smsociety14 has ended
Saturday, September 27 • 16:31 - 16:50
"Selfies in the Making: managing the liquid and locative image in long-term social media use"

Sign up or log in to save this to your schedule and see who's attending!

Background: The ‘selfie’ has become the dominant symbol of smartphone/camera enabled social media use at the present time. It is the key journalistic metaphor for individualization and narcissism among so-called ‘digital natives’, but has been subject to very little academic analysis. This paper makes a significant contribution to existing knowledge by ‘situating the selfie’ within the dynamics of digital autobiographic management among long-term social media users. 

Objective: The paper aims to provide some detailed empirical data on how individuals are engaging in practices of social media profile management as visuality becomes increasingly significant in ordinary communication (Hand 2012) and personal analytics (Ruckenstein 2014). Drawing upon data gathered over ten years, we show how transitions in the configuration and use of devices, visual communication, and changing platforms have shaped the dynamics of profile management over this period.

Methods: The empirical data has been gathered during two phases: first, as part of a funded project that collected and analysed in-depth interview, focus group and ethnographic data from eighty-nine participants who were located in the United Kingdom, United States, China, and Australia, in 2004 and 2005. From this original data-set fifty-seven participants remained in communication through various social media, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter up to 2014. With their consent, these individuals’ lives have been observed and recorded as ethnographic data. Second, in 2013, the most social media active participants were contacted to participate in a follow-up interview specifically focused upon their long-term social network/media use and profile management. In-depth semi-structured interviews with twenty- seven women and fifteen men took place face-to-face and via Skype in 2013 and 2014, they were recorded via a digital recorder and fully transcribed for thematic analysis using Atlas.ti. These participants identified themselves as ‘long-term’ users of social media, who actively sought to modify their constructs of self in the choices they made and continue to make about status updates, shared content, tagged images and videos in order to create a personal (and public) autobiography that is intimately tied to their self-identity.

Results: Analysis of our interview data reveals significant continuities between selfie-making in social media profiles and earlier techniques of autobiographic self-reflection, but important gendered differences in the extent to which the real and imagined ‘friend-gaze’ is shaping the production and management of visual self-identity. For our interviewees, selfies are both ‘liquid’ (modified, in circulation, ‘live’) and ‘locative’ (tagged, ‘authentic’, ‘intimate’) in ways that exemplify the new practices of ‘prescencing’ in social media, where the personal image is reworked in the present in anticipation of future circulation and visibility.  

Conclusions: In-depth empirical studies of long-term users of social media enable important insights into the emergence of ‘platformed sociality’ (van Dijck 2012) on the ground, as devices, conventions of use, and social media platforms are configured in ‘media manifolds’ (Couldry 2012) that are actively engaged with and negotiated in differentiated ways. The selfie can be understood empirically as an outcome of the unprecedented visuality of social media and the ubiquitous presence of connected devices, providing insight into how individuals, devices, and platforms interact.  


Couldry N (2012) Media, Society, World. Cambridge: Polity.

Hand M (2012) Ubiquitous Photography. Cambridge: Polity.

Ruckenstein M (2014) Visualized and Interacted Life: personal analytics and engagements with data doubles. Societies. 4: 68-84.

Van Dijck, J. (2013) The Culture of Connectivity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Martin Hand

Associate Professor, Queen's University

Mariann Hardey

Durham University

Saturday September 27, 2014 16:31 - 16:50
TRS 1-149 Ted Rogers School of Management

Attendees (0)