Introductory group work: Actual and virtual identity



Aim: To reflect on the correspondence between self-identity and the perception of ourselves by other people, and to create awareness of the fact that discrimination is a tool for the establishment and reproduction of power structures in society.

There are two parts to this session, each of which concludes with a lecture. The first part commences with an individual reflective exercise followed by pair work. When completed, the pairs will assemble for a plenary discussion. The session leader concludes this first part with a lecture on identity and discrimination.

During the second part, the participants will analyse and discuss media representations in small groups. The session leader will open for discussion on the importance of balanced media representation. Although it is possible to work on each part separately, it is recommended that they are done together.


The first part of the session


  1. The session leader will introduce the first individual task: "Please think about and write down on your paper what characterises you as comprehensively and accurately as possible. The personality traits should be important and you should be ready to talk about them in this room. You can change the place where you are sitting if you want to make yourselves more comfortable". This will take approximately five minutes.

  2. After everyone is finished, the session leader will tell the participants to put these papers aside and to move to another part of the room. The session leader will then introduce the second task: "Please set your chairs up as if we were in a lecture hall. The only rule is, if you know each other very well, please, don’t sit together. Imagine this is your first day at university. You are going to get better acquainted with your neighbour during the break. Because you can’t talk with her or him during the lecture, you try to guess what kind of person your neighbour is. Just as Sherlock Holmes asked Watson to tell him everything he observed about their guest, write down your observations and conclusions." (Please take into consideration that hate speech, invectives and abusive rhetoric are strictly forbidden). This should take approximately 10 minutes. The session leader will put on a video or audio lecture to simulate a real lecture.

  3. When time is out, the session leader will introduce the third task: "Now there is a break and you can talk to your neighbour. While talking please write down keywords – categories, adjectives, associations or judgements – on the post-its that you attach immediately to a separate list of paper. You have 15 minutes to talk with each other and find out more about your neighbour’s personality." (Please take into consideration that hate speech, invectives and abusive rhetoric are strictly forbidden).

  4. After the 15 minutes are up, the leader will ask the participants to compare the notes about themselves with those made by the external observer and during the dialogue. The participants should discuss the assumptions they have made and which of them turned out to be correct or wrong. (Please take into consideration that hate speech, invectives and abusive rhetoric are strictly forbidden. While being described by another participant please remember that he or she was not intending to hurt your feelings. Deconstructing the image of the Other based on blinders of categories is an essential part of this task.) This should take approximately 20 minutes.

  5. Everyone comes together in a plenary session where the pairs will present several cases from their social interaction and share their feelings. During this sharing, the session leader should encourage reflection and discussion. This should take approximately 20 minutes.

  6. The session leader lectures on identity and discrimination.


The second part of the session


  1. After the lecture, the session leader asks the participants to return to the lists of one’s own and one’s partner’s descriptions. Now the task is to check the descriptions from the first part of the exercise for categories and groups. Write them down on the post-its and put them on the blackboard. What are the most frequent and the rarest options? Which of them are represented by the media and how?

  2. The session leader will organise the participants into small groups (three or four participants) and will introduce the task: "Please choose from one of the categories and groups that the post-its were written for and create a collage about their representation in the mass media. Think about the characters and persons who are the iconic image of them, their features, values, topics and frames, jokes and memes, associations, antagonists." This should take approximately 30 minutes.

  3. When the groups have finished, everyone will return to the plenary group for a discussion. The participants will probably have discovered both the incompleteness and internal coherence of these representations. The session leader will ask the participants about their feelings on the representations given and the fact that the participants belong to several of these groups and categories.

  4. The session leader will open a final discussion on media representation. "Are there any types of media that represent the participants? How do the participants treat the media where they are misrepresented or not represented at all? Why do media representations matter?"

  5. The last element of this session is a lecture on media representation.


Anna Smolyarova, Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communications St. Petersburg State University (Russia)

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