Negotiating the Filipino in cyberspace: New Zealand-based Filipinos’ identity construction in social media

Aguirre, Alwin
Bell, Allan
Graham-Davies, Sharyn
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

The study aims to understand how Filipinos in New Zealand construct their identity as diasporic subjects when they talk about their lives on Internet-based social media platforms. Examining how individuals work out their identity is a crucial task in contemporary times, which many consider as complex and networked but also, insecure and unstable. Filipino diaspora and identity form a case that demonstrates the intricate practice of managing the steady impact of decentring and insecurity in a globalised world.

I work on the premise that migrants are in a state of liminality, a transitional period where they do not fully belong to either the former or new status. The ubiquity of Internet-based media in everyday life plays an important role in understanding and expressing migrant identities. New media act as the stage of performances of their lives, their sense of self, national belonging, and attachment.

Two cases of personal social media were the focus in the study – Amy’s Facebook profile and Ka Uro’s blog. State-produced texts were also examined as sites of official discourses on Filipino migrants. Adopting the procedures of 'discourse-centred online ethnography', I drew data from the multimodal ‘texts’ in these online platforms and interviews of the persons who authored them.

My investigation is ultimately an exercise in interpretation. I assume a stance that takes language as a site of struggle for control over meanings and ways we constitute action. The analysis is discursive, critical, and multimodal in approach. In accounting for the richness of the semiotic resources that the Internet offers and the conflicting relations of power in both the migrant situation and new media participation, I deploy the principles of critical discourse analysis, multimodality and discourse as 'recontextualisation' of social practice.

Analysis of the data reveals that social media function as online archives for making memories – keeping the family in the Philippines posted about life in New Zealand or documenting migrant life for posterity. At the same time, the participants also perform migrant identity and the quality of their migrant lives through these media formats. They do so by ‘place-making’ in which the idealisation of the new home represents their successful immigrant journey.

The discursive manoeuvrings in their social media writings enact both the dismantling and building of boundaries in their identities. Triggered by specific instances, migrant identity is constructed strategically as hybrid, binary, or ‘essentially’ Filipino. Connection to national roots is undoubtedly evident. Personal discourses unveil a national consciousness. Amy and Ka Uro carry the Philippine nation on their backs by performing the ‘good’ qualities of being Filipino or by taking concrete action to ‘assemble’ the best kinds of Filipinos in New Zealand to ‘rebuild’ a better Philippines.

Finally, the cases demonstrate that the potential for agency new media writing possesses resides in ‘recoupling’ the author with the text and making experiences less transparent. Using social media necessitates ‘writing’, and writing necessitates contemplating the ordinary. Seeing the self from an unfamiliar angle leads to rethinking one’s position in a complex network of social relations.

Identity , Filipino diaspora , Social media , Multimodal discourse , Discourse analysis , Liminality , Online ethnography
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