Week Three – Carnival


This week we explored the concepts of ‘Carnival’ and ‘Performing the Digital Self.’ When comparing the two, we asked ourselves ‘Can the networked Society be seen as a ‘re-flowering’ of Mikhail Bakhtin’s Carnivalesque?’

To gain a better understanding of ‘carnival’ in the past versus the present, we explored the works of Erving Goffman, Johann Huizinga, Mikhail Bakhtin and Jeffrey Hancock. Goffman is considered to be “the most influential American sociologists of the twentieth century” (Fine and Manning, 2003, p.34) exploring the concept of individuals taking part in a constant ‘performance’ made up of ‘carriers’ and ‘sign signals’ that are a reflection and reaffirmation of society (Goffman, 1959). In the 1950’s, forms of expression were mostly limited to face-to-face interaction – so the ‘audience’ could gain an impression and sense is the actor may not have mastered the sign vehicles of what he/she is attempting to give off.

Today, technology can enable various forms of deception by enabling us to lie or allowing us to lie in new ways (Hancock, 2009). If someone wishes others to see them in a certain way, the internet can be used as a primary tool in enabling this. Chat rooms, online dating, Facebook – they are all platforms in which users are giving a performance, and it is now harder than ever to recognise the truthful ‘sign signals’ from the deceitful. Of course, not every performance and self expression is a lie – as Huizinga wrote ‘everything is in some way or form, a Playground, with game rules (1955)’ and some rules will be broken. For the most part, I agree with Hancock and think of the digital world as a series of games and playgrounds with individual sets of rules. Each network of people gathering in celebration of something unique, which can be seen as carnivalesque.


Worldwide Zombie Events is a great example of how the internet can bring together strangers based around a love for ‘carnival’ and ‘laughter’ in today’s society. The desire to get involved sparks from a range of things; a love of Zombie films, horror or just dressing up to scare people… but the overarching motivation always seems to simply be to come together and be free to perform and celebrate along with each other and the spectators.

“Carnival is not a spectacle to be seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people. While carnival lasts, there is no other life outside it. During carnival time life is subject only to its laws, that is, the laws of its own freedom. It has a universal spirit; it is a special condition of the entire world, of the world’s revival and renewal, in which all take part. Such is the essence of carnival, vividly felt by all its participants” (Bakhtin, 1965, p.198)

The event participation and frequency grows bigger every year, particular in large cities such as London. With online networking sites such as http://zombies.meetup.com/ it is easier than ever to get involved in a carnivalesque experience like World Zombie Day or Zombie Flash Mobs and whether you’re the audience or an actor it’s just as exciting and rewarding.

world-zombie-day  zombie-screenshot1zombie-screenshot2

Although technology can disinhibit liars and narcissists, Hancock cited research that proves people are more honest and open about deeply personal things when communicating online rather than face-to-face (2009). Although this could be seen as something positive, in relation to young generations being brought up in this digital world it could rapidly become a problem. It is vital that youth are still able to learn how to express themselves in person and develop good communication skills, away from the keyboard. So let’s hope that more networked events such as World Zombie Day continue to grow and celebrate in physical environments rather than just virtual ones.


Bakhtin, M. (1965). Rabelais and His World. Trans. H. Iswolsky, Bloomington, Ind. : Indiana University Press: In: Selected Writings of Bakhtin, Medvedev, Volohimov Morris,P. Ed. (1994) London: Edward Arnold.

Goffman, E. (1959), The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life. London: Penguin.

Hancock, J. (2009). The Practice of Lying in the Digital Age. In: Deception from Ancient Empires to Internet Dating. Stanford California: Stanford University Press.

Huizinga, J. (1955). Homo Ludens: A Study of ThePlay Element in Culture. Boston: Beacon Press.


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