Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This dissertation explores the possibilities and limitations of conducting research on college student identity in the digital age. Utilizing philosophical theories from complexity theory, post-qualitative research, and new materialisms, I interrogate, question, disrupt, and challenge current theories and models of college student identity, largely developed from a positivist, modernist, empiricist perspective. Conducting research on college student identity in the twenty-first century may benefit from discarding the old ‘developmental’ language of the twentieth century, replacing this discourse and understanding with a language drawn from complexity theory. In this regard, I believe educators, researchers, and practitioners should begin talking about identity emergence and becoming. I explore how to embrace more complexivist epistemologies, moving educators, practitioners, and researchers away from traditional research methodologies. Drawing on emerging theoretical work of post-qualitative researchers, particularly Karen Barad (2008a), Alecia Youngblood Jackson and Lisa Mazzei (2012), my post-qualitative research agenda explored in this study used processes of digital immersion, interviewing, theoretical reading, and online blogging tools to create a research process viewed as a living system, exploring college student identities in the digital age as an emergent phenomena. This research highlights seven college students actively engaged in multiple distributed social media spaces. I refer to these seven college students as human becomings. In addition to following and intra-acting with these students in distributed social media spaces, I also conducted two interviews: issues of identity, digital practice(s), digital presentation(s), meaning-making, digital materiality, agency, and discourse were discussed. I conducted a process of dat(a)nalysis, highlighting dialogue, conversation, and observations on each human becoming. Further, I begin a process of entangling with theoretical, philosophical, and discursive research, creating the complexivist epistemologies so critical to understanding research on identity in the digital age. I end this dissertation discussing cyber-currere: viewing digital social media spaces as educational spaces where the processes of human becoming and subjectification occur as emergent phenomena: nonlinearly, non-hierarchically, and synchronously. In my closing remarks, I articulate how educators, particularly college student educators and curriculum theorists, might view digital spaces as always authentic, partial, and ontological – and what such an approach means for practice and future research.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Mitchell, Roland



Included in

Education Commons