Week Six: Space, Place and “Appropriateness” Debates

Week 6 Read: Oct 13-24 Topic: Place, Space &
“appropriateness” critiques
Conversation: Oct 20-24 Moderators:
Terri Senft
Katie Warfield


When we produce selfies and circulate them among our friends, we often think of our images as anchored to specific places, spaces, and times. Yet once our selfies circulate through social networks, they enter what danah boyd calls the space of the “super-public,” potentially spreading to audiences far beyond their original viewers, and lingering on in ways that are difficult to predict.


This week, we’ll explore selfies using Henri Lefebvre’s notion of space as three-pronged process, simultaneously conceived by professionals (aka representations of space), lived in everyday (aka spaces of representation), and perceived by everyday people (via spatial practices.)


•    Merrifield, A. (2006) “Space”in Henri Lefebvre: A Critical Introduction_ New York: Routledge. Pp 99-120

•    Boyd, d. (2012) “Super Publics.” Online at http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2006/03/22/super_publics.html


•    Hjorth, L. 2013. “Social, Mobile and Locative Media.” Understanding Social Media. Understanding Contemporary Culture Series, Sage

•    Source text: Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space.


•    Mueller, M. (2011) “How my Family Photo Turned into an Internet Meme.” Petapixel. 11 December. Online at 


•    Calkins, K. (2014)  “Dutch Woman Fakes Trip To Southeast Asia, Highlights Universal Truth.” Ravishly. 11 September. Online at

•    Rhodan, M. (2014) “Facebook Lifts Ban on Exposed Nipples in Breastfeeding Photos.” Time 13 June. http://time.com/2869849/facebook-breastfeeding-nipples/

•    Dewey, Caitlin. 2014. “The Other Side of the Infamous Auschwitz Selfie” The Washington Post. July 22. 


•    Swann, E. (2013) What’s the Etiquette of Selfies at Funerals?” CNN. 11 December. http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/11/opinion/swann-selfie-funeral-etiquette/

•    Watts. S. 2014. “The Audacity of No Chill: Kara Walker in the Instagram Capital.” Gawker. Online at



•    Take a series of photos of yourself in a ‘faked’ environment, similar what you read about in the story of the Dutch traveler, above. Use the photos to speak about Lefebvre’s notions of place as simultaneously conceived of by experts, lived in by everyday people, and perceived of by everyday people.

•    Take a photo of yourself in a place that is unfamiliar to you or that is a contrast to your usual or preferred surroundings. Does the photo still feel like “you”? How, or how not? How would you feel about it circulating through what boyd calls super publics? Can you imagine a scenario where it might make you uneasy to have such a photo viewed?


•    Although they recently lifted their ban on exposed nipples in breastfeeding photos, Facebook continues to ban photos of nipples in general. Using this example, discuss how “space” exists online through the following frames: conditions under which a photo is taken; ways in which the photo is described for viewers; Terms of Service contracts on providers where photos are displayed; laws governing obscene material in various countries where photos are stored, posted, viewed, and forwarded, and anything else you might think of.

•    As the referenced story regarding President Obama’s “Mandela funeral selfie” and the “infamous Holocaust selfie” demonstrate, there are plenty of times when a photo appears to be inappropriate for the time and place, but with further context, seems acceptable, or at least understandable. With this in mind, do you agree with the outrage expressed at the story about the selfies taken at the Kara Walker exhibit, linked above? Why or why not?


•    Please write a reflective essay in which you examine photos of yourself where place features heavily. As you write, think about the place in which the photos was taken, using Lefebvre tri-fold notions of place as simultaneously conceived of by experts, lived in by everyday people, and perceived of by everyday people.

Next, think about the places where this photo is being stored, displayed, and/or currently being circulated. Who has designed these spaces? Who are the users? What are the current social practices of these spaces?

Finally, imagine a scenario in which your photo was decontextualized and turned into a meme, like the one in the first case study, above. Can you imagine the conditions under which you might find your hypothetical memed photo funny? Embarrassing? Threatening? As you think through the effects of the scenario, be sure to reference danah boyd’s work on superpublics.

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