Week One: Identity and Interpellation

Week Dates for
Dates for
1 Sept 8-12 Identity, interpellation, and psychoanalytic
critiques using selfie culture
Sept 15-19 Terri Senft
Gaby David


Although the creation and distribution of selfies strikes some as a newish phenomenon, the practices of self-portraiture and diary writing are actually quite old. What do we gain when we represent our physical and mental presence through images and words, and risks underlie these practices? In what ways are these gains and risks distributed equally across the population? In what ways are they distributed unequally?


This week, we will talk about how sociologists and psychoanalysts have approached the notion of the self as a media object. We begin by discussing with sociologist Herbert Mead’s notion of the identity as projections of the  “I and the me”; move to Erving Goffman’s thoughts about presentation of self as an act of “everyday performance,” and end with psychoanalyst Luis Althusser’s argument that our sense of identity stems from how we identify (or do not) with a limited set of roles assigned to us by dominant culture (he called this process ‘interpellation’.)






  1. Look over some examples from the “What I really do” meme at http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/what-people-think-i-do-what-i-really-do
    and be ready to discuss with regard to theories from Mead and Goffman on the “I and the me” and the self as performative.
  2. Investigate the photos posted with the title, “Which Picture Would they Use?” at http://iftheygunnedmedown.tumblr.com/
    Be ready to discuss with regard to Althusser on interpellation.
  3. Read about the “Don’t Shoot” Selfie taken at Howard University
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/style-blog/wp/2014/08/14/the-story-behind-the-viral-dontshoot-photo-at-howard-university/Be ready to discuss with regard to theories from Goffman on the self as performative and Althusser on interpellation
  4. Read about the “Women Laughing Selfie” meme at http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-28548179
    Be ready to discuss with regard to theories from Goffman on the self as performative and Althusser on interpellation.



Locate three photos of yourself on your phone, computer or posted to social networks you think are flattering. Locate three photos of yourself that you find to be unflattering, funny or embarrassing in some way.

Label your six photos A-F, and then write a photo essay in which you explain which pictures would be the best and worst to use for the purposes below. In your explanations, be as specific as you can (e.g. don’t say “this photo looks professional,” explain how and why you came to that conclusion, based on signifiers like clothing, background details, and so forth.)

  • Facebook profile page
  • Company profile for someone who works in a bank
  • Dating site profile page
  • History book showing what everyday life was like in 2014 in your country

If you are following the class online, post the photo essay to the Flickr discussion group.


Go back to your photo essay and take a look again at the photo you chose as best and worst for the category, “History book showing what everyday life was like in 2014.” If you are submitting material online (through a class site or in a Flickr group) take a look at the photo others have posted for this category.

Now we are going to engage in a thought experiment: Pretend you are an archeologist from, say 5000 years from now, and these photos are the only existing records of human culture from 2014. What would you know about culture, based solely on these photos? What important information about our culture would be missing?


Option 1: Take a look at the “SelfieCity Project at http://www.selfiecity.net , which groups selfies from certain parts of the world in clusters. Based on what you have been reading, and the limitations you noted when doing your thought experiment, above, how might you critique the limits of what the Selfie City project seems to be doing? What might be a more productive way to organize a “big data” project on selfies?

Option 2: Compare the language and images of these three campaigns, and then write an essay reflecting on which type of campaign below you  would feel most (and least comfortable) participating in yourself by posting a picture/statement of your own.


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Selfies Syllabus by The Selfies Research Network is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.