Persona studies

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So, what is persona? The articles here assume different, but connected, understandings of the term, each with levels of deference to writers such as Jung, Goffman, Butler, and Foucault, along with some expected allusions to the ancient Greeks and Romans who coined the term. The Greek origins identify that persona is a mask and derived from performance and acting. From Hannah Arendt’s reading of the Greeks this mask of public identity was not seen in a derogatory way; rather it was natural to assume a public/political persona that was quite removed from the private and home sphere. A political persona defined by citizenry was a clearly conscious separation from the household of activity. Jung’s take on persona is that it was designed for collective experience and for the outside world and therapy would lead to an understanding of the individual that delved beneath the persona. The resurgence in interest in Goffman’s dramaturgical analogy allows us to consider persona as an everyday performance, where the purpose of the presentation of self is to convince the audience (and at times, the performer) that the performance is genuine and authentic.

All of us know what it is like to act in a role, to wear a uniform or costume, to create a profile. More than a few of us know what it is to suffer through the ‘individualising’ categories of a social networking sign-up survey that do not adequately account for distinctions. Persona is all these things, or rather, through the various everyday activities of our work, social, and online selves we contribute to the accretion of the identity at the base of its structure. Persona functions like the construct or automated script that we assemble to interact with the world with on our behalf. This involves the technologies of computation and mediation and their interfaces that function to automate, produce and filter communication with us; email, blogs, Twitter accounts, and so on. These golems interconnect and can interact on their own in unpredictable ways on our behalf; connecting our Facebook account to a product, brand or petition; using Google as a portal to login into other web enabled services; or authorising an app to record our location. Then there are the traces that we leave scattered across digital networks, intranets, hard drives, and lost USB memory sticks, from scattered collections of digital photos to the contact lists of our mobile devices and the  ‘achievements’ in our online gaming profiles. Persona can also be something that happens to us, as friends tag unflattering images via Facebook, or another Twitter user publicly addresses us with a unwanted, or unwarranted commentary, using the ‘@’ and the ‘#’ functions.

We have an extensive degree of control over the ways we assemble ourselves online and yet the contemporary experience is one of constant negotiation with forces that seeks to disavow their responsibilities to us, and maximise the limitations under which we can act. Our personas serve as a buffer to these forces. We can strategically assemble our persona to participate in, influence and use to our advantage to transmit messages across the network and communicate a mediated form of ourselves. The many ways to account persona stands as a primary and apparently Sisyphean task for persona studies: no sooner than when we might assemble a complete topology of the many accounts, traditions, domains, methodologies and theories for account of for the self, we will have arrived at possibly entirely new way of conceptualising the presentation of online persona through some post-Facebook, Oculus Rift, or Google Glass augmented reality experience.



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