Academic elevator speech


“elevator” by whatatravisty on Flickr

In evangelist circles, they always say you should have your ‘elevator speech’ ready to go. It’s a 30 second spiel designed to change minds and drive your message home in the time it takes to ride an elevator with a stranger. In (social science) academic writing, the abstract is akin to an elevator speech – ok, maybe two elevator speeches, once going up to set out the premise of the research and once heading back down to reveal the findings and key conclusions.

After slogging through the heavy lifting of research (27 transcripts and 1000+ code excerpts later), I’m finally at that point where I get to write my abstract – to really hit it home. In fact, I’m hoping it will inspire me to edit my thesis into a leaner, more coherent body of work. But before I write something really academic-y, I first need to figure out in plain terms what this research has accomplished. So here we go, are you ready? Push the button!

Going Up

This study extends previous research identifying social networking sites (SNSs) as environments that reduce spatial, temporal, and social boundaries. The resulting context collapse, which creates overlapping audiences for performances not tailored to all recipients, was examined through semi-structured interviews with 27 LGBTQ people ages 18-25. Interviews investigated their everyday experiences and biographical stories relating to the disclosure of information about sexual identity on Facebook, a SNS of personal networks containing diverse audiences, and included video-recorded walkthroughs of participants’ Facebook accounts.

Though it’s not perfect, from this section you learn:

  • The social phenomenon I am looking at: context collapse;
  • My sample: 27 LGBTQ people 18-25;
  • My methods: Semi-structured interviews and Facebook walkthroughs

Now for the tough part, what did the participants (or co-researchers) and I find?

Two main things:

  • Context collapse results from performances of personal identity where individuals did not intend to redefine relationships with certain audiences (e.g. OMG I just came out to grandma and grandpa!);
  • Participants engaged in two main strategies for preventing context collapse: Expressing themselves using ambiguity or social steganography and separating audiences using privacy settings, friending practices, or different SNSs for different performances.

And this is what they mean:

  • A more complete application of Goffman’s impression management framework along with acknowledgement of societal influences on identity (e.g. homophobia) provides a more thorough understanding of the conditions of context collapse than has been previously developed. Therefore, future research should apply these theoretical strands to other types of identity expression on SNSs to determine if they are applicable across populations. 


Coming Down

Participants’ experiences of context collapse in relation to unintended disclosures of sexual identity increased their awareness of Facebook audiences, giving rise to the application of two main prevention strategies: coded identity performances and audience separation. Findings resulted in a new model of impression management for decontextualized environments that explains context collapse more thoroughly than previous research. Such a model paves the way for future studies of identity expression on various types of SNS.


Ok, it’s a work in progress. I’m going to use this as a starting point for getting back to the editing process but you can expect a future post in layman’s terms of what I found and what it means for LGBTQ people and SNS users altogether.

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