Why We Post Week One: Social Media Anthropology

The next part of week one of this Future Learn course (my notes on the first part can be found here) focuses on how social media can be researched from an anthropological perspective – meaning that social media is placed within the context of the culture and society of the people using it. 

The course material asked:

Why might anthropology be particularly suited to the study of social media?

And my answering comment was:

The anthropological aspect means we understand that a person is more than what they post on social media, and there are decisions made and influences which we don’t see that influence how they use social networks.

At this point, we were asked to put a geographical marker on a map to show where everyone on the course is from – I love this!


The researchers who created this course described some of the changes that they had seen in social media between different locations and different areas. For example, email became the main method of communication for both work and personal time in older generations, but in younger people it is almost solely used for work and education – other ways are used for personal communication. 

They also noted that in some countries, social media has been massively beneficial in holding social structure together where mass migration for work is happening, for example in China and India. Parents, especially fathers, are often separated from their families for long periods of time while they work in other parts of the country. Social media is an easy to maintain familial bonds. Also, from a work perspective it is seen as an easy way for co-workers to get to know each other’s lives and socially integrate more quickly. 

The research in different parts of the world was carried out through interviews and questionnaires over a long period, giving large amounts of qualitative data which gave the researchers a detailed insight into the lives of the people they were studying and how social media usage both changed and changed them over time.

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