Digital natives: imagining the millennial in contemporary fiction

Bingham, Richard William (2020). Digital natives: imagining the millennial in contemporary fiction. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Generational labels, e.g. ‘millennial’, provide a shorthand for conceptualising social change over time. The notion that a particular generation are ‘digital natives’ offers representable solidity for writers seeking to depict how today’s digital media technologies shape individuals and societies in increasingly complex, obscured, and unpredictable ways.

Synthesising literary and media theory, this thesis examines how recent novels construct, complicate and subvert techno-generational frameworks for representing social change. Chapters offer analyses of Jonathan Franzen and Nathan Hill’s fixations on digital natives from self-consciously ‘elder’ perspectives; Tao Lin and Olivia Sudjic’s use of ‘flat’ aesthetics to represent the affective perspectives of the ‘digital native’; Natasha Stagg and Tony Tulathimutte’s efforts to apprehend emergent material relations in digital platform capitalism; and Tommy Orange’s enunciation of an indigenous digitality.

Acknowledging limitations in popular use of the term, this thesis approaches the ‘digital native’ as a performative identity. Literary engagements with techno-generational frameworks do not only reflect pre-existing realities but play an active role in producing new social identities. They demonstrate that debates over generational labels in contemporary cultural discourse—particularly among those who might otherwise be described as ‘middle class’—produce models of social identification that frame a fast-changing and increasingly digital socioeconomic milieu.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and Creative Studies, Department of English Literature
Funders: Other
Other Funders: College of Arts and Law
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PE English
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
P Language and Literature > PS American literature


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