Meaning-making in an online community: towards a concept of 'digital interaction'

Irene Rafanell, Maja Sawicka

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Based on a key claim of symbolic interactionism that meaning-making is always achieved in and through social interactions, our presentation aims to theorize the basic yet still underdeveloped concept of a digital interaction. Our aim is to explore in which ways digital interactions differ, and resemble, face-to-face interactions, already extensively modelled and problematized in sociology. We address these questions by presenting an investigation on practices of meaning-making in online bereavement communities of women who suffered perinatal loss. Discussing key main themes which emerge within these communities allows to identify and problematize focal features of digital interactions which influence interpersonal dynamics in digital environment(s). For instance, validation of an otherwise ambiguous and disenfranchised emotional experience; elaboration of emotional norms to guide feeling, expression, and behavior; construction of a new identity, and thus, ontological grounding of grief. Methodologically we consider the following aspects: the architecture of digital spaces, and the fact that the interaction occurs in an environment constructed purposefully for social bond formation (Van Dijck, 2013; Wahl-Jorgensen, 2019); the algorithms constituting an invisible ‘scaffolding’ for digital interactions (Beer, 2017); and interactional mechanisms which permeate any human contact both off- and online, and result from mutual susceptibility of interacting individuals and their readiness to detect and consider signs of mutual appraisal (Rafanell & Sawicka, 2020; Scheff, 1988). We demonstrate that qualitative investigation conducted in line with ethnographic internet research tenets (Kozinets, 2010) and the use of small data approach offer both rich insights into digital cultures, practices, and interactional dynamics, and ground for development of conceptual tools to be employed in the analysis of human activity in digital environments.


ConferenceDigital Truth-Making: Ethnographic Perspectives on Practices, Infrastructures and Affordances of Truth-Making in Digital Societies
Internet address


  • digital sociology
  • digital meaning making
  • digital participation
  • social networking
  • social constructionism
  • ethnographic method
  • ethnomethodology
  • sociology of emotions
  • affective sanctioning
  • social interaction


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