Author: Ben Moran
Title: Nigerian Identity Formations in the Usenet Newsgroup soc.culture.nigeria
This study examines the expression and formation of identities in one Internet discussion group, soc.culture.nigeria. It draws on the ideas of Benedict Anderson (1991) that new social forms of communication can lead to the transformation and creation of new kinds of identity, as print-capitalism brought about nationalism. These are placed into the Nigerian context with the work of Okwudiba Nnoli (1978), who charts the formation of ethnic identities In the contact engendered by colonial urbanisation. Work on ethnicity by writers such as Crawford Young (1994) is considered, as well as broader theories of postcolonial identity politics. Bakhtin's (1981) ideas of dialogism are used to draw together these approaches to identity constructed in situations of contact, which in this discussion group are entirely textual. A combination of qualitative research methods are used in the study: an extended period of observation, modelled on ethnographic enquiry, and the use of discourse analytic techniques to investigate in detail selections from the archives of the discussion. An account is given of the rationale behind these strategies, and they are defended on both theoretical and ethical grounds. In the second part of the dissertation, the resultant analyses are presented in the form of commentaries on extracts from the group. The study concludes that identity formations as the products of dialogue are shaped in many subtle ways by the conditions of communication in which such dialogues take place. The environment of soc.culture.nigeria is one marked by what Bakhtin terms "centrifugal" tendencies; but the embedding of the newsgroup in broader social and communicative networks, Nigerian and transnational, enables some forms of identity to be anchored more stably. The tendency of identity to fragmentation and multiplicity in the postcolonial setting is not total, but countered by identity's situation in concrete dialogues.