The Emoji and the Management of Social Boundaries

Satomi Sugiyama
Franklin University Switzerland

The emoji offers a rich repertoire of communication via texting and beyond. From ever-expanding varieties of emojis to the stickers available on social media apps, the emoji and its “relatives” have gained a significant status in our everyday communication and relational life. Drawing on qualitative data from interviews of female university students conducted between 2015 and 2017, the present paper identifies and exemplifies three social boundaries concerning emoji use that shape the interviewees’ experiences and interactions with others: that is, relational boundaries, gender boundaries, and generational boundaries, all of which lead to various semantic boundaries that co-operate with other relevant boundaries that create subtle differences of meaning attached to a given emoji and the way the emoji is used overall. The paper discusses how female university students demarcate and manage these fluid boundaries that surround the emoji in the emoji borderland where numerous boundaries are intricately fused. The paper seeks to highlight the playful yet powerful role the emoji has in constructing meanings and managing relationships in contemporary everyday life to which mobile communication has introduced numerous remarkable possibilities that were previously unimaginable, as well as new complications.

KEYWORDS: Emoji, Mobile Communication, Mobile Culture, Relationships, Networked Individualism, Semantic Boundaries, Social Boundaries 

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