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Title: Sexting as intimacy work : exploring the impact of mediation on intimacy
Author: Amundsen, Rikke Bale
ISNI:       0000 0004 7968 5048
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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This thesis explores the impact of mediation on experiences of intimacy. As such, it applies the digitally mediated activity of 'sexting' - that is, the creating, sending, and receiving of private sexual images - as a case study. Drawing on 44 semi-structured interviews with women aged 18 to 38 and based in Cambridgeshire, UK, it examines how notions of intimacy are communicated through women's sexting practices as they occur in their romantic and/or sexual relationships with men. In doing so, it finds that women's sexting practices constitute a form of 'intimacy work' conducted in order to establish or enhance a sense of emotional closeness between the sexting partners. While the digital mediation of this activity creates novel opportunities for the establishment of emotional closeness, it also introduces a heightened level of social and technological risk, primarily with regards to the potential non-consensual distribution of the private sexual images in public. Indeed, as new media and digital technology enable the images' moving between and co-occurrence in various online contexts, the ability to control their circulation, audience and, relatedly, how they are understood, is significantly reduced. Moreover, this thesis illustrates how women's awareness of this sexting risk grants interpersonal trust a more prominent role in their quest to perform intimacy through sexting. It shows how they use their willingness to take sexting risk as a means to express relational trust in their sexting partner - thus enhancing the significance of their sexting practices as intimacy work - and how sexting risk is mitigated through a reliance on strategic trust; a term developed here to describe their perception of trust as the willingness to accept vulnerability some time in the unforeseeable future, regardless of the state of the relationship between truster and trustee. In expanding the temporal dimensions of trust as it is traditionally conceived, the thesis' development of the idea of strategic trust provides a significant contribution to the sociological understanding of this important concept and how it interplays with risk and power. Furthermore, in showing how digital mediation complicates the public/private boundary, thus introducing new elements of risk and trust to intimate communication, the findings presented in this thesis elucidate the broader, changing nature of interpersonal communication under the conditions of increasing mediatisation.
Supervisor: McPherson, Ella Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Sexting ; Risk ; Trust ; Vulnerability ; Intimacy ; Gender ; Sexuality ; Mediatisation ; Mediation ; Technology