Constructing Identity. Narratives of Self-Exploration in Two Blogs of Female Solo Travellers


Bachelor Thesis, 2015
51 Pages, Grade: 1,3

Excerpt

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: Female Solo Travel Writers

2 Towards a Definition of the Travel Blog
2.1 Defining the Weblog
2.2 Defining Contemporary Travel Writing
2.3 Combining both Definitions: the Travel Blog as its own Literary Genre

3 Theorizing Narrative Identity in Travel Blogs
3.1 Identity in the Digital Age: Two Opposing Theories
3.1.1 The Postmodern Concept of Identity: the Fragmented Self
3.1.2 The Modern Concept of Identity Revisited: the Coherent Self
3.2 Self-Narration as a Form of Identity Construction
3.3 Travel Blogs as Narratives of Identity

4 Identity Construction in the Travel Blogs Young Adventuress and Creatrice Mondial
4.1 Narrative Analysis of Blog Posts
4.1.1 Ethnic Identity
4.1.1.1 Creatrice Mondial: “What it means to be Floridian”
4.1.1.2 Young Adventuress: “New Zealand and the rest of the World”
4.1.2 Gender Identity
4.1.2.1 Creatrice Mondial: “No one wants to be THAT girl/guy”
4.1.2.2 Young Adventuress: “Maybe I’m becoming a feminist after all”
4.1.3 Blogger Identity
4.1.3.1 Creatrice Mondial: “An Artist’s Rambling Soul”
4.1.3.2 Young Adventuress: “Have I introduced you to Business Liz yet?”
4.1.4 Traveller Identity
4.1.4.1 Creatrice Mondial: “Tourist or Travel[l]er?”
4.1.4.2 Young Adventuress: “The realities about travel[l]ing as an introvert”
4.2 Results
4.2.1 A Summary of the Sub-Identities presented in Creatrice Mondial
4.2.2 A Summary of the Sub-Identities presented in Young Adventuress
4.2.3 Comparing both Blogs with regard to Narrative Identity Construction

5 Conclusion

6 Works cited
6.1 Primary Literature
6.2 Secondary Literature

1 Introduction: Female Solo Travel Writers

Freya Stark, who wrote 24 travel books and autobiographies between the 1930’s and 1980’s, travelled to parts of the Middle East no Westerner had been to before (Flint). In 1963, famous travel writer Dervla Murphey rode her bike from Dublin to Dehli alone, surviving an attack by wolves and attempted rape ("Dervla Murphey: Ireland to India on a Bicycle."). Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Eat Pray Love”, published in 2006, chronicles her year spent alone travelling in Italia, India and Indonesia to rediscover herself after her divorce (“Nonfiction Book Review”). The recently released movie “Wild” is based on Cheryl Strayed’s story about hiking more than 1000 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail by herself (“Wild”).

All these women are examples of female travel writers, particularly female solo travel writers, whose number has been growing over the last century (Holland and Huggan 20). With the emergence of the weblog, so has the number of female solo travel bloggers culminating in the #WegoSolo movement, a “social media movement”, which “supports and encourages solo female travellers to travel safely, wisely and well” (“#WeGoSolo Survey Results: Why Women Travel Solo”). It was founded because of the backlash that followed the murder of Sarai Sierra, an American female solo traveller, in Turkey, blaming her death on female solo travel (“Self Defense For The Female #WeGoSolo Traveler”). As a consequence of these debates, particularly on women’s safety on the road, female solo travel bloggers need to justify their right to travel.

This is why, female travel narratives tend to focus on self-exploration (Goodnow 4). These women construct their identities within gender-based discourses and within expectations and constraints these discourses evoke. Travel blogs, as narratives of identity, can provide a particularly apt insight into female solo travellers’ identity constructions and the narrative strategies they use to present these identities to their readers.

Using an exploratory and qualitative approach, this paper aims at exploring the question of what kind of self-identity female solo travel bloggers construct and how they fashion it narratively.

This research goes beyond previous studies of weblogs as it identifies how identity is constructed by a particular sub-group of bloggers that has not been investigated before (female solo travellers) and since, for the first time, it provides an overview of narrative strategies used in travel blogs.

The first section of this paper summarizes the theoretical models the subsequent section, the narrative analysis of the blogs, is based on. It defines the travel blog as a literary genre and provides the theoretical models of identity and narrative identity for the analysis of identity as a narrative construction.

The second section is a narrative analysis of a sample of blog posts of the two travel blogs Creatrice Mondial and Young Adventuress. Finally, the Conclusion summarizes the main findings, provides suggestions for further research and points out possible limitations of this research paper.

2 Towards a Definition of the Travel Blog

Since the travel blog can be categorized both as a weblog and as travel writing, these two genres are briefly defined and their characteristics are outlined in subsections 2.1 and 2.2 to establish a comprehensive definition of the travel blog as its own literary genre in subsection 2.3

2.1 Defining the Weblog

Weblogs are commonly defined as “frequently modified Web pages in which dated entries are listed in reverse chronological sequence” (Herring et al. 142). Following this basic definition, these “dated entries”, so-called posts, are the main constituents and accordingly the fundamental organizing principle of every weblog, which was later shortened to blog. They appear in reverse chronological order, with the latest posts at the top of the web page highlighting the most recent content published. Frequent updates further establish this “currency of information”, which is characteristic of the blog (Morrison, Schreibman, and Siemens 371).

This definition, however, is fragmentary in nature since it excludes essential features of the blog. On the one hand, it omits two key ordering principles that structure a blog’s content for the reader – keywords, also referred to as tags, and the archive. The blogger uses tags to group blogs posts into categories for easier navigation of blog content by the reader. In addition, all blog posts published by the blogger are stored in an archive providing the reader with the possibility to browse older entries (Morrison, Schreibman, and Siemens 371). On the other hand, this definition needs to be extended in regard to the blog’s communicative nature and thus its capability of opening up a “digital conversation” – between the blogger and other bloggers/digital authors as well as the blogger and the reader (Morrison, Schreibman, and Siemens 371). The blog includes hyperlinks as a structural element (Ainetter 14). These hyperlinks can establish a conversation between blog author and other digital authors by linking to external sites or they can lead to a dialogue specifically within the blogosphere by linking to other blogs (Morrison, Schreibman, and Siemens 372).. Another type of conversation is created between blog author and reader: most blogs allow for the reader to comment on their blog posts and thus make it possible for the reader to engage in a dialogue with them (Ainetter 86).

The above mentioned characteristics are the defining formal criteria of blogs agreed upon by most blog researchers. It should be noted, however, that not all blogs include all of the interactive features mentioned. A small number of bloggers, for instance, has disabled the comment function on their blogs. This leads to the conclusion that all blogs are to some extent interactive but can highly vary in their degree of interactivity (Lomborg 4).

Blog researchers have been struggling to find a comprehensive definition that goes beyond the simplistic definition provided above because of the blog’s hybridity as a genre (Herring et al. 144). The blog shares characteristics with traditional offline media as well as digital media. Especially content-wise, blogs can be classified into multiple sub-types deriving from multiple offline-genres (Herring et al. 159).

It is particularly the genre of the diary, a type of life writing, the blog is frequently associated with. According to Adami, “[r]ight from its beginning a blog is explicitly defined in relation to diary writing” (253). Blogs date back to the year 1994 when the first online diaries were published on the Web. Back then, bloggers referred to themselves as “diarists”. Today, the blogosphere still relates blogging to diary writing:

many blog-hosting Web-portals identify themselves with diaries (LiveJournal.com; GreatestJournal.com; DiaryLand; OpenDiary etc.), and, by browsing among blogs, it is not uncommon to find the term ‘(my) diary’ or ‘(my) personal journal’ in the short description given by the author (Adami 253).

The reason for researchers’ as well as the blog community’s tendency to associate blogs with diaries is the two genres’ similarity in content and form. Blogs as well as diaries are used as means for personal expression. Authors commonly topicalize their feelings, everyday experiences and/or personal opinions. Moreover, blogs and diaries are structured in the same fashion. They consist of entries of varying length that are usually headed by a date (Ainetter 85).

Since, however, the blog is an online and the diary an offline genre, there are differences between the two based on the difference in medium (Adami 256). The blog’s medium is the Internet and, as such, it has the characteristics of a digital medium. Digital media, which Manovich refers to as “new media”, organize their content in the form of a database, “a structured collection of data”, without defining a certain reading order to follow (218). A blog can thus be regarded as a hypertext, which is modular and variable: it consists of a number of text modules that can be read and linked by the reader in any possible sequence. This way, the reader of a blog becomes the designer of their own individual text. Reading the blog in a linear fashion from beginning to end, however, would still be one out of many possible options. It should also be noted that the idea of the reader as an author can merely function as an ideology since the blogger still guides the reader to some extent, for example by the use of narrative strategies or by categorizing blog posts (Ainetter 14; Manovich 31). Thus, in comparison with the diary, the blog can be read in a variety of ways turning the reader into an active participant. What further distinguishes the blog from the diary is its reader-orientation, which results from the violation of “the law of journals, secrecy” (Adami 253). Blog authors are aware that their content can be accessed by the public. This is why the blog exhibits two additional functions beyond the diary’s function of personal expression: self-presentation and proof of existence (Ainetter 28). Blogs are aimed at being interactive and mostly encourage reader comments on blog posts. Likewise, they allow for a much more “immediate reading” because blog posts can instantly be accessed by the reader once they are posted (Adami 256; Ainetter 30).

In summary, the blog can be considered a modern version of the traditional diary. The two genres’ main differences stem from their difference in medium, with the blog being an online and the diary an offline medium. “It can thus be assumed that a Weblog shares the features of a diary as far as they do not clash with those the blog equally shares with its kinship computer-mediated communication forms” (Adami 265).

2.2 Defining Contemporary Travel Writing

With respect to genre, the travel blog cannot only be categorized as a weblog but also as travel writing. Along with a continuously growing readership, travel writing as a genre is increasingly gaining academic interest from a variety of disciplines. This development can be attributed to its literary reputation, which has improved significantly since the second half of the 20th century(Thompson 2-3). Even though travel writing is still facing heavy criticism, scholars have acknowledged the genre’s value in establishing a cosmopolitan world view which embraces tolerance and emphasizes cultural links instead of cultural differences(Thompson 6-7).

As travel writing’s popularity is rising, so are attempts at defining it. In general, what scholars denote as travel writing is “the first-person, ostensibly non-fictional narrative of travel” (Thompson 26). However, there is no agreement on defining the genre beyond this central criterion of form since it is extremely hybrid and its boundaries to other genres are permeable. Therefore, the selected approach in this paper will be to focus on the definition of a sub-genre of travel writing the travel blog belongs to, contemporary travel writing (Lisle 3).

Contemporary travel writing has emerged as a genre along with the last essential shift in travel writing in the late 1970s (Hulme and Youngs 8). This literary shift goes hand in hand with a shift in the purpose of travel from “political exploration or mercantile errands to travel for its own sake” (Blanton 3). This is ultimately the reason for contemporary travel writing’s tendency to be more autobiographical than its generic predecessors. Among its other key features is the preference of psychological issues over facts and as a consequence thereof, the foregrounding of the narrator – “a relatively new ingredient in travel writing” (Blanton 4).

To emphasize the narrative self, contemporary travel writers apply fictional strategies. As a consequence, the genre is considered to occupy a position in-between fact and fiction, authorizing its “claims about foreign places and people through recourse to ‘facts’ ” and interpreting these facts with the use of fictional means (Lisle 38-39). A characteristic of all travel writing is the textual construction of the other, who is objectified and contrasted to secure the narrative self (Youngs 13, Lisle 40-41). Usually, the narrator explores a world that is foreign to them, observes difference and negotiates their identity in comparison to it. Since travelling always entails a journey, this “interplay between alterity and identity, difference and similarity” is typical for travel writing (Thompson 9). It is especially typical for contemporary travel writing because it often recounts a special kind of journey, the journey into the self (Youngs 102).

During the physical journey of travelling, the narrator’s “experiences in the outer world can be ‘transferred’ to the self that is being scrutinized, thus converting the journey into a mode of introspection” (Blanton 3). Spurred on by a desire for self-discovery and self-understanding, modern travel writers set out to travel “in search of meaning, purpose or belonging” (Youngs 90, Lisle 45).

2.3 Combining both Definitions: the Travel Blog as its own Literary Genre

Having carefully reviewed the relevant literature, the lack of a comprehensive definition of the travel blog as a literary genre becomes apparent. This is why this paper aims at providing such a definition. For this purpose, first the two literary genres of the weblog and contemporary travel writing have been summarized above. In a next step, in order to merge the travel blog’s affiliations to both genres, it will be categorized as a distinct sub-genre of the weblog with the use of a typological framework for the classification of weblogs established by Lomborg (9). Because of “the diversity and sometimes subtle differences within the weblog genre . . .[it] can be described as a typological space in three dimensions with the axes representing content, directionality and style” (Lomborg 9). To facilitate the decision where to place a weblog within the dimensions, Lomborg has formulated a guiding question for each axis. “Does the weblog deal with highly personal themes, experiences and emotions of the author or does it primarily communicate information about a specific topic of general interest, thus dealing with a world external to the author?” (Lomborg 10) This is the guiding question for the content axis, which represents a continuum between the two extremes internal and topical. Considering the fact that the travel blog is a form of contemporary travel writing and therefore revolves around the author’s physical journey with a focus on identity negotiation, it can be considered as mostly internal. The second guiding question specifies whether a weblog leans more toward the monological or dialogical extreme of the directionality axis: “Is the weblog primarily used for self-expression to an audience or is the weblog highly conversational and densely networked?” (Lomborg 10) Directionality is thus determined by a weblog’s number of outgoing and incoming links, its audience size and the degree of interaction between blogger and reader (Lomborg 10). Considering the travel blog, recourse to the previously established definition of contemporary travel writing cannot disambiguate its position on the directionality axis. Accordingly, a travel blog could be purely monological, dialogical or anything in-between. The upcoming analysis of two travel blogs, however, might be able to at least approximate a general tendency of the genre. Finally, providing an answer to the question whether the weblog is “introspective and confessional or less personal and written in a rather objective tone” locates it on the style axis, between the two extremes intimateobjective (Lomborg 11). Since contemporary travel writing is considered to be very autobiographical and focuses on the subjectivity of the narrator, the travel blog’s writing style can be regarded as mostly intimate.

By locating the travel blog within Lomborg’s typological framework and by summarizing its affiliation to digital and travel literature, the travel blog as a literary genre is defined as follows:

The travel blog is a combination of the literary genres of the weblog, a type of digital literature, and contemporary travel writing. It records a blogger’s personal experiences while travelling. Therefore, its content is mostly of an internal nature, particularly because the physical journey often functions as a journey of self-exploration for the blogger. Since the writing style of a travel blog is autobiographical and tends to foreground the narrator, it can be considered primarily intimate. Any travel blog is to some extent interactive but can vary extensively in its degree of interactivity.

3 Theorizing Narrative Identity in Travel Blogs

To examine how travel blogs can function as narratives of identity for bloggers in subsection 3.3, first, subsection 3.1 summarizes two theory strands on identity in the digital age. Subsection 3.2 builds on these models and outlines the relationship between narration and identity construction.

3.1 Identity in the Digital Age: Two Opposing Theories

The starting point of any person’s identity is the self. It is the process of a subject, the I, reflecting on itself as an object, the me. This dialectic activity generates a product: the self-concept – “variously described as what comes to mind when one thinks of oneself, one’s theory of one’s personality, and what one believes is true of oneself” (Gecas 3, Leary and Tangney 69). Identities, particularly personal identities, constitute one’s self- concept (Leary and Tangney 69). Marc R. Leary and June Price Tangney define them as “a person’s traits, characteristics and attributes, goals and values, and ways of being” (94). Since the concepts of identity and self-concept substantially describe the same phenomenon, scholars often use them interchangeably (Leary and Tangney 74). In an analogous manner and for simplification reasons, the term identity will be used as a synonym for self-concept in this paper.

In our now postmodern world, identity becomes problematic. Whereas the modern condition of the self was coined by predetermined standard biographies, the postmodern focus on individualization forces a person to actively construct their identity. This process, however, is aggregated by the multitude of options and possibilities of living induced by the fragmentation of everyday life through forces such as globalization or the emergence of digital media (Augustin 43–44). It is particularly the latter force that has resulted in the formation of two opposing strands of theory on the concept of identity.

3.1.1 The Postmodern Concept of Identity: the Fragmented Self

One strand of theory brought forth by the digital age is the belief in the fragmentation and multiplicity of identity. Sherry Turkle’s ideas are representative of this postmodern concept of identity she denotes as “a fluid sense of self” (261). According to Turkle, the computer, and particularly the medium Internet, serve as a site for identity play allowing people to reinvent themselves and to live “new lives on the screen” (21). The online identity a person develops, however, should not be separated from their offline identity but can instead be regarded as an extension of it (Turkle 20). Constantly changing circumstances make it necessary for people to develop a flexible identity, which needs to be revised and renegotiated: “What matters most now is the ability to adapt and change – to new jobs, new career directions, new gender roles, new technologies"(Turkle 255). This is why people create multiple selves concomitant to the contexts they live in (Turkle 256). Accordingly, Turkle does not believe in a unitary view of self, “[n]o one aspect can be claimed as the absolute, true self” (261). Instead, she argues that all the different aspects of one’s self need to be acknowledged. Since these aspects are never stable and can be contradictory, the self can never be coherent. For Turkle, the fluid self is a much more accurate concept of identity than the idea of a unitary self because it “allows a greater capacity for acknowledging the diversity of self” (Turkle 261).

3.1.2 The Modern Concept of Identity Revisited: the Coherent Self

Wynn & Katz represent the pool of theorists that opposes the postmodern concept of identity and, instead, argues for a view of identity grounded in modernism: the coherent self. According to Wynn & Katz, the fragmentation of life does not lead to a fragmentation of self. By contrast, the two researchers claim that people have an inherent need to order chaos and organize these fragments of life into a coherent whole (309). By investigating personal home pages, they suggest that, even in the virtual sphere, people aim at presenting a coherent sense of self: “rather than fragmenting the self, personal home pages are attempts to integrate the individual, make a personal statement of identity, and show in a stable, replicable way what the individual stands for and what is deemed important” (Wynn and Katz 318). This is particularly the case within the medium Internet because, in comparison to face-to-face interactions, it is impossible for the owners of personal homepages to accurately predict their audience. This is why authors try to present a comprehensive, integrated image of themselves so that others can recognize them as authentic (Wynn and Katz 320).

3.2 Self-Narration as a Form of Identity Construction

The concept of identity has been closely related to the concept of narration in various research disciplines, particularly in the field of narrative psychology (Neumann, Nünning, and Pettersson 3). Through the act of self-narration, a person engages in the process of telling stories about themselves. The total of these stories or narratives is what researchers have denoted as “narrative identity” (Noy 83–84). By telling stories about themselves, a person does not only describe who they are but actively constructs their identity. What follows is the idea of life as a narrative: “[we] make our existence into a whole by understanding it as an expression of a single unfolding and developing story” (Polkinghorne 150).

Some scholars within the field of narrative identity theory, among whom Ricoeur can be considered especially influential, go as far as equating the concept of narrative identity with the concept of personal identity. For them, identity is the ultimate outcome of narration (Holler and Klepper 77). Many others, however, at least regard it as a helpful tool for identity construction (Holler and Klepper 11). They list a variety of reasons for why narratives are so suitable for identity work. First, identity requires some kind of order. Narratives structure one’s life episodes temporally by connecting “who we were with who we are now and who we want to be in the future” (Neumann, Nünning, and Pettersson 5; Eakin ix). Furthermore, narratives make these life episodes meaningful by relating them and embedding them in a larger context, the whole of a person’s life story (Neumann, Nünning, and Pettersson 5). In addition, just like identity, narrative identity can be considered relational. Thus, narratives help to position the self in relation to others:

Narrative fashions an image of the self which the narrator wants others to recognize as his or her character […]. We negotiate our narrative self-construction in a continuous dialogue with significant others and their (presumed) expectations; in fact, our identities cannot be upheld without the co-operation of others (Neumann, Nünning, and Pettersson 8).

Lastly, Bamberg mentions the possibility through self-narration to reflect on oneself (11). The narrating self, who retells a narrative in the present, dissociates themselves from the experiencing self, who is a protagonist in the narrative. This enables the narrator to carefully think about their experiences from a distance and provides a basis for self-exploration.

With regard to the coherence and dynamics of narrative identity, based on the two previously discussed concepts of identity, two research strands are distinguished by Holler and Klepper: while Ricoeur, among others, argues for a coherent, stable idea of narrative identity, other researchers such as Meuter or Lucius-Hoene emphasize its processual and fragmented nature (13). Following these two different reasonings, there are two possible continuums of self-narration: the construction of a coherent life story relating all episodes into a coherent textual whole and, thus, producing a coherent sense of self; or the decomposition of the narrative form through non-coherent, non-related narratives that do not result in one unified life story but several fragmented life stories and ultimately in the split of the self into a multitude of different selves (Neumann, Nünning, and Pettersson 39–41).

3.3 Travel Blogs as Narratives of Identity

The travel blog functions as a narrative of identity for the blogger. It is a particularly apt means for the process of identity construction because it belongs to two narrative genres conducive of identity construction: the weblog and travel writing.

The weblog as a digital type of life writing, as referred to in section 2.1, hosts the blogger’s personal narratives in the form of posts. Bloggers create an ongoing narrative of self by writing about different autobiographical episodes.

The identity created by the blogger is usually very closely related to their offline identity because, as a type of public communication, the blog needs to act in line with publication rules – one specific rule being the expectation of authenticity: the blog’s audience presumes that any personal information and thoughts provided by the blogger are truthful (Augustin 107; Schmidt 77). It can, thus, be assumed that a blogger’s offline and online identity are mostly congruent and that weblogs can provide an insight into the blogger’s psyche. They serve as a means for self-exploration, one aspect of identity construction.

The weblog’s interactive character makes it even more suitable for identity construction, which unites personal and social aspects of the self. As readers can provide feedback on blog posts via the comment function, the blogger forms and revises their identity in dialogue with others (Schmidt 79). The weblog can therefore be considered of a dual nature: as a type of intrapersonal and private communication, it enables the blogger’s self-exploration through mechanisms of self-reflection. As a type of interpersonal and public communication, it also functions as a means for self-presentation (Augustin 91). Bloggers are well aware that their blog is read by others and, accordingly, apply certain narrative strategies to fashion themselves with regard to their audience – especially since some blogs have a commercial interest beside a personal one: “Underneath these constructions lies the most important paradox running through professional travel blogs: the ability to both become and sell yourself” (Nuenen 17).

Along with the weblog, travel writing allows its authors to narratively construct their identity. The basis for the travel writer’s self-exploration is already set by travel itself. MacCannell sees the main motive of travelling in the search for the self (15). This idea is referred to by many other researchers such as Pudliner, who describes travelling or tourism as “an opportunity to explore ones own self” (49). Travelling fosters self-exploration through encounters with the other. When the traveller encounters something foreign, they define their identity in relation to the other using the concept of difference or similarity:

Travelers […] can be considered observers who gaze into the elsewhere and the Other, while looking for their own reflection. Their storytellings and written works suggest that they look in the worlds of Others as a means of laying claim to their own (Galani-Moutafi 220).

Besides self-exploration, travel writing also encourages self-presentation. The travel writer needs to secure their dominant subject position as traveller and travel writer. They do so by applying strategies of self-fashioning and by differentiating themselves from other external subjects such as the tourist or the local (Lisle 76, 90).

In conclusion, both the weblog and travel writing allow their authors to actively construct their identity with the use of narrative strategies. Thus, the travel blog as a combination of the two genres can be considered a narrative of identity that fosters the blogger’s self-exploration and self-presentation uniting the genre-specific narrative constructs of the weblog and travel writing.

[...]

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Details

Title
Constructing Identity. Narratives of Self-Exploration in Two Blogs of Female Solo Travellers
College
University of Mannheim  (Lehrstuhl für Amerikanische Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaft)
Grade
1,3
Author
Year
2015
Pages
51
Catalog Number
V371649
ISBN (eBook)
9783668494251
ISBN (Book)
9783668494268
File size
1109 KB
Language
English
Tags
travel blog, Blog, Female solo travel, identity, construction, narrative, self-exploration, travel writing, weblog
Quote paper
Marie-Kristin Hofmann (Author), 2015, Constructing Identity. Narratives of Self-Exploration in Two Blogs of Female Solo Travellers, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/371649

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