Intimacy and Friendship on Facebook

by Alex Lambert

A Critical Review by Valerie Robin


Generic male Facebook user picture

Facebook turned 10 on February 4, 2014. At this time, according to the Pew Research Foundation, 57% of adults and 73% of 12-17 year olds are Facebook users (Smith).


















Intimacy and Friendship on Facebook book cover Lambert's Methodology

The primary methodological vehicle for Intimacy and Friendship on Facebook is an ethnographic case study featuring three women and three men. Because Alex Lambert followed Australian and New Zealander users, it is interesting to see that general Facebook use of his participants were not much different from what I experience as a U.S. user. Lambert accounted for his small study and his lack of coverage of aspects that include gender, race, class, age and so on. He acknowledged that his examination is general and invites other scholars to use his work as a base from which to begin more intensive research on more focused topics. 

As of 2010, all of Lambert's (2013) participants "lived, worked, or studied in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne" (p. 50). In this way, each participant, though of varying ages and professions, share some similarities. Each used his or her Facebook in a variety of ways, "such as playing Farmville and joining political groups" (p. 51), all employing Facebook actions on a broad spectrum. Because Lambert has friended these participants, he was privy to information about them which may otherwise not be available to a public audience. During the study, Lambert took "screen shots of photographs, threads, personal info, page and group affiliations, and more" (p. 51). What is interesting about this type of data collection is that participants can't know when, or what kind of data, the observer is collecting, which decreases the likelihood that their observed behavior will alter.

Lambert used his collected data as "a form of discourse analysis" (p. 52) as he analyzed the various kinds of posts participants make. And though he examined "what particular performances were trying to do/say, as well as where they were relationally positioned" (p. 52), in order to create "a more conceptual ethnography" (p. 53), the author used Barney Glaser's grounded theory methodology, which "seek[s] out patterns which can be conceptualised in terms of common properties and variable dimensions" (Lambert, 2013, p. 53). In this way, Lambert discovered his participants to be primarily concerned with performance connection, which he defined as "a 'mutually constitutive binary' [that] speaks to how people on Facebook simultaneously socialise and perform their relational identities" (p. 54). Here, he harkened back to the "frameworks" section of his book, highlighting the importance of his sections on agency and performance.

The case study Lambert conducted could serve as a successful model for scholars wishing to do similar case studies. We have seen small-scale studies like Lambert's in past rhetoric and composition scholarship; Mina Shaughnessy (1977), for example, completed a small ethnographic case study on basic writing in Errors and Expectations. In such cases, the scholar must face similar issues with approaching sensitive data. As we have seen, case studies can be useful and pregnant with new possibilities. Lambert's is no different. And while Lambert did not seek permission to publish any photographs or group affiliations, he is still able to draw interesting and relevant findings surrounding the performance connection, a concept which rhetoric and composition scholars could use in any study where participants must engage and interact with one another. Next Page