atmosphere, where the digital propinquity forms a new culture based on the restrictions the users encountered in the real (forming an accepted identity with others) and forming a transcultural collective identity with a common cultural online experience.

Ettinger describes projection of identity as a lonely place of co-habitation.  Namely, that structures of narcissism and superego are present, but the online interaction could also be with yourself (you produce and digest your own online content), almost in the same way Freud’s theory of narcissism shed light on our interpersonal notions of communicating and introducing what Kohut Heinz called the ‘self-object transferences’ of mirroring and idealization (2000).  Namely, we want to have our mutual idealization of ourselves projected back on to us by an online status conferral supplied through social networking.

The online encounter-event accumulates over time with multiple meetings, providing an online co-habitation that oftentimes is merely habitual.  It isn’t enough to merely project your symbiosis, you have to include a process of linking together with the Other, which isn’t just projection.  The encounter-event is different in the sense than the symbiotic and rhizomatic (non-heirarchical), link a projection from an Ettingerian perspective, you don’t assume same-ness, just other-ness.  This, of course, means we are at odds with what we perceive as affective attachment and evolvement and what could be perceived as meaningless non-resonance in a repetitive online atmosphere, fraught with limited and repetitive social interaction.  The online co-emergence of identity projecting in this context reminds us that encounter-events can evade rhizome and hierarchy.  Ethical questions and aesthetical questions arise:  it is here that one realizes that co-emergence is not exactly production and the encounter-event itself is not necessarily collective. It is a witnessing of yourself if not involved in an online community or encounter-event with another online projection of identity.   However, to question “real” is to question:

1)    hierarchy of urgency

2)    consciousness

3)    originality

We begin to survey, when engaged in machine-assisted online communication with others (when in a community online or with an individual projection), the sense of why we are there.  While we have usual needs in communication, such as instrumental surveillance or warning surveillance, we enter into a situation of urgency, or a hierarchy of urgency.  This could be in regards of copyright for traditional media, or in our own interpersonal uses-and-gratifications model for various situations such as escapism or transmission of values (ideology).

On the ethical level there is the question of consciousness or engagement.  The questions of the real benefits or drawbacks can and will only happen in the real…  questions as such for originality, of identity, and where online divergent transculturation doesn’t exist.

Ethno-projected communities within, and encompassing, social networking sites in cyberspace have specific themes. The themes are specifically community and culture. There has been a clear decline in the geographical sense of community since the jet plane, as has been indicated by Virilio (2007). A major influencing factor behind this was the growth of globalization, a full realisation of McLuhan’s Global Village. The spaces of identity within cyberspace not only impact local and national identities, but also the collection of individual identities based on the local and logical oneness: a process of mainstreamed cyber-resonance that defies or alters the identity formed from contact with culturally mainstream societies and agencies of socialization in the real realm. This causes a cultivation of a lived reality and identity, but is also a cog in the machinic ethno-projected community, leading to initial enculturation/acculturation and ending with transculturation.

Community and communication enter a new paradigm in regards to mainstreamed, internationalized cultures created through and by social networking sites that are not part of any physical reality or perception. In recent times, there has been a sea change in regards to the types of communities in which people prefer or choose to interact with (projected communities in lieu of the physical proximity real communities’ offer). Many people prefer the social networking sites and inherent projected communities to a great extent for projected interaction and engagement, otherwise known as encounter-events.  They provide a similar feeling of connection and attachment as spatially defined cultures. Projected communities are more of an effort to blend together processes of interactivity within the encounter-event, which then provides a cultural co-emergence with all associated outcomes possible. Distinguishing identity projection from the use of an avatar is crucial.  “Who I am” is a performance of the many roles one plays in life: child to parent, married spouse, member of faith-based organization.  Each of those relationships comes with a set of formal and informal controls that guide how to interact (informal controls) as well as how one must act (formal controls).  By and large, we are measured by how well we perform these roles.  Similarly, there is no single, definitive answer to the question, “am I an authentic identity,” because ultimately who I am is measured in a broad array of contexts.

The digital self-enhancement process is very important since it provides a better understanding of the social aspects that relate to the evolution of the eventual community projection through social networking sites. Ethno-projected communities use categories as a means of creating social identities. It also emphasizes the relationship between the various social categories and catalysts for creating the projected identity, the role of culture in the creation of projected communities, and the use of fringe society homogeneity bias by ethno-projected communities to build encultured transculturation. Projected identities and ethno-projected communities were maintained by collective identity management through online communication. It is essential to understand that the categorising serves as a framework for the understanding of how the ethno-projected communities use the collective identity attributed themes and normal ideologies to help create collectively generated projections of identity on social networking sites.

In regard to online identity, in 1998 the term Social Web was introduced in an article by Peter Hoschka in a related context to describe the shift from using computers and the web as simple cooperation tools to using the computer as a social medium.  However, in 1955 the same term was introduced by August C. Krey describing networking practices present in interpersonal socialization in the essay collection History and the Social Web published by the University of Minnesota press.  On the other hand, transculturation is more of a follow-up to the previous theory. Transculturation underlines the major points and aspects that have been discarded by online identity.  Transculturation, first theorised by Fernando Ortiz in 1947, highlights the impact of social categories (which mainly include aspects like culture) that affect the definition of who the individuals are, based primarily on the terms of the specific social goals and communities involved. Thus, transculturation has a primary emphasis on the processes of collective identity and the arrival and end-result of this online communal socialization. Another essential aspect of this theory is that (with the help of collective intelligence) it is charged with premeditating and acknowledging what people use to define themselves and the cosmopolitan ethnoconvergence that can arise with continuous first-hand contact with groups with different cultural backgrounds.  One begins to adopt the attitudes, behaviors, and online aesthetic.  The body-without-organs and community-without-space become collective.

The digital self-enhancement process is very important since it provides a better understanding of the social aspects that relate to the evolution of the eventual individual and community projection through social networking sites.  Groups or Fan pages use categories as a means of creating social identities (ethnic, cultural, hobbies, etc). It also emphasizes the relationship between the various social categories and catalysts, the role of culture in the creation of projected communities, and the use of fringe society bias. Projected identities and communities are maintained by collective identity management through online communication.  From the initial readings of the form and content of the individual and group pages, the following themes can be identified:

– fringe society unity/pride

– categories

– otherness

– ethno-projected identity (culture-centric identity)

– identity management

The themes are used when analyzing social networking trends and use.  Questions to use when analyzing the impact of new media:

1) How do the ethno-projected communities use categories as a means of creating enculturation/acculturation?

2) What is the relationship between mainstreaming and the network effect for ethno-projected communities?

3) What role does culture play in the creation of ethno-projected communities?

4) How do ethno-projected communities use fringe societies to construct transculturation?

5) How do the communities perform through communication?


Important aspects to be considered when looking at projected encounters within the ethno-projected communities are the categories or unifying structures that enabled these tracings to be made. For instance, in the case of Facebook, in order to clearly differentiate the identity within the social networking site, the various communities have been categorized under distinct headings.

Facebook has utilized primary categories of identity projection and community categorization. Categorization can refer to the abovementioned terms or classification such as roots in applicable geographic or spatial locations, which further serves as a major means to articulate collective identity. Physical nationality and its spatial implications define collective identity in cities, for instance. In a world where geographic communities are an extension of identity, globalization and the social networking concept enter a new paradigm, resulting in  a form of online tribalized mainstreaming, fulfilling McLuhan’s prophecy.





Ettinger, B.  (2006). Theory Out of Bounds:  The Matrixial Borderspace.  Minneapolis, Minnesota:  University of Minnesota Press.


Heinz, K.  (2000). Analysis of the Self: Systematic Approach to Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders. International Universities Press.


Klein, M.  (1975). Love, Guilt and Reparation: And Other Works 1921-1945.  London, England: Hogarth Press.


McNeill, S.  (2009). Digital Symbiosis:  Projection of Identity in Communication and Community. Buford, Georgia:  Lad Publishing.


Ortiz, F.  (1995).  Contrapunto Cubano del Tabacco y Azucar.  Durham, North Carolina:  Duke University Press.


Virilio, P.  (2009).  Grey Ecology.  Atropos Press.


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