PhD Studentship to study Facebook social norms

At Kingston University, London, a full time, three year PhD Studentship, part of the EPSRC funded project CHARM that aims to evaluate the use of descriptive social norms and conceptions of ‘normal' practices, in the context of sustainability. The project has been designed as three separate case studies: 1) electricity consumption, 2) active lifestyle and 3) Facebook. The PhD studentship relates to the Facebook case study, and will investigate descriptive social norms in a virtual community context, developing theoretical understanding of social practices.

CHARM aims to develop, evaluate and understand the ways in which digital technology can be used to shape individual behaviour by informing and thereby challenging ‘normal' practice. Much of what people do is based on their conceptions of shared conventions, but these conceptions are often misinformed. Research suggests we can influence behaviour by telling people what other people do.

The objective of the PhD research is to develop theoretical understanding of social practices and conceptions of normality. The research will evaluate social group feedback and conceptions of ‘normal' practices in the context of the Facebook social network site. The PhD student will initially work with a commercial agency on the design and development of a special Facebook application. For instance, the application might produce scores relating to participants' lifestyles on a periodic basis in terms of a number of different aspects of sustainable development (e.g. carbon footprint, energy usage, shopping practices). The application will collect data from all users, however, the main methodology will be qualitative, and will include approximately 30 face-to-face interviews with individuals who have added the application, focusing on everyday practices. The research will contribute to understanding of conceptions of ‘normal' practices, and to understanding how we can change everyday practices e.g. to achieve more sustainable levels of consumption.

We invite applications from students who have a first degree is sociology, anthropology or social psychology, and a Masters degree approved for ESRC studentships (see or similar. There are no nationality qualifications. The studentship includes fees and a bursary of £15,290 per year for three years. Funding is available for attendance at conferences/doctoral colloquia as appropriate. The project is primarily sociological, but is interdisciplinary, drawing on research in sociology, social psychology, behavioural economics and social marketing; the student will be located in the Kingston Business School and will be supervised by Dr Ruth Rettie, CHARM principal investigator. All applications should be submitted online at and should consist of a completed application form; a CV, and a personal statement that outlines your relevant experience, explains your interest in the studentship (approximately 1000 words) and includes an abstract of your Masters dissertation. It is important that you email for an information pack and details of how to apply. For informal inquiries please contact Ruth

Closing date for applications: 26th June 2009. Shortlisted applicants will be invited for interview in early July.

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