From Pixels to Personalities: Identity Formation in Virtual Communities through Multimodal Communication


  • Ajita Deshmukh MIT-ADT University



Virtual Communities of Practice, Computer mediated communication, Multimodal communication, Emojis, emoticons and GIF


Communities of Practice (CoPs) are an important thread in the social fabric of knowledge sharing (Wenger, 2004). Members of CoPs who share a common passion and interact regularly in a bid to improve their discipline and expertise contribute thus to the cohort of knowledge and practice. Recently, due to the transformation of technology this interaction is no longer limited to the physical world but more than often it takes place using communication channels thus breaking the boundaries of time and space. This has led to the rise of the term Virtual Communities of Practice (VCoPs). It is recognised by previous research that it is the informal communication that helps in building and sustenance of a CoP which is more so in the VCoP albeit the hurdles. The members of CoP negotiate their identities on the basis of the communication and move from peripheral membership to the core of the CoP. Similar movement and interactions are also found in VCoP. Multimodal communication forms an integral part of communication. This paper explores the usage of multimodal communication especially emojis, GIFs along with photographs in the formation and negotiation of identities of the members of the VCoP. This study uses discourse analysis to analyse the year-long communication within two VCoPs composed of academicians across India. The findings of the study indicate that use of such multimodal elements of communication contribute towards development of trust needed for knowledge sharing and sustenance of a VCoP and perception of identities within the VCoP.