Abstract Whereas substantial scholarly attention has been paid to the online presentation of self, symbolic interactionist approaches are largely absent in the literature on virtual communities. Instead, recurrent questions are whether communities can exist online and if specific online venues qualify as communities or not. Inspired by symbolic interactionist perspectives on urban settlements, this paper aims to move beyond these dichotomous questions by studying how different meanings attached to an online venue (‘virtual imagery’) can be understood from offline experiences. In a case study of a Dutch forum for orthodox protestant homosexuals two types of understanding of online community emerged from an analysis of 15 in-depth interviews. Users struggling with stigmatization in offline life seek empathic support and have an encompassing sense of online community – the forum is a ‘refuge’. For users dealing with practical everyday questions, online contacts are part of so-called personal communities and help to ameliorate offline life – the forum is a ‘springboard’. Apart from demonstrating that online forums can serve as Goffmanian back-stages in two distinct ways, these results indicate it is fruitful to take a symbolic interactionist approach to uncover relationships between offline and online social life.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Back-stage, Goffman, Offline-online relationship, Sexual minorities, Sociale verandering, sociale processen en sociale conflicten, Sociologie, Sociology, Stigma, Virtual community, Virtual imagery
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1525/si.2010.33.4.552, hdl.handle.net/1765/18452
Series Centre for Rotterdam Cultural Sociology (CROCUS)
Journal Symbolic Interaction
de Koster, W. (2010). Contesting Community Online: Virtual Imagery among Dutch Orthodox Protestant Homosexuals. Symbolic Interaction, 33(4), 552–577. doi:10.1525/si.2010.33.4.552