Expanding Community: Youth, Social Networking and Schools


  • Amy Stornaiuolo
  • Jennifer DiZio
  • Emily Hellmich




Social networking, youth, community, digital media, new literacies, hospitality


This study examined the construct of community and its development in online spaces through a qualitative analysis of middle school students’ participation in a private social network. Drawing on notions of community inspired by philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, we found that students, despite not knowing one another previously, were willing both to encounter and come to know each other, using the resources of the network to build the trust that became foundational to their online social relationships. They did so primarily through two kinds of interactional effort that we call «public work» and «proximity work». Negotiating their positions relative to one another (proximity work) and across public/private spaces (public work), youth used a variety of semiotic tools to establish relationships and address the considerable challenges of digitally mediated communication with unknown others. This study suggests that educationally focused social networks can be designed for, or their uses primed toward, communicative purposes and activities foregrounding reciprocal exchange that is ethically alert and socially aware, and that schools and other educational institutions, though historically resistant to technological innovation, have an important role to play in this process..