Assignment #3 - Literature review

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Assignment #3

Literature review

Group 16:

Jarl Lyng (,Lise Christensen (,Tina

(, Kathrine Toft Hansen ( )and Nele Sattrup (

In order to render the orientation and the purpose visible
for the readers, we have made a
reading guide, for this Assignment. The first section will be an introduction towards our
Research Question and Sub Questions, which purpose is to deliver a context to the readers,
because our selection of theories and scien
tific theoretical approach is embedded in this
context. Section two, Literature review, is divided into five sub
sections. The sub
come in the order we find chronological suiting, beginning with the meta
theoretical level
towards the theoretical l
evel. In the Sub
sections we articulate our scientific theoretical
position, and present our ontological and epistemological understandings. This will provide
the readers with an understanding towards how we commit science.

Section 1: Introduction

ch Question:


How do people use Victoria Milan (VM) in order to have an affair, and does affair websites
influence the way we understand infidelity?

To answer our research question, we have articulated four sub questions that provide a more
general und
erstanding of our research question.

Sub questions:

Why do people want to use a digital space to have an affair?

Do people who use VM, actually meet in real life?

How does Victoria Milan portray infidelity?

Is there a difference in proportion to how w
omen and men use VM?

Section 2: Literature review:

section: Scientific theoretical position

An epistemological grounding has the purpose of making the analytical craft in a project
transparent to its readers.

In other words, the epistemological groun
ding shapes the analytical
basis of a project and needs to create an understanding of the theoretical conceptual
framework out from which we work.

It is important to render our epistemological approach visible, because it reveals our
understanding towards

the conception of acknowledgement. In order to understand our
conditions for acknowledgement, which constraints and vistas there are attached to it, we are
inspired by a social constructionistic approach.

Social constructionism is often juxtaposed with so
cial constructivism, which also views the
world as constructed by humans: All phenomena are based on human actions and mindsets. In
consequence an objective conception of reality is an illusion. Social constructionism focuses
on human relations, given that

collective knowledge plays a central role in the construction of
reality (Collin et al.: 266). The way people think, feel and talk are created by reciprocal
interactions and processes between people. “Daily life is first of all life with and because of
e language which I have in common with my fellow human beings. In this way,
understandings of language are essential when trying to understand the reality of everyday.”
(Berger et al.: 53

my translation from the Danish edition). Furthermore the world gai
meaning through discourses, which “contribute to the social world including social identities
and social relations” (Jørgensen et al.: 73

my translation).

Discourse is a token of the lingual world, a sort of meaning frame that shapes values.

analysis is an often
used approach within social constructionism, which we will
also take into consideration when understanding our empirical data. Therefore we have to
take the interview
situation, in account, because this interaction between interviewer

and the
interviewee also is a constructed social situation. As a result we have to interpret the
interviewees responses, in the light of this context, as a constructed social situation between
them and us.

Via a critical analysis of the discursive
practices in our data material we can move closer to
an understanding of the interviewees’ views of life.

Overall our approach to understanding the world is conducted through social relations where
the language plays a central role. In other words, meaning
s in the social world are constructed
by discourses, whose meanings are never locked, due to the instability and dynamics of the
language. Language should be looked upon as a machine, which constitutes the world as well
as social identities and relations (
ibid.: 18).

The data, which we produce in this project, is results of specific situations, which means that
we are not able to derive a universal truth about the use of VM from our interviews.

section: Anthony Giddens

During the past couple of years An
thony Giddens has been used as a theorist to explain some
of the factors that have influenced our intimate relations and he is known for his theory of
structuration, ontological safety, the transformation of intimacy and pure relationships. In our
study of

VM we want to focus on the mentioned theories when trying to figure out if
infidelity websites influences the way we understand infidelity. We want to use Giddens’
view of society as a meta
theory to understand the way humans and society are related.
rding to Giddens human agency and social structures are in a close relationship where
social structures make social action possible and social action creates social structures. The
society is therefore a structuration process. One of Giddens fundamental co
ncepts is social
practice, which consists of: agent, action and structure.

Social practice constitutes us as agents and the structure is the medium and the outcome of the
actions of the agent. Giddens understands the agent as being a knowledgeable individu
al who
possesses three levels of consciousness: discursive and practice consciousness and
unconscious motives (Giddens: 57). The discursive consciousness means that the agent
expresses his actions in an explicit way, which creates the possibility for chang
ing the action
patterns. The practice consciousness explains the agent’s knowledge of most everyday actions

we perform these actions without conscious reflections, we just know how to act. The
unconscious motives are knowledge that the agent has represse
d which is why it cannot be
transformed into conscious knowledge. Giddens understands action as a process understood
as a flow of events that run through life as an unstoppable process. It is only when we reflect
discursively on the action that it appears
as an individual event. Giddens distinguishes
between structure and systems, where social systems refer to actions that constantly repeat
and reproduce (e.g. a bus that drives the same route everyday), so it is the agents’ activities
that are embedded in a

specific context. Social structures is characterized by the absent of
acting subjects, it only has a virtually existence. Giddens does not see structures as outer
frames outside the agent

norms and values are embedded in the agent.

Giddens states that t
he agent constantly adjusts his actions based on the reflection, and this
reflectivity characterizes our modern society. He says that this reflectivity has occurred as a
consequence of mass communication that has enabled the society to store a large amount

information that creates the possibility of a higher reflectivity than previously. In addition to
that there has been an undermining and lack of traditions that force us to reflect upon
decisions that previously were obvious and given to us automatical
ly. It is up to every
individual to understand and define our surroundings and self
perception, and this lack of
ontologically safety creates an increased vulnerability and blurred identity. (Ibid.: 146) To
compensate for this anxiety the individual tries
to create its own ontological security that is a
protective element and the foundation of one’s self
identity. Most of our actions are routines
that are unconsciously motivated and which re
establish our ontological safety.

When focusing on online dating
one of the circumstances for this type of communication is
the fact that we can write and create an experience of intensity and intimacy, and it is
relatively cost free to change our minds or to quit the interaction. Another factor is the
separation of tim
e and space which influences the way we interact because this type of
communication enables us to interact even though we are not fixed to the same geographic or
time space.

Giddens understands identity as a reflectivity project, which is why our identity

becomes our
own individual project

the human is what he creates himself to be! (Ibid.: 148) This means
that the choices we make will be a part of our endless self


we even have to
consider our choices in the field of intimacy (Ibid.: 152). T
he dissolution of the determining
elements and traditions in the society has also led to changes in the personal ties between

The individual can now be a part of what Giddens calls pure relationships. A pure
relationship is a situation where two p
ersons become a part of a social relationship for its own

for what the two persons gain from this connection, and the relationship only continue
if both parts consider it satisfying. Intimacy has to mean something right here and now.

In this type o
f relationship a reflective negotiation occurs to determine the conditions of the
relationship. The stability and development of these pure relationships is conditioned of a
high level of mutual trust, which depends on the members involved being able to op
en up and
reveal their intimacy. This process is however risky, because if a person experiences rejection
after being exposed this might lead to destruction of part of one’s self. Even our sexuality is
connected to our self’s reflectivity project and accor
ding to this Giddens mentions plastic
sexuality which is a sexuality that is separated from the reproduction purpose. This has
opened up for a possibility for using sexuality as a way to create our self
identity by for
instance exploring our sexual boundar
ies. (Ibid.: 155) Giddens Pure relationships and plastic
sexuality are elements that can be connected directly to VM.

section: Zygmunt Bauman

In order to understand why people choose to have a digital affair, we will examine the
conception of relation
ships in a modern optic. Here we are very much inspired by the
sociologist Zygmunt Bauman.

To get a better understanding on how modern relationships are, we try to see how Bauman
looks at the modern society in his book ‘Liquid Love’. According to


e are all
uprooted and our traditional bonds are loosening their grip. Those fixed and durable ties of
family, class, religion, marriage and love aren't as reliable or as desirable as they use to be.

We, as individuals, are divided in two. We seek freedom

and security at the same time. Which
is a contradiction that is hard to fulfill. It is a human need to get acceptance and attention, but
now a day it is also a human need to get privacy and the feeling of being seen as one person.
Bauman talks about how w
e try to create a livable balance between the two. Those who tilt
the balance too far to freedom, are often to be found by Bauman rushing for security,
desperate to be loved, eager to re
establish communities. But that is not to say that the liquid

want their old suffocating security back. They want the impossible: to have their
cake and eat it, to be free and secure. This is why a lot of people indulge themselves to e.g.
sites, where they have the possibility to be anonymous, interesting and

yet free. It
gives you the opportunity of brief knowledge where you are able to design yourself without
giving any binding promises. This confirms the “rootless society” Bauman describes in his
book. It is a liquid life, which means that we are trying to
prevent our relationships from
curdling and clotting.

There is a desire to tighten bonds but yet keep them loose.

We will try to use Baumans theories to see how users at VM is torn between security and
freedom, and if their membership simply is a way to
escape from their existing situation and
get a short feeling of excitement and confirmation. Bauman talks about us as anxious people
because of the way we enter “virtual relationships”. They are easy to enter and exit and have
no obligations. Are we rushin
g, or simply living in different circumstances where intimacy,
duties and trust are no longer that valuable?

section: Kenneth J. Gergen

We want to examine if a website such as VM, can influence the understanding of infidelity.

In addition, we are ins
pired by the postmodern psychologist Kenneth J. Gergens article “the
challenge of absent presence”. He describes how communicative technology in particular the
Internet, creates the opportunity for one to be physically present in a local communal, and yet
socially and psychologically absent by engaging with the communicative technology. Gergen
is particular interested in how absent presence can influence our local communal. He believes
that especially the dialogic media, such as the Internet, can interfere
with our Everyday life,
and our Primary


“The dialogic of local meanings may also be curtailed; when we are listening to voices from
afar we are no longer building the realities and moralities of the local together. As Internet
interaction increasi
ngly absorbs our attention, new clusters of meaning emerge.”
(Gergen p.

We understand that VM is a new cluster of meaning, which differs, from the local communal,
given that infidelity is acceptable. Gergen points out that participators in a virtual world can
construct communities via coordination around the language. The lang
uage is not mere a
representation of the reality, but a creation of it. In this way, the participators interaction at
virtual communities can have an influence on shared local meaning. Therefore it would be
interesting to study how the user at VM coordinat
e themselves around the language, because
it visualize how they make sense of an action as infidelity, which will influence their
communal intimate relationships.

Users at VM can interact with people across the temporal and spatial distance, where they
hoose to listen to strangers outside the local communal, instead of their intimate partner. We
believe that a user at VM is a good instance of absent presence, and what consequences’ it
can have on the Primary
Bonds. Imagine a user, husband, in a domestic
context, who chooses
to remove himself mentally from the family by engaging in a virtual world, that are hidden
and not available to the other family members. In this hidden virtual world he can interact
with strangers from afar, and in this community, the

shared meaning consists of a legalization
to seek an affair.

The website, VM, is very much alive, thanks to the conception of absent presence, because
the essential element of the website, is the top secret profiles. Which have the consequence to
s some in the community and exclude others from the community, often the other part
of a intimate relationships.

Gergen describe how absent presence, have made the identities fluently. Once the identities
where embedded in a local communal, which obliged
the individual to have a consistent and
coherent narrative. Now, the individual is not just bounded to the local communal, and his
identity is not only recognized by the locals. The identity can therefore be understood as
relational and optional. In this w
ay a man can in the domestic context both be a dedicate
husband, and a cheating husband. Gergen points out, that the consequences of absent presence
can be a diminished in the morality and traditions, because the individual instead of building
up the local

meaning is engaged with virtual communities, where strangers via coordination
around the language can create new meaning, which can differ from the local morality and

section: Research on self representation on VM

To look into how the use
rs at VM construct their profiles and image of self, we find the
article of Ellison, Hancock & Toma ‘
Profile as Promise’
‘suitable for inspiration and as a
framework for the research.

As self
representation done online changes regarding the context, there

of course is a
difference from how it is done at traditional dating sites (which is the focus in
‘Profile as
) where users seek a life partner and at VM, where the main purpose is to find an
affair. Still the article can be used as ‘
Profile as Pro

overall focuses on how the profiles
are created in accordance to what the users think would be attractive to the other users, more
than as an accurate presentation of the person, which is the case at traditional dating sites as
well as at VM.

it is, as in any other online context, impossible to create a profile, which translates an
embodied self into a static self
description, why some discrepancies must be expected.
‘Profile as Promise’

sheds light on how some misrepresentations are contextual

accepted and
some not.

On VM we find multiple discourses, among is: people who are seeking ongoing
affairs (Para
relationships), people who are looking for intimate partners for a shorter time,
people who wants to outlive some fantasies or needs, people
who are only seeking cyber
affairs (and hence never actually meet with other users) and, interesting enough, single people
looking for partners.

Inspired by the article it could be interesting to look into if these different purposes for
creating an accou
nt challenges the invisible contract (the promise) users engage with other
users (their imagined audience). Does it lead to clash between the different purposes in how
users profiles are constructed assessed and justified and when discrepancies between one
online profile and offline presentations are accepted. As the article suggests it could be useful
to use Goffman and his theories on moral obligation of promises to discuss this.

Last but not least the article touch upon how the self
constitution is de
termined by the
technological affordances the site offers, which we also find interesting to discuss in the


Though a lot of writing has been made on online dating and online profiles, it seems that
infidelity tools as VM, and digital infi
delity in general, is a more untouched field. We have
not yet found any academic writings on the specific topic, but we find that the theorists listed
above will create a reasonable platform for us to scrutinize the field.


Bauman, Zygmunt
(2003): Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds. Polity


Berger, Peter L. og Luckmann, Thomas 1996 (1966):
Den samfundsskabte virkelighed.

Original titel: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Lindhardt og Ringhof.

Collin, Finn og Køppe, Sim
on (2007):
Humanistisk videnskabsteori
. DR Multimedie

Ellison, Hancock & Toma ( ) Profile as Promise:

A Framework for Conceptualizing the
Veracity of Self
Presentation in Online Dating Profiles. Sage Publications Ltd

Gergen, K. J. (2002). The challenge o
f absent presence. In J. E. Katz & M. A. Aakhus (Eds.),
Perpetual contact: Mobile communication, private talk, public performance (pp. 227
Cambridge: University Press.

reading guide

Giddens, Anthony (1986): Constitution of Society, The: Outline of

the Theory of
Structuration. Polity Press

Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Anchor

Jørgensen, Marianne Winter og Phillips, Louise (1999):
Diskursanalyse som teori og

. Roskilde Universitetsforlag, København.