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Fieldwork 2010: “I felt like a brugklasser (freshman) all over again!”

Francien Barske

In part 4 of the fieldwork 2010 series, Francien Barske tells us how it is to go back to highschool…

Over the past seven weeks, I have been researching Hyves misuse and online identity forming among young adolescents in two Dutch high schools, one in Amsterdam and one in Limburg. How does the social network site Hyves influence identity forming of young adolescents in the Netherlands and how do adolescents use Hyves-pages for creating new (online) relationships or misuse it as a tool for e-bullying? Not the most common research topic when thinking of Social & Cultural Anthropology, however, very ‘hot’ at the moment and not boring at all!

The first days of my research were, of course, terrifying, even though I am staying in the Netherlands, I felt like a stranger. I can hardly imagine how the other students must feel while doing their research abroad! I was the new one in school, did not know my way around and was afraid the kids would laugh at me when I asked them questions about Hyves. I felt like a brugklasser (freshman) all over again! The only difference was the fact that I now carried a (fashionable) handbag, instead of a giant Kipling backpack, loaded with books. I have to be honest now: collecting information is easy. Kids are easy to talk to, especially when it is about something they like. They are funny. They are honest. They do like to exaggerate, sometimes…

When I started this research, I was afraid no one would want to talk to me and share stories. At this point, I already spoke to so many kids, just randomly in the cafeteria, in focus groups, during interviews, during class discussions (yes, I have even become a teacher while doing research!) and so on. And now, sitting in the teachers’ room of one of my schools, I finally found some time to write about my research. I have had interviews, both formal and informal, focus groups and as a teacher, I ‘teach’ or rather show the kids what happens online on Hyves pages. Most of them are shocked when they view this new type of bullying. I also ask about their experiences regarding bullying, identity forming and online friendships.

Online, I found about 20 anti-Hyves pages, all were against one person only, on which the most hateful messages and photos were posted. On one of the schools, someone made a YouTube movie called “The Whores of the School”, in which photos from Hyves pages from about 35 girls appeared. Others told me they were stalked by people who found their address on their Hyves pages and who were much older than they were, and some kids just used Hyves as a dating site, to meet others for sex. Sexual harassment, bloody pictures, pictures of people holding knives and guns, name-calling, you can find it all on Hyves.

Unfortunately, I am afraid this is just the tip of the iceberg. By studying the use of Hyves as a social network site, either as a tool for creating identities – both online and offline – or as a tool for bullying, I hope to get an insight into Dutch youth culture and adolescent identity forming.

Francien Barske is a MSc student in  Social and Cultural Anthropology at VU University Amsterdam. She has completed a BA in International Communication.

Earlier posts in this series:

Right around the corner (Katie Rabar)

Greetings from Moscow (Laura van Deventer)

Een ecologisch bolwerk in Bolivia (Mandy Ronda)

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