Announcing the IJOC Special Issue on Selfies

Two fabulous members of our network, Nancy Baym and Theresa Senft, have edited a special issue of the International Journal of Communication all about selfies. There are a whopping EIGHTEEN new articles on Selfies, plus the introduction by Nancy & Terri which is just amazing. (AND it’s all open access.) If you only read one selfie-related article this year, it should be “What Does the Selfie Say? Investigating a Global Phenomenon.”

I quote:

Perhaps the most obvious argument to be made against conceptualizing selfies as only acts of vanity or narcissism is the fact that as a genre, selfies consist of far more than stereotypical young girls making duck faces in their bathrooms. When people pose for political selfies, joke selfies, sports-related selfies, fan-related selfies, illness-related selfies, soldier selfies, crime-related selfies, selfies at funerals, or selfies at places like museums, we need more accurate language than that afforded by 19th-century psychoanalysis to speak about what people believe themselves to be doing, and what response they are hoping to elicit…We are fortunate to have 18 contributions to this special section. The authors hail from around the globe, employ a range of methodological approaches, and study many different types of selfies, some of which are, in fact, duck faces produced by teenage girls.
In studying selfies, scholars are constantly confronted by the twin tropes of narcissism/vanity and mental illness. Those of us who publish or research in this area are nudged to give a pull quote that selfies are pathological, evidence of a generation lost to social media. Like the lurid penny dreadful novel of Victorian England, the “cyberporn panic” of the 1990s, or the “online predator” scare of the early 2000s, selfies are the latest example of a moral panic around media technologies embraced by young people.
Reading the contributions to the IJOC Special Issue should reveal that, far from evidence that “millennials” are narcissistic and self-obsessed, selfies constitute an assemblage of practices and may mean wildly different things in different political, social, economic, and cultural contexts. As academics, the scholars represented in this issue see selfies as  “objects to think with” and think through a diverse body of topics, including big data, journalism, activism, gender, race, class, representation, authenticity, and marginalization.

Welcome to Week Five

This week we examine the production, representation and circulation of “subaltern” images online in the context of what we are calling as the “selfie genre”. My co-authors Anca Birzescu, Dinah Tetteh and I have been working on the idea of “Selfie” as a contemporary genre of self representation that is becoming a tool for marketing  even in the sphere of ICT4D (Information Communication Technologies for Development). We have published work that connects with the idea of the “staged subaltern”.

Once you’ve glanced at some of our suggested readings in the module at:

We’d love to see some discussion here in the comments section of this blog post.



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Another Week Five question

Thankyou for stopping by – and I hope you find the week’s module useful for whatever material you are teaching in your class.

Also feel free to let us know what you found useful and how you used this module – either in the comments or via email to radhik at]

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Week 4 Prompt on Terms of Service

One of the components of social networks most of us don’t look at, let alone read in detail (unless we are researching it), are the long and windy Terms of Service. Although substantial changes to the ToS often cause strong reactions from the platform’s users and force a dialogue, ideas of what is and what isn’t sexually appropriate stay thorny.

Prompt 1: Look at terms of service (ToS) of websites/platforms you frequent (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Grindr, Tinder). Find the sections in which any reference to sexuality is mentioned. Write an essay analyzing the ToS of one of these websites. What kind of sexual representation do the policies/ToS facilitate? What policies are there and how they create conditions for particular (sexual) states of being ? Pay specific attention to the language used. Re-write the terms of service that fit with your conception of consent, minimizing risk, and promoting safety.

An example of a close reading of Instagram‘s ToS as it relates to their ways of monitoring sexuality can be seen in, Feminist Self-Imaging and Instagram: Tactics of Circumventing Sensorship (2014).

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Week 4 Reflections


As one of the facilitators for this week, I posted a selfie if I was to ever set up an online dating profile. Despite how seriously I take the online sphere, I try not to take my profiles too seriously. That is, I attempt to signify who I am in playful terms that aren’t necessarily the normative standard. That has to do with my artistic practice, which I am trying to convey here. I am interested in photos that show what a person does rather than who they are. In other words, I am drawn to selfies that don’t show the entire face. My artistic practice is also focused on self-imagining, but hardly ever shows my face.

This image denotes a nude woman on a road at dusk through various signs in relation to each other. However, as we learn from Barthes, this is a superficial reading of any text/image. In the photo, she is alone on the road. It is unclear if she is taking the photo with a self-timer or if someone is behind the lens. (Does the distinction matter to signify a photo as a ‘selfie’? What are the boundaries?) She is bending over with her hair covering any parts of her body that might be flagged as inappropriate and removed on the platform (or perhaps she doesn’t want to show her naked body also). There is a tree on her left side and a wall of stones on her right. The curls of her hair are analogous to the leaves on the tree’s branches. Her skin tone and hair match the colors of the road at dusk. This signifies a strong relationship between her body and the landscape. We can read from this image that she might be a feminist? a landscape photographer? attempting to be different? The partial revealing of her body could also lead to several assumptions about her, her sexuality, and what she is trying to signal to prospective partners. Thinking with the aforementioned statement, what is the dominant reading of this image? What is the negotiated and/or oppositional reading? What codes are embedded in this image that reinforce/unsettle ideologies of the body? Are there conflicting meanings?How is this image still working within normative standards of selfie culture? Do you have more questions/answers about this type of image on a dating profile?

Since I have never set up a dating profile before I am uncertain of its codes and conventions. The more I think about this image, the more anxious I am that it would only serve to garner inappropriate messages rather than attract people who are interested in photography and these type of aesthetic modes of expression. This illustrates the importance of embodied networked knowledge — knowing a social network and its norms allows one to fit into it, or refuse to fit in, or inuit what specific codes and signs signify to that particular audience.

I welcome any discussion or critique of my reflections.

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Welcome to Week Four: gender, sexuality and dating

Popular commentary on ‘sexy selfies’ has tended to focus on (young) female subjects, and is linked to contemporary debates around the sexualisation of women and girls. However, men and boys also create sexy selfies, which are produced and circulated within a range of digital platforms, from social networking services (like Facebook)  to hook-up apps (like Tinder and Grindr). Sexy selfies are also created privately, and exchanged within intimate relationships.

This week we are considering the ways that gender and sexuality are framed within cultures of digital self-representation. We will also reflect on the concept of sexual citizenship to think through young people’s participation in these cultures.

The image production exercise for this week invites us to reflect on the ways that selfies communicate sexual interest and sexual availability within the networked publics of apps like Tinder. You are invited to participate in one or both of these exercises on the Selfie Researcher’s Flickr account:

1) Consider the role that ‘public’ selfies play within dating and social networking apps. Choose or create a ‘public’ picture of yourself that you might use as profile pic on a dating app. Using semiotic terms and concepts and thinking about the presentation of self (Week 1) and branding (Week 2), explain why you chose it, and what you are trying to signal, i.e., ‘I’m available for a relationship (but not creepy, clingy or desperate)’ to prospective dates/partners.

2) Choose or create a ‘couple’ selfie (i.e. a picture of you with a partner) you might display on a social networking site. Using semiotic terms and concepts (see ChandlerStreeter), and thinking about the presentation of self (Week 1) and branding (Week 2), how are you displaying an appropriate level of intimacy to your social network? What does appropriate mean? Do you monitor your pictures for oversharing/overexposure? Why? Why not?

You can find the rest of this week’s syllabus (including readings, and further ideas for discussion/reflection) here.

Microcelebrity Social Media Selfies

Reflecting on Week three’s work on selfies and microcelebrity, I thought I would share my take on the types of heterosexual feminine scripts microcelebrity social media personalities in Singapore use to convey intimacy and market products to readers.

01 The Beauty regime selfie

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Selfies of close-up shots bare faced or before/after transformations as a teaser to a beauty product or service they are marketing.

02 The Product Placement selfie


Sometimes, selfies are not completely relevant to whatever is being marketed. But a selfie marks the authenticity of a post as aesthetically crafted and endorsed by a social media personality. Selfies also differentiate product endorsement shots from stock photos, and adds a layer of intimacy and sincerity in engaging the clientele.

03 The Beauty Transformation/Aspiration selfie

image_2  image_13

Social media personalities look back on old selfies, and compare and contrast these publically with readers. This is as opposed to a smaller group of personalities who delete old crumbs and traces of their ‘old face’ to rewrite the history of their web persona. And of course, these close-up beauty selfies also earmark the minute inferiorities personalities perceive in their appearance.

04 The Makeup Selfie


Makeup regimes can be arduous and cumbersome. Most times, they require much effort and a great investment in time, money, and honing one’s craft. Better not let it “go to waste” aka please appreciate my art.

05 The Playful/Self-deprecating selfie 


As high profile personalities, microcelebrity social media starlets sometimes find themselves in the centre of sensational hyped-up ‘non-news’. This personality, recently accused of photoshopping her figure, takes such drama in her stride and rehashes the photoshopping saga in a playful light.

06 The First World Problem selfie


Self-explanatory. Also regularly appears as having too many clothing/shoes/designer bags and not knowing what to wear.

07 The Couple selfie


Also self-explanatory. Recently, these predominantly female social media personalities have taken to making (accidental) microcelebrities of their (predominantly male) partners as well. Some of these boyfriends have amassed their own fanbase and social media following, and a handful have begun to receive endorsements, sponsorships, and advertising engagements themselves. (Am currently working on a paper on such Power Couples. Beep me if you’d like to chat!)

08 The Clique selfie


Beyond declaring their allegiance to particular social circles, many higher ranked star social media celebrities feature industry friends/proteges/mentees on their social media feeds to expand the latter’s exposure to their own readers. They may also hold inane conversations publically on social media platforms (as opposed to dyad private platforms like Whatsapp, Twitter DM, or SMS) to boost the latter’s visibility on followers’ timelines.

09 The Off-day selfie


They often appear to be living the high life with sponsorships and endorsements featuring on their social media feeds daily. But the crux of these personalities’ microcelebrity is being able to remain accessible, grounded, and intimately visible to readers. Exhibit A: a star blogger interjects her stream of glamour shots with a selfie of herself past midnight, bare faced with messy, in casual home attire, after a long night of studying.

10 The micromicrocelebrity selfie

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Last but not least, a new project I’m working on – second generation social media microcelebrities, aka ‘micromicrocelebrities’! These bubs have got their lives archived on web from the moment of conception, and the pioneer batch of now-toddlers have even amassed endorsements and advertising deals themselves! (I’m really excited about this in particular. Paper in the works. More to come!)

What other types of microcelebrity selfies have you come across on social media? What selfie have you posted today? Chat with us!

A day in the life of a Selfies Researcher

Selfie presentations at conference.
Selfie before selfie presentations at conference.
Collage of selfies during presentation on selfies.
Selfie of presenters of selfie presentations after selfie stream of conference.
(L-R: Kath Albury, Fiona Andreallo, Crystal Abidin)
Picture of selfie of presenters of selfie presentations after selfie stream of conference.
This actually happened.
Hey, we Selfies Researchers have to hone our craft too 🙂

Cultural Studies Association of Australiasia (CSAA) Intermezzo, April 2014, University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, Australia.

Reflecting on celebrity selfies

Last week I taught Week Two, the “celebrity selfie,” to my undergraduate social media seminar. I want to talk a bit about what worked and what didn’t.

Worked: Imitating Celebrity Selfies

This was a fun assignment for the students, and they worked hard on it, but I also think it was valuable for two reasons: it revealed the labor of taking a ‘million-like’  selfie, and it encouraged a mimetic process which required them to deeply examine camera angles, framing, lighting, and the like. One student, in imitating a Kylie Jenner selfie, wrote:


I started off by putting on my John Lennon esque sunglasses, and finding a place where the light was coming in slightly from behind me and to one side of me. I wanted to create that blown out background and face effect with natural lighting, which is why I opted to take this selfie mid-day. I already had on a very simple makeup look, just like Kylie has in the photo, and I did my everyday hairstyle, which worked out well for this particular Kylie photo. Kylie’s facial expression in this photo doesn’t look happy, but it doesn’t look too serious. She has a pursed lips/smirk combo, so I mimicked that and added an eyebrow raise for good measure. I held the camera at a medium distance away from my face, turned it slightly down and made sure that there was a blown out background. I taped on the background of the photo to focus on the light behind me. Her body was turned diagonally and her somewhat titled face was looking straight forward, so I tried to do the same.

After a few takes, I finally picked one that was close to Kylies selfie. I first cropped the photo in the Photos app on the iPhone, and made it a 3 x 2. After cropping, I brought the photo into the app Squaready, which gives you a plan white square to place your photo into. It’s great if you want to include the whole photo and not crop it into a square for Instagram. I off-centered it, gave it a small border and saved it back to my photos app. Then I put the selfie into Instagram and played around with the settings (brightness, saturation, highlights, shadows) for the desired look. After enhancing the blown out effect, my selfie was complete!

This reveals the “invisible labor” of the celebrity selfie; not only in terms of posing, but in manipulating light, expressions, and the body, and then running the photo through a variety of apps in order to get the same effect.

We had a very valuable discussion about “authenticity” in selfies. My students argued that all selfies were posed and edited. A selfie was authentic if it was taken by the individual– that was all that was required to be a selfie. Filters and lighting effects were viewed as completely legitimate, and while Photoshopping selfies was looked at a bit askance, the line was very blurred.

Didn’t work: conflating celebrity and branding

It was very difficult to tease out the lines between “celebrity” and “branding”. Terri (Senft) and I (Alice Marwick) have slightly different definitions of micro-celebrity, and although we both recognize the importance of branding to the  process, Terri sees micro-celebrity as a type of branding whereas I see the two as distinct. Since I had assigned both Terri’s piece and my own piece, I think this was a little confusing. I also think that in order to talk about the self-brand online, you really need to talk about how the “brand” has moved into the realm of connotation and affect rather than “brand names” and product differentiation. Ultimately we didn’t really talk much about how celebrities relate to audiences in the digital age but focused on self-presentation. This might just be too much to pack into a week.

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Welcome to week 3: Dataveillance, Biometrics & Facial Recognition

Week three of the selfie course is about machine audiences for our selfies. Although most of us make selfies imagining other humans – or maybe just yourself – as the primary audience, our selfies are also viewed and interpreted by machines.

Lev Manovich his team’s is a great place to start exploring what biometrics means for our online self-representations. They used biometric facial expression recognition to compare selfies from different cities around the world. Poke around the site a bit. Use the Selfiexploratory to curate your own selections of selfies from their data.

The "selfiexploratory" in Lev Manovich's Selfiecity dataset allows you to make selections of certain kinds of selfies.

The “selfiexploratory” in Lev Manovich’s Selfiecity dataset allows you to make selections of certain kinds of selfies.

Then, read Liz Losh’s essay critiquing the use of biometrics and querying what this kind of research can really tell us.

Selfies are photos we take ourselves, usually of our own free will. Sometimes we are forced to be photographed (photos for drivers licences or passports, police mugshots, immigration photos) or we are photographed without knowing it (surveillance cameras, stalkers, paparazzi). Sometimes we find ways to share our images or writing with our friends but not the authorities, or with humans but not machines, for instance using what danah boyd and Alice Marwick call social stenography in one of the readings for this week. Visuals forms of social steganography might include nudes where the head and other identifying features are cropped out, or CV Dazzle

CV Dazzle is a design scheme including makeup and hair specifically designed to fool facial recognition software into not detecting a human face.

CV Dazzle is a design scheme including makeup and hair specifically designed to fool facial recognition software into not detecting a human face.

makeup to make a human face unrecognizable to facial recognition software.

You have a few different choices for you image assignments for this week:

  1. Find one of the categories of biometric analysis (gender, age, weight, race, etc.) and shoot a photo that you think might “fool” a non-human audience member into interpreting you as different from the way you typically present.
  2. Photograph yourself in a way in which facial recognition software or similar techniques would not be able to identify as you, but that still expresses something meaningful about you.
  3. Locate all of the cameras in your home, campus, workplace, neighborhood, or community and shoot a series of “sousvies” in which you shoot an image of yourself with a surveilling device — overhead camera in checkout line, camera in ATM machine, etc. — in the frame.  How might the gaze of the device see you differently?   Could you stage a “survie” that shows how cameras see you when you aren’t conscious of the fact that they are taking your picture? (Tip: Do not do this activity in places where photographing these technologies may be forbidden, such as airports or banks.)

Please post the image(s) you take to our Flickr group along with a descriptive and reflective text describing the choices you made when taking the images. Why this image? How does this kind of self-representation work? How do machines see you differently to the way you see yourself? You can also comment on this blog post to take part in the discussions.

Here is the full text of the syllabus for this week, including readings, discussion topics, image assignments and a reflection essay prompt. If you are following this course online, without being part of an existing class guided by a teacher, just focus on the image assignments.

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