Intimacy and Friendship on Facebook

by Alex Lambert

A Critical Review by Valerie Robin


Generic female Facebook user picture

If you are interested in further criticism concerning Facebook, look to Facebook Democracy: The Architecture of Disclosure and the Threat to Public Life, by José Marichal.



















Intimacy and Friendship on Facebook book cover Lambert's Study

Rhetoric and composition scholars exploring social media are likely to find much that is useful and interesting in Alex Lambert’s case study. Lambert explored the spaces users create on Facebook where they perform routine acts of intimacy. "Facebook," Lambert (2013) claimed, "takes a novel form and offers novel rewards" (p. 57). Users perform social actions on Facebook such as posting on each other's wall or commenting on photographs. All of this is "through a process of self-reflexive public identification" (p. 57), which is an insightful way to regard this strange rhetorical space that is not quite private, yet not fully public, within the spaces of Facebook. It also includes actions that are "an incredibly simple form" (p. 63), such as likes or tags. In this way, users can interact through varying levels of intimacy, creating an exchange that is both multi-layered and nuanced.

Contextualizing performances of social intimacy in terms we also employ in rhetorical theory, Lambert explored issues such as memory, agency and kairos in various ways. Facebook can work as an archiving tool, where users may revisit their posts, comments, photos and so on repeatedly. And as with any social exchange, users may choose to interact on levels such as the ones I mention in the paragraph above. One of Lambert's participants, Odette, chose to use coded, secret messages with her best friend: "It's like a private, um, joke that you are communicating on this public forum that you know the other people don't get but as long as you've got that connection then that's meaningful to you" (p. 72). This kind of private joke displayed in a public forum must take advantage of both user agency and kairos, as the joke will only be understood if it is timed properly. Evidence of these kind of rhetorical decisions occur often in Lambert's study.

Though we have seen a strong resurgence of the discussion of the canon of delivery in the last several years—think Ben McCorkle’s (2012) Rhetorical Delivery as Technological Discourse, for example—the canon of memory still has not taken a strong foothold in technological rhetoric. Here, Lambert (2013) illustrated how memory serves to mobilize connections between participants in intimate events—a picture at a dinner or a small party—creating what he calls “memory capital” (p. 154) which serves to show that "every performance is about something, and this frames the deployment of resources of identification" (p. 156). Observations such as how memory works in connection to a specific social media platform like Facebook serve to bridge Lambert’s sociological exploration across fields, such as those I discuss on the Frameworks page, and into that of rhetoric.

Of course Lambert’s study is not limited to the discussion of memory. He also addressed audience, attention economy, and identity formation, among several other interdisciplinary terms we tend to employ. For example, he spent time discussing the implications that solo performances, such as photographs featuring only the user, can have on identity creation. What Lambert left out are questions of gender, race, and class. But he readily acknowledged his move to focus on more general uses of Facebook and invited other scholars to join in his conversation about social media networks in ways which he chose not to. Next Page