Accepted Paper:

"happy birthday :)" The digital re-mediation of an emotional practice on Facebook  


Christoph Bareither (Humboldt-Universit├Ąt zu Berlin)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation will offer ethnographic insight into the various effects emerging from the re-mediation of a well known emotional practice (wishing someone a happy birthday) on Facebook.

Paper long abstract:

In the past decade, Facebook has become an integral part of the everyday life of millions of people worldwide. Actors regularly engaged within "the social network" use this medium to manage the flows of their everyday communication processes. The various possibilities as well as restrictions given by the software therefore affect the ways people interact with each other and they can cause alterations of ritualized and institutionalized practices. One of these practices is to wish someone a happy birthday. Though it is not a part of a German or European "cultural heritage" in the strict sense of the term, this practice has indeed been an important part of Western birthday traditions. As such it can be understood as a social, a cultural, or more explicitly an "emotional practice." The term "emotional practice" has recently been introduced to German speaking Ethnography and provides helpful insights for a discussion of practices executed in order to raise and manifest certain feelings or emotional states. To elaborate on this matter I will present ethnographic insights mostly gained by a group of students during a Seminar at the University of Tuebingen in Germany. The ethnographic material demonstrates how birthday wishes on Facebook can be very effective emotional practices, that are at the same time interpreted as meaningles or even inappropriate. As a result we can observe a contradictory opinion towards birthday wishes on Facebook among students, raising more general questions about the conflicting processes of the digitalization of everyday life.

Panel P42
The digital re-mediation of cultural heritage