Dissertation Abstracts

The social meanings of authenticity: an empirical study of university students

Author: Ramon Menéndez Domingo, ramonmenendez21@gmail.com
Department: Social Inquiry
University: La Trobe University, Australia
Supervisor: Anthony Moran
Year of completion: 2016
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Authenticity , Identity , Cultural sociology , Mixed methods
Areas of Research: Social Psychology , Historical and Comparative Sociology , Youth


While contemporary Western societies have been associated with inauthentic forms of existence and culture, this thesis shows that these societies continue to be invested in the social value of authenticity. This can be observed in different realms, for example, in consumer products or the values that individuals demand in their relationships with others or with themselves. In this thesis, I focus exclusively on the individual level of analysis, as related to individuals' lived experiences of "being authentic" and the meanings that they associate with this experience. My thesis constitutes a partial replication modelled on sociologist Ralph Turner's groundbreaking research of university students' meanings of authenticity, conducted in 1973 at La Trobe University (Melbourne, Australia), among other universities of the English-speaking world. Drawing on quantitative and qualitative data-a survey of 138 respondents and 20 in-depth interviews with La Trobe University students-my thesis contributes to the sociological-empirical knowledge of authenticity by comparing Turner's results with mine. My original contribution to knowledge is based on three main findings that update Turner's results, expand on his method-conducting interviews-and qualifies his framework-one that has two dimensions, institutional/impulsive and individual/social understandings of (in)authenticity: (1) according to the closed-ended questions of the survey, and contrary to what Turner found, students in my sample report institutional meanings of authenticity and impulsive meanings of inauthenticity; (2) according to the open-ended questions of the survey, students report more social than individual experiences of (in)authenticity; (3) according to the interviews, students tend to combine Turner's framework two dimensions (impulsive/institutional and individual/social) in their understandings of authenticity (rather than being one or the other) and they present alternative meanings of authenticity that were not acknowledged in Turner's framework. I argue that students' senses of (in)authenticity are socially constructed, since by looking at their sociocultural conditions, it is possible to find social patterns within these senses. These findings contribute to confirm the importance of sociology to study this topic.

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