Facebook, Space, and Place


After our discussion on embodiment last week, we move on to the recognition of emplacement in sociolinguistic studies of computer-mediated communications. In this blog, I will use some of the concepts I have extrapolated from this week’s readings to briefly explore the check-in feature of Facebook as a form of geotagging and the Facebook space in general.



Over the past two decades, scholarships in various fields of globalization studies have tended to deemphasize place while highlighting mobility. Sociolinguists of this week’s readings are writing against such erasure of place by foregrounding its significance even in virtual landscape of Internet presumed as physically detached and dislocated. Theresa Heyd and Mirka Honkanen’s (2015) “From Naija to Chitown: The New African Diaspora and digital representations of place” studies an emergent online community of the New African Diaspora (NAD) and analyzes their linguistic strategies to evoke and encode space and place. Pia Quist’s (n.d.) “Alternative place naming in the super-diverse margins of an ideologically mono-lingual society” attends to the superdiverse contact zones at the city’s margins and their place-based polylinguality in the context of Denmark. She examines youngsters’ linguistic and stylistic means of claiming local ownership, paying special attention to their practice of “alternative place naming”.


Semiotics of Checking in

Since 2010, Facebooks has launched the feature of “check in” that enables its users to make use of their mobile phones, computers, and other electronic devices installed with GPS and the Facebook application to locate themselves. The check-in feature offers a list of suggestions upon request, and users can search for an option that matches their idea of the location. It is embedded within the algorithm of advertisement as well.

While checking in can be set as automatic, the deliberate choice to check in for record, display, announcement, and other purposes is worthy of semiotic and performance studies. I ask questions about why, when, where, with whom do Facebook users check in. Based on my initial understanding about geotagging of photos, the specificity of time and space of a Facebook photo contributes to the identification of the photo, including any human figure in it. In other words, it is not only temporal-spatial information but also sociocultural, indexical, etc. meanings that are being conveyed by checking in.

“Is Facebook a Third Place? A Conversation with Jim Shoff of Queens”: https://youtu.be/kmV_2IAxZEM
Facebook as a Space or Place

In our class today, we may discuss the question of how the Internet itself or its platform constitutes not only a virtual linguistic landscape of uneven development (see Deumert 2014), but a sui generis space of e.g. context collapse (Marwick and boyd 2010). Heyd and Honkanen (2015: 16) have observed that the web with its community structures may figure “a perceived place of stability”, hence satisfying an anchoring function in the symbolic way. Dmitri Williams and Constance A. Steinkuehler (2006) in ‘Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as “Third Places”’ examines multiplayer online games (MMOs) and compares their structural similarity to Ray Oldenburg’s (1999) notion of “third places” of informal sociability. My question is: Is Facebook a third place? Facebook users can enter or leave the social media at any time and choose to participate in conversations or not. However, can we say that Facebook is a space beyond the workplace and living place? How is Facebook similar with and different from MMOs based on the criteria listed in Steinkuehler and Williams’ article?


Concluding Thoughts

Embodiment and emplacement are fundamental human experiences. Instead of assuming a primordial, essentialist body, space, and place, readings of these two weeks have adopted a constructivist approach to the study of body-making and place-making. Further researches on the role of sociotechnical affordances of the new media would be beneficial in enhancing our understanding of embodying and emplacing Internet users.



Deumert, Ana. 2014. Sociolinguistics and Mobile Communication. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh UP, 2014.

Heyd, Theresa, and Mirka Honkanen. 2015. “From Naija to Chitown: The New African Diaspora and Digital Representations of Place.” Discourse, Context & Media 9: 14-23. Web.

Marwick, Alice E. and danah boyd. 2011. “I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience.” New Media & Society 13:114-133.

Oldenburg, Ray. 1999. The Great Good Place: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. New York: Marlowe.

Pia Quist’s. n.d. “Alternative place naming in the super-diverse margins of an ideologically mono-lingual society”.

Steinkuehler, Constance A., and Dmitri Williams. “Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as “Third Places”” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 11.4 (2006): 885-909. Web.



The readings for this week discuss the relationship between language and the representation of the body. Locher, Jucker and Berger (2015) investigate spatial literacy in the online interaction of newbies in the game Second Life.  Different elements like choosing the avatar and its movement define the participants’ interaction. How different such interaction between the virtual world and the physical world? It seems that some aspects like reading the facial expressions is not informative in the virtual world where text chatting can be sufficient regardless of the position of the avatars.  However, the avatars can indicate the desire to talk by turning to other participating avatars or by using gestures. In this sense, the virtual world draws from the body language in the physical world.

This comparison between the virtual space and the physical space brought my attention to the various ways profile images on social networks embody language. On Youtube and Twitter, Muslim women whether Arabs or non-Arabs would not necessarily choose avatars representative of the way they appear in real life with regard to their Islamic attire. This could be because they view virtual space as totally different sphere where social or religious norms don’t take place or that the virtual space provides an opportunity to restrict the body image. This view, however, can clash with other interlocutors especially when certain posts discuss religious and social identities. Indeed, some interlocutors would not accept a religious advice from an interactant, for instance, without mentioning what they view as her “un-Islamic” avatar.  At the same time, what’s posted as “un-Islamic” avatar in a lot of cases may well be non-representative of the reality of self-image.  It is this contradictory portrayal between the “un-Islamic” avatar and the religious language used by the interactant that brings conflict in communication.

Additionally, a “non-Islamic” avatar could provide a Muslim woman to participate in all sorts of topics without being judged and therefore restricted by an Islamic attire. On the other hand, Muslim women choosing “Islamic” avatars almost always indexes restriction to the type of language she will use. A Muslim woman can choose different ways of “hijab”. Hijab, in Arabic, means a cover so by its nature it adopts certain limits on behavior and speech. This can be both represented in virtual space and physical space. The types of hijab can signal social and national identity, for example, the “niqab” (covering of the face except the eyes) which is widely spread among Muslim women in the gulf and Yemen or the “burqa” which can be found mainly in the gulf and mostly with Bedouin tribes .The “burqa” avatar is interesting because it’s usually worn by older women. Thus, a Muslim woman avatar with a “Burqa” will most likely signal her association with a Bedouin tribe or pride of her family traditions. A woman with the “burqa” avatar doesn’t necessarily indicate religiosity. In often cases, it signals the social identity as a tribal member. This can be reflected clearly with the Bedouin language a woman uses. Thus, as Heyd (2014) argues that identity and the sense of “belonging” is effectively present in the digital communication. In this instance, a woman with “burqa” avatar proudly displays a tribal identity and builds her online social construction on it.