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“A Virtual Canvas”—Designing a Blog Site to Research Young Muslims’ Friendships & Identities

Orla McGarry, Brian McGrath

2013 Ireland

This article is based on research among a group of Muslim youth living in the west of Ireland as part of a study on “social belonging” and identity. One part of the research involved designing a youth centered, participatory research method, in the form of a blog site, to investigate what young people say and do when they are asked to talk about themselves and their relationships, with minimal researcher involvement. Participants were presented with a “blank virtual canvas” where they determined what became discussed. Twenty-two teenaged Muslims—comprising close friends as well as fellow students of the same school and living in the same West of Ireland town—contributed to a time limited, closed blog site over a four month period. The blog site offers interesting snippets of Muslim identification, and how they choose to present themselves to others. In the process of contributing to this exercise, we can also observe subtle means through which inclusion and exclusion co-exist online, refracting young people’s offline worlds. The blog affords an opportunity to consciously “do” friendship by presenting to each other images, symbols and statements of friendship that invoke both cohesion and closure. The research unravels certain gendered patterns in online performances. In demonstrating this evidence, we argue that the study of online interactions of youth can provide an alternative window in exploring relationships, identification and social positioning.

Blog site; online friendships; Muslim youth; gender; identity performance; participatory research