Online Sociality & Literary Representation: Tracing Modern Friendship

Name of applicant

Marie-Elisabeth Lei Pihl


Postdoctoral Fellow


University of Oslo


DKK 1,170,000



Type of grant

Internationalisation Fellowships


In today’s world, social media are ubiquitous; they permeate work, leisure, culture, finance, and politics to an extent that has made leading an offline life increasingly difficult, if not downright impossible. Meanwhile, contemporary literature and art abound with depictions of how our daily lives increasingly unfold online. This project investigates how literary representation helps us understand the effect of new media on friendship and community – an underdeveloped yet promising area of study. Informed by literary theory and philosophy, I will study novels, essays, and poetry that describe online sociality. The project centers on the following research questions: How do contemporary works of literature describe the relation between social media and modern friendship? And how can we – based on literary representation – define the concept of friendship in a world heavily influenced by social media connectivity? The outcome of the project is a better understanding into the concept of friendship in contemporary life and new knowledge about how digital platforms influence modern sociality – themes of utmost relevance to current challenges in mental health.


While labeled ‘social’, new media platforms have been criticized for weakening interpersonal connections and hence, for spurring on loneliness and depression. As of late, a large group of Danish psychologists have been proclaiming a national state of emergency in mental health among children and adolescents, and there are reasons to assume that social media contribute to this problem. Literary texts provide rich arenas for parsing the complexities of the conundrum, where platforms designed to connect us may in fact do just the opposite. Novels and poems grant access to private spheres, emotions, and provide poignant reflections on how it is to live in a modern world infused with new ways of staying in and falling out of touch. Recent developments within the humanities suggest that literary works may contribute with significant insight to social and political challenges. On these grounds, it is both timely and relevant to turn to literary texts to study how modern friendship is influenced by social media platforms.


The project pursues a qualitative and comparative analysis of a range of literary texts. More specifically, I will assemble a collection of Anglophone and Danish contemporary novels, short stories, and poetry collections that depict online sociality with the aim of offering analyses that have international relevance, as well as local significance. More specifically, I will investigate texts by Sally Rooney (Normal People, Beautiful World Where are Thou), Tao Lin (Taipei, Selected Tweets), Patricia Lockwood (No One is Talking About This), Caspar Eric (7/11, Nye Balancer, Vi Kan Gøre Meget), Anna Juul (Penge og Bacon), and Maria Gerhardt (Der Bor Hollywwodstjerner på Vejen, Transfervindue – Historier om de Raskes Fejl). My theoretical endeavors will develop in continuous dialogue with philosophical research into the nature of friendship, as well as literary theory focused on the social dimensions of literary texts. To ensure clarity, I will limit my research to examples of Danish and Anglophone literature from the past fifteen years and define social media as websites and apps that facilitate communication, networking, user-input, and sharing of content.

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