PhD Research Profile


I’m Emmanuel Johnson. I am a Cultural thinker, filmmaker, Christian and Poet. I am a 2nd year PhD student at Global Learning: Education and Attainment (GLEA). My research explores lived experiences of international students, using themes of faith, identity, belonging and performance as key focal points into this phenomenon. This shall make the basis for this written post.

It all started in Abuja, Nigeria for me, which is where I was born – on 12 November 1994. Being a PhD student at 24 years of age means I get called both young and ‘old’, depending on who I speak to. I find that very interesting!

Though I was born in Abuja, my family left the city only a few months later, as we relocated to Lagos, Nigeria. We spent a couple of years there and moved again to Uyo, Nigeria, which is also my ancestral city (where both of my parents and their great-grand parents and more hail from). In 2012, at the age of 17, I made my own relocation to Cambridge, UK, for University foundation study at EF Cambridge. I was enrolled in an international school with students from over 60 countries. A year later at 18 years of age, I started studying Media and Communications at Coventry University. Through this course, I started to learn that ‘things aren’t really as they appear to be in the world’. These experiences of sojourn, and their consequent sub-experiences, kick-started something that would later become very relevant to me, which is ‘the reality of internationalisation’.

The reality of internationalisation has become personalised to me. From my experience, this reality entails: not really having a physical/tangible sense of ‘home’ which is fixed, to hold onto; always being in a state which sees you missing someone who is physically elsewhere; being seen as ‘different’ by those of similar national and ethnic origin as you, or seeing your nation and/or ethnicity differently, because of your experience of internationalisation.

These experiences and more raise internal questions such as: where is home? Who am I becoming? And, what do my added experiences and knowledge mean for me, as I continue to navigate the society around me. My research attempts to deconstruct these questions.

Being a PhD Student – My Experience 5 Months In

I’m a PhD student at Coventry University Centre for Global Learning: Education and Attainment, exploring Identity and Belonging, and the role of Faith in International Students’ Study. My experience at the start entailed developing better time-management, and familiarising myself with a higher standard of writing and knowledge expected at PhD level.

From a social viewpoint, the journey has been quite isolating. Socially, the University campus no longer looks like it did in the past. I find this experience new because, although I’m on a campus I am very familiar with, my focus has shifted onto a phase much higher than ever. For the first time academically, I have no ‘classmates’. This of course typifies the nature and essence of independent study. I have often compared my PhD to the idea of a marriage, and I would say to myself: ‘I’m married to my PhD and I’m more than willing to make it work!’. This, unexpectedly has boosted my motivation and drive to push on with a stronger sense of fervency and urgency.

I am currently writing my literature review. Sometimes I feel completely blank mentally; falter in will and struggle to maintain focus or generate ideas. At those times, I step out of my office and head to Holy Trinity Church which is nearby. As I’m a religious man, I sit down to pray, meditate and contemplate on matters close to my heart. Or, I take a walk around the University campus, take a seat; observe and pay close attention to my surroundings. This helps me greatly and refreshes my mind for the work ahead!

I try to achieve balance. I have discovered the need for it, whilst going through tons of readings very frequently. I participate in non-academic activities like social hangouts with friends, walks to the park, film watching and consumption, and involvement in social events.

I am glad to be here and cannot imagine doing anything else. That’s it for now, I have to get back to my literature review!

The Role of Faith in my PhD Research

Faith is central to me. This stems from a background deeply rooted in the belief of there being more to life than what my natural eyes see. Living, experiencing and exploring the world have constructed the manner in which I approach situations, experiences and ideas.
It is an essential element of my life because it carries within it, a demonstration of how I ought to go about living – dashing across professional and societal aspects, to the most ordinary of practises and rituals within the everyday life of Emmanuel. It characterises my lifestyle, orders my steps and motivates me to improve upon myself.

As I am an individual of faith, looking into how faith helps international students navigate their studies, I realise this would undoubtedly shape the way I approach my PhD research. My perspective is centred on my background as a Christian Nigerian man looking into ways of life different to mine. In addition to that, I am one who has experienced substantial cultural refinement, having studied in diverse UK campuses since 2012, learning and unlearning some presuppositions. Thus, my standpoint diverges against its own self. My interaction with others, and thus considerations about research design, including data collection methods must be undertaken with empathy, tolerance and understanding – bearing in mind at all times that cultures present people with different ways of perceiving the world – ways unique to them, and them alone.

The focus, therefore, is on my ability to use my background in exploring others efficiently; researching and critiquing, in order to draw up findings impactful and true to myself and others.

I am interested in exploring how faith contributes to the academic experience of international students. In this, my faith shall act as an avenue for me to explore identity and difference, zooming in on the reality of being an international student of faith in British Higher Education.

As a result of my faith, I am mindful of difference in viewpoints between my participants and me. I am more than willing to maintain researcher integrity; by being non-judgemental about other perspectives and acknowledging feelings and opinions contrary to mine.

As I undertake this research, the question for me becomes: how can my faith guide, inspire and contribute to my research output?


Before I Get Old: What it means to belong to an Online Community

Sources: Wikia, Business Wire.


Society expresses itself in collective groups, which allow for individuals to interact with each other, develop relationships, share experiences and thus create meaning. This is the realisation of communities.

Nonetheless, an online community acts as a two-edged sword. It is an umbrella for healthy communication, and a platform which invades privacy (Preece 2001: 8).  This society consists of individuals who share the job of producers, consumers and prosumers. It is a space of fantasy where terms and conditions (values and norms) of ‘real life’ become secondary.

I shall be writing on the theme of Online Community in close relationship with the Social Media site, BIGO Live. I aim to shed light on what it means to be part of an online community, how it is formulated, and the identity and collective meaning which shape the experiences of its users.

Before I get Old: What it means to be part of an Online Community

Source: Standing on Giants

The online community flaunts a young and vibrant group of individuals who feel the need to depict their lives as exciting, to appear young, trendy and ‘cool’. The modernist perspective perceives the other as something or someone who reflects a different perspective from the viewer (Young 1999: 5). Just as the name; Before I Get Old (BIGO) implies, an online community is constituted of individuals who assemble under the banner of youthfulness, and use it as a medium of sharing experiences and developing relationships. To be young is to abstain from things which ‘old’ people would do, such as living life with caution and being fully aware of the consequences of their actions. BIGO, as an online community promotes the ideas of living life to the fullest and being obsessed with yourself.

BIGO Live invites individuals into the lifestyle of narcissism, with the promise of fame in return (BIGO Technology PTE LTD 2017). The online community entails the commodification of communication. The practise of inviting individuals to partake of the ‘glorious’ act, which is human interaction, in return for a youthful and vibrant life online. Ferreday (in Karatzogianni and Kuntsman 2012: 80) claims that, ‘the digital has become a site of struggle over what constitutes reality’. The online community acts as a sweet escape from the troubles of the real world. An unrealistic virtual space where desires and fantasies are performed.

How is an Online Community formulated?

Online communities are created because of togetherness felt by a group of individuals, due to the mutuality of their beliefs and interests. Ritzer (2007: 36 – 40) discusses the ‘Something-Nothing Continuum’. He argues that, the social world is comprised of the combination of ‘nothing’ and ‘something’. He furthermore defines something as a social practise that is generally produced, controlled and somewhat rich in distinctive significant content. He describes nothing as somewhat lacking in content. Ferreday (2011: 25) describes community as ‘a process’.

Online communities undergo a procedure, which features the production of content that reflects significant meaning, and others that do not. It goes back and forth, and shapes our overall understanding of this community, as a digital reflection of the social world.

Everything that happens within this space usually expresses the singular concept; Something-Nothing Continuum. Within BIGO live, certain users within this online community use this platform as a stage for the expression of matters, which they find meaningful within society, such as postmodern political occurrences and the straining placed on the public as an aftermath of them. This performance of ‘something’ formulates this online community as an educational sphere, which allows for meaningful and positive interaction on things that matter, within a global scale. Nevertheless, online communities are mostly comprised of nothing; issues and topics which stem from matters of negative and less meaningful subjects. This aspect of the online community features the phase of self-realisation; the realisation that, we as individuals derive pleasure from subversive and socially unacceptable themes such as pornography. The sensual drive that accompanies the human flesh may have located its daring partner, digital technology (Nguyen and Alexander in Shields 1996: 117). This leads us to the discovery of the chaotic identity, which characterises the nature of online communities, and the experiences faced by its participants.

Identity and Meaning in Online Communities

Source: Brand Networks

The coming of online communities has endorsed the expression of selves. These include selves that:

  • We do not want to be
  • We Pretend to be
  • Society expects us to be
  • We desire to be (Ideal selves)

Miller (2011: 161) highlights that ‘identities are not unified, solid or stable, but maintained, changeable and often contradictory’. The combination of multiple selves, give birth to complex or chaotic identities which are exhibited within several online communities, including BIGO Live.

Whenever I log into this site, I experience a struggle in picking the most suitable identity to express in given situations. I tend to be a different self to a single individual, compared to who I am during live sessions with thousands of viewers from across the globe. Whilst speaking to them, I express my most ideal self. During one-on-one live sessions, I put on a false self, the one I pretend to be. It should therefore the noted that, online spaces of communication are made up of invented identities (Kirby 2009: 106).

The introduction of these virtual communities has in more ways than one, affected our lives. It creates and strengthens relationships of work and social life. Business owners and individuals with talents to show the world, use these communities to showcase and sell their services and products to those who can relate it to their lives, while on the other hand creating a blur where there seems to be no difference between work and play life. This creates the illusion of an ‘authentic life’ (Harris 2004: 127 – 128). ‘The authentic self’ portrays a life of freedom online, to embody any and everything I desire.


Source: Insightrix Communities

The expression of the individual is an unavoidable element within society. Online communities have propagated ‘the sharing of common meanings, and thence common activities and purposes; the offering, reception and comparison of new meanings’ (Williams 1961: 10).

I have used BIGO Live as an ideal online community, which allows for users to construct identities as they wish. This platform acts as a mouldable medium, which commits itself into the hands of its consumers, and allows for us to use it as we please. It also invites individuals to express fantasies and desires, and forget about reality for a moment.


BIGO Technology PTE LTD (2017) BIGO Live Broadcasting [online] available from <> [14th March 2017]

Ferreday, D (2011) Online Belongings: Fantasy, Affect and Web Communities. Peter Lang: Oxford.

Harris, A. (2004) Next Wave Cultures: Feminism, Subcultures, Activism. Routledge: New York.

Karatzogianni, A., Kuntsman, A. (2012) Digital Cultures and the Politics of Emotion: Feelings, Affect and Technological Change. PALGRAVE MACMILLAN: Basingstoke.

Kirby, A. (2009) Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern and Reconfigure Our Culture. The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc: New York.


Miller, V. (2011) Understanding Digital Culture. SAGE Publications: London.

Preece, J. (2000) Online Communities: Designing Usability, Supporting Sociability. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd: Chichester.

Ritzer, G. (2007) The Globalization of Nothing 2. Pine Forge Press: California.

Sheilds, R. (1996) Cultures of Internet: Virtual Spaces, Real Histories, Living Bodies. SAGE Publications: London.

Young, J. (1999) The Exclusive Society: Social Exclusion, Crime and Difference in Late Modernity. SAGE Publications Limited: London.

Williams, R. (1961) The Long Revolution. Broad View Press: Toronto.

Breaking out of the Box: My Job-Seeking Experience

The beautiful illusion of university life clouded my assessment of the future. This led to my not taking job applications as seriously as I should have, from the start. Although I started sending out applications for Media roles in January 2016, I did not give it a lot of attention. This was due to the fact that, I was still studying and had to focus on coursework. Additionally, I felt I had more than enough time to secure a job after the completion of my degree.

Reality started to catch up with me in May 2016 after the completion of my final group presentation in class. I became very focused, all of a sudden, and my determination to secure a full-time Media job tripled! I made a number of applications and finally got a taste of the reality I never really understood. Unsurprisingly to many job seekers, I received no…

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