AoIR Conference Panels 2014






Studying Selfies: Issues, Methods, Pedagogy




For Internet scholars, the “selfie phenomenon” represents a paradox. As objects, selfies (photos taken by oneself, usually with a phone, and often circulated in social networks) tend to incur cultural scorn and shaming. Yet as a cultural practice, selfie circulation grows by the moment, moving far beyond the clichéd province of bored teenagers. Popular notions of about what selfies are—and what they ought to mean—often take conflicting and contradictory forms. These include, but are not limited to, the notion of selfie as discourse (e.g. as an expression of narcissism, amateurism, self determination); selfie as evidence (of intimacy, authenticity, surveillance); selfie as affect (producing laughter, shock, shame, etc.); and/or selfie as a site of ethics (of production, consumption, circulation, remixing, etc.)

The rapid spread of camera-enabled mobile phones worldwide means that selfies have become a global phenomenon. Yet dominant discourses about selfies tend to be extremely U.S. focused. This October, we propose to gather a group of emerging scholars, published researchers, and teacher/activists interested in a robust consideration of “selfie expression,” as it occurs globally. We propose to use the format of Fishbowl, Roundtable and Pre-Conference Workshop, as follows:

As we recently discovered in our 300 strong online Selfie Research Network, most academics studying selfies are doing so in isolation, largely unaware of research going on elsewhere. This Fishbowl is being proposed by an international group of doctoral candidates largely new to AoIR. Our object will be to gather information about peoples’ experiences taking, sharing and researching selfies among different populations of the world. Keeping with the conference theme of boundaries and their traversals, we plan on asking participants to share a three-minute “snippet” of their research, focusing on questions like: What sorts of locations, populations, or other borders does your selfie research cross? Where do feel yourself involved in ‘boundary work’ with selfies, vis a vis issues of theoretical framing, or ethical concerns?


Proposers: Gaby David (Uruguay and France); Crystal Abadin (Malaysia and Australia): Miao Feng (China and USA); Fatima Aziz (Pakistan and France); Kate Miltner (USA)




How do selfies “speak“ as cultural objects, and what methods might we develop to better understand what is being said? At the moment, this answer appears to differ depending the academic boundaries of the fields in which one is trained, e.g. philosophy, psychology, rhetoric, art history, media studies, communications history, anthropology, computational sciences, cultural geography, and/or critical race and gender studies. Where our Fishbowl is intended to demonstrate the breadth of selfie research around the world, our roundtable works to foster deeper and more developed discussions of research methodology that deliberately traverse disciplinary boundaries. We will begin by featuring five international scholars known for mixing methods in their work, who will speak for approximately five minutes each about how they’ve conducted research into selfies using performance, spatial, narrative, and/or visual analysis, through critical theories of femininity and masculinity, via technological history, or by way of ethnography or phenomenology. We then will open the floor, inviting methods questions in particular.


Proposers: Dr. Marion Walton (SOUTH AFRICA); Dr. Elizabeth Losh (USA); Dr. Yeon Ju Oh (SINGAPORE) ; Dr. Clifton Evers (CHINA); Katrin Tiidenberg (ESTONIA)





Where our Fishbowl and Roundtable are designed for researchers, our Pre-Conference Workshop is aimed at researchers who are currently using or would like to use selfies in their teaching practice. As an emblematic part of the social media’s increased ‘visual turn’, selfies provide opportunities for scholars to develop best practices interpreting images online in rigorous ways. We believe case studies of selfie production, consumption, deletion, circulation and abstention can also provide much needed insight into the social dynamics at play on popular social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, WeChat and Tumblr.


The workshop has two phases: a three week online session running from September 29 to October 19, followed by a three hour f2f session in Bangkok. In the online session participants will work practically with selfies by creating, sharing and discussing self-reflexive images and texts according to set weekly assignments. In the Bangkok session, we will discuss and analyse the practical work done in the online session, and share and discuss alternative assignments and pedagogical approaches to selfies. The online session will be open to all, and we also plan to open up the Bangkok session to scholars who cannot attend the conference in person by streaming video and keeping an open discussion space.


During the workshop, we will discuss the most effective ways to get students to think critically about selfies in the following contexts:

  •      Selfie as an act of production. Why does selfie-making seem to lend itself to discussions featuring words like “narcissistic”, “empowering,” “disempowering,” and so forth?


  •      Selfie as a media genre. What is the selfie’s relationship to documentary, autobiography, advertising, and celebrity?


  •      Selfie as cultural signifier: what social work does a selfie do in communities where it was intended to circulate, and what happens when it circulates beyond those communities?


  •      Selfie as a scene of human-computer interaction.  How does the technical apparatus serve as an actor in networked relations?  What do we learn about how users appropriate, improvise, and attempt to negotiate with devices?


NOTE: In order to facilitate increased connections, we plan to video our proceedings. Our plan at the moment is to have participants hold identifying cards with their email address or Twitter handles so they can be contacted by others working on similar issues in Bangkok, and beyond.




Dr. Theresa Senft (USA); Dr. Jill Walker (NORWAY); Dr. Radhika Gajjala (USA); Dr. Kath Albury (AUSTRALIA); Dr. Alice Marwick (USA)