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Addressing Social and Digital Anthropology and the Role of Humans as Social and Digital Beings

Online communication has become an inevitable component of social relationships and everyday interactions between members of society. It is a tool for helping prevent social relationships from diminishing over time. Thus, the interactions within the context of kinship have also been occurring online, with sociologists exploring the ways in which family ties have shaped and changed the relationships between blood relatives. In the same way in which anthropology views kinship as a web of social relationships that influence the shaping of relationships, it is possible to look at kinship from the lens of technology use and the web of interactions that are maintained with the help of digital interactions.

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Relationships based on kinship occur not only in environments in which their members live and interact but also in complex social systems. Family functioning, therefore, refers to the range of interactions, within which the system members are involved for meeting their needs, engaging in decision-making, defining common and separate goals, and establishing rules (Procentese, Gatti, & Di Napoli, 2019). As to family relationships, the latest research has furthered the knowledge of the impact of social media, with special attention to particular family processes, life phases, as well as barriers related to them (Kapoor et al., 2018). Social media use can be specifically crucial in kinship relations facing adolescent evolutionary tasks (Bacigalupe & Lambe, 2011). Such processes refer to adolescents’ negotiating their autonomy and independence in the family context systems. The use of social media among adolescents is an essential part of kinship interactions with technologies because younger generations tend to spend a lot of time online, with the trend continuing to increase (Procentese et al., 2019). Therefore, it is clear that information and communication technologies (ICT) play a significant part in the way in which individuals interact and establish relationships.

Within anthropological and sociological perspectives, there has been a rising interest in the idea that persons are better studied when they are networking. Thus, the impact of social media on kinship can be explored with the help of structural-functional anthropology, which analyzes society as a structure of interdependent components that have emerged for the purpose of meeting people’s social and biological needs within a social structure. Functionalists explored the way in which different cultural phases are interconnected with each other and with other aspects of culture, affecting the whole societal system; in other words, the theory is about cause-and-effect relationships (Procentese et al., 2019). Functional anthropology mainly relied on fieldwork and direct observations, aiming to describe social functions and illustrate their contributions to society in general. Structural-functional theory, however, developed later and focused on the institutions and roles.

Regarding the understanding or surrogacy in the context of structural-functional approach toward kinship, there is some criticism as to the fact that anthropology has “turned its back” on biology (Levine, 2003). This is highly unfortunate as new reproductive technology developments make both nature and biology more relevant to analytic thinking about kinship (Levine, 2003). Thus, surrogate motherhood offers expansive opportunities for reappraising relationships between sociocultural and natural aspects of reproductive kinship (Levine, 2003). Canadian Surrogacy Community, is an example of the way in which surrogacy social relations exist in the digital space, encouraging increased networking and the strengthening of ties between individuals sharing similar family experiences.

Both technology and social media have emerged as a means of entertainment and communication. While the entertainment function is essential, technologies have served to socialize populations, helping pass along norms, values, and attitudes from one generation to another. Culturally, all media forms teach populations regarding what is desirable and sound, how communication is carried out, what behavior is favored, as well as how specific events should be handled (Procentese et al., 2019). Besides, media is helpful for providing cultural touchstones during events of national significance. On the downside, the ongoing information flow that has become available through technology use is concerned with the near impossibility to disconnect oneself from it, which leads to the increased expectation of continuous and convenient access to information and people. Sociologists have argued that such a fast-paced environment in the constant exposure to social media can lead to narcotizing dysfunction, an occurrence in which people get too overwhelmed with the input of media (McGivern, 2014). Such a view is consistent with the structural-functional perspective of society. The dysfunctions that result from unfavorable social processes represent undesirable consequences, which can harm society in general as well as individuals separately.

As to the positive influence of social media use on kinship, the structural-functional theory suggests that ICTs can be beneficial for providing positive results regarding family closeness, adjustability to different situations, as well as open communication. All of such positive influences enhance the quality of kinship-based relationships due to the possibility of family members maintain contact, make real-time plans, ensure the safety of their children and adolescents, and facilitate emergency communication when necessary (Procentese et al., 2019). The ongoing communication that ICTs offer enables the strengthening of family connections, encourages interactions between parents and children, and promotes discussions. In addition, the use of social media facilitates autonomy and helps older generations communicate with their offspring any time.

Considering the positive influence of social media use on kinship and relations within families, it is necessary to account for the negative effects. Specifically, it is essential to note that the connectedness that digital media enables often has to be negotiated in certain times, environments, and occasions where it is allowed, while the chances of continuous communication should be modulated (Procentese et al., 2019). The limited modulation and negotiation regarding ongoing social media use may negatively influence family relations and dynamics. For example, family relationships can be affected when some family members ignore their relatives by paying more attention to what is occurring on social media, thus limiting real-life interactions in favor of online communication (Bai et al., 2019).

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In such situations, arrangements are imperative to avoid the mentioned risks and negotiate appropriate social media use to prevent conflicts between family members. In addition, considering the broad exposure it various information on social media, parents who are worried about the impact of excessive technology use may exert great control over their children’s media use (Procentese et al., 2019). When parents are highly strict, adolescents within families can feel excessive control by their parents, which, subsequently, can increase the level of conflict and aggressive communication (Procentese et al., 2019). Besides, since social media represents settings in which varied social norms can be pursued by children without the knowledge and control of their caretakers, further risks of conflicts between parents are children can occur. Because of this, it is necessary for the generations to adequately discuss within families to ensure that the decision-making associated with social media influences does not cause negative consequences.

On such social media platforms as Facebook, peer-to-peer relationships are often being reinforced with the help of family and kin-based networks, with some cases drawing upon the dissolution of the differentiation between home and professional settings, therefore bridging gaps between social networks that used to separate in isolation. Such a distinction helps to separate anthology from sociology when it comes to the study of social media’s influence on kinship networks. The social relationships that overlap with one another, which were fundamental to anthropological studies, will usually decline in the direction of separate networks that are core to sociology.

The research by Ito et al. (2010), which looked broadly at the use of social media (Facebook) among friendship circles of US teenagers, found that the default complete openness had led Internet users to a high level of public exposure. This resulted in both problematic and unintended consequences for children, which often had to be resolved within the networks of kinship, thus resulting in severe issues due to the complex interrelation between the private and public spheres (Miller, 2016). Importantly, such platforms as Facebook usually reflect an entire system of individual’s private spheres of life in which the dyadic relationships with each family member and friend co-exist in the same context, although not necessarily interacting. Nevertheless, kinship has become one of the main organizing components of society because it allows to establish relationships that are highly connected.

To conclude, from the perspective of functional anthropology, it can be concluded that social media were developed to serve the purpose of maintaining cultural identity within groups while also sharing and exchanging such identity between them. The cultural phase concerned with the emergence and development of social media, according to functional anthropology, enabled the creation of different levels of contract, depending on the extent of each kin network. Thus, kinship relationships on social media exist within complex networks that consist of both peer and family connections, although they may not always interact. The positive impact of social media on kinship relationships is concerned with the possibility to strengthen family ties, especially when relatives are remotely located. However, the lack of communication on the barriers regarding interactions can result in miscommunication and conflicts, which put a strain on kinship relationships.


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Kapoor, K., Tamilmani, K., Rana, N., Patil, P., Dwivedi, Y., & Nerur, S. (2018). Advances in social media research: Past, present and future. Information Systems Frontiers, 20, 531-558. Web.

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Procentese, F., Gatti, F., & Di Napoli, I. (2019). Families and social media use: The role of parents’ perceptions about social media impact on family systems in the relationship between family collective efficacy and open communication. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(24), 5006. Web.

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