DML: Distributed Identities


The concept of identity, how to explain it, what it is, how to define it, has occupied the minds of the finest thinkers. From Artistotle’s law of identity to more recent conceptualizations, the issue of identity has preoccupied thinking and philosophies. Popular culture has taken up these questions as well, evidenced in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. In the final two books, the intrepid young wizard and his cohorts embark on the destruction of horcruxes created by Harry’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort. A horcrux, as Harry learns, is an object into which dark wizards have placed parts of their souls in an attempt at ensuring immortality. From the books’ perspective, the existence of horcruxes is a threat to the “natural” order. The books recreate a highly conventionalized concept of identity as the concrete embodiment of a monolithic, static ontology: Harry, with his stable and contained identity, is good, while Voldemort and his scattered horcruxes are evil. This simplistic perspective of identity, however commonsensical, is challenged by today’s constantly shifting landscape of the web spaces in which we find ourselves, forging new types of relationships in new types of communities.

Twitter. Facebook. MySpace. LinkedIn. Ning. Wikispaces. Edublogs. Many of us maintain profiles across an ever-increasing number of websites, effectively distributing our identities into discrete, albeit linked, chunks. As individuals, teachers, students, and organizations, these identities are shaped by the spaces we inhabit just as we shape the spaces through the ways we use them to express ourselves. What is the significance of spreading ourselves throughout online networks in this way? How do these different online incarnations serve our goals, from connecting with others to facilitating new learning and conversations? In this workshop, educators from the National Writing Project network will facilitate an inquiry into the implications of distributed identities for us as individuals in our personal and professional lives. Participants will consider their own online lives using theoretical frameworks of identity grounded in discourse. We will continue by examining research that focuses on the ways different populations interact in online spaces and interrogating various spaces and examples of the ways this territory is navigated. Finally, as part of this inquiry, we will together develop and define our own digital philosophies that may help us think strategically about using distributed identities to achieve particular purposes for specific audiences, with a specific focus on how these identities can support participatory learning.