Contesting Community Online: Virtual Imagery among Dutch Orthodox Protestant Homosexuals

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Whereas substantial scholarly attention has been paid to the online presentation of self, symbolic interactionist approaches are largely absent in the literature on virtual communities. Instead, recurrent questions are whether communities can exist online and whether specific online venues qualify as communities. This article aims to move beyond these dichotomous questions by studying how different meanings attached to an online venue can be understood from offline experiences. In a case study of a Dutch forum for orthodox Protestant homosexuals, two types of understanding of online community emerged from an analysis of fifteen in-depth interviews. Users struggling with stigmatization in offline life seek empathic support and have an encompassing sense of online community—the forum as “refuge.” For users dealing with practical everyday questions, online contacts are part of so-called personal communities and help ameliorate offline life—the forum as “springboard.” Apart from demonstrating that online forums can serve as Goffmanian backstages in two distinct ways, these results indicate it is fruitful to take a symbolic interactionist approach to uncover relationships between offline and online social life. Keywords: backstage, Goffman, offline-online relationship, sexual minorities, stigma, virtual community, virtual imagery
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)552-577
Number of pages26
JournalSymbolic Interaction
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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