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Social Media, Peer Surveillance and Spiritual Formation: Practicing Christian Faith in a Surveilled Public Space

Lewis, Rebecca (2018) Social Media, Peer Surveillance and Spiritual Formation: Practicing Christian Faith in a Surveilled Public Space. Surveillance and Society. ISSN 1477-7487 (In Press)

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Abstract

By 2018, social media has become a part of everyday life, including the faith lives of many. It is a space that assumes an observed gaze. Engaging with Foucauldian notions of surveillance, self-regulation, and normalization, this paper considers what it is about social and digital culture that shapes expectations of what users can, or want, to do in online spaces. It reflects upon what ‘surveillance’ looks like within social media, especially when users understand themselves to be observed in the space, drawing upon a wide range of surveillance research. Recognising moral panics around technological development, the paper considers the development of social norms, and questions how self-regulation by users presents itself within a global population. Focusing upon the spiritual formation of Christian users (disciples) in an online environment as a case study of a community of practice, the paper draws particularly upon the author's experiences online since 1997, and material from The Big Bible Project (2010-2015). The research demonstrates how the lived experience of the individual establishes the interconnectedness of the online and offline environments. The surveillant affordances and context collapse are liberating for some users, but restricting for others, in both their faith formation, and the subsequent imperative to mission.

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