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Between the banal and the political : a qualitative textual analysis of women's photographic self-representation on Instagram

(2018)
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Abstract
Women's self-representation on Instagram is often discussed in popular media in polarizing terms, as either a tool for resistance or for incorporation of gendered stereotypes (Ringrose & Barajas 2011). Following Mouffe's (2005) conception of ‘the political’ as expressed through personal experiences, we can read self-representation on Instagram as, on one hand, holding an everyday political potential (Highfield 2016) – with user-generated content allowing visibility for a larger diversity of representations. Or understand it as an everyday practice (Thumim 2012) that often produces mundane images. By empirically grounding the discussion on the analysis of self-representations of “ordinary” Instagram users (i.e. not celebrities or Insta-famous users) we can explore the intersections between these two levels. This research is based on the on-going textual analysis of a theoretical sample of 77 randomly selected female Instagram users, ages 18-35. All users have public profiles and consented to participate in the research. We focus on a sample of the users' photographic self-representations, along with their surrounding textual context – captions, comments, and likes. Looking at a relatively large sample of self-representations as a broad corpus of analysis allows to perceive the diversity of representations of femininity existing on Instagram – for example in terms of race and ethnicity, occupations, or beauty ideals. However, shifting the focus to a qualitative analysis of individual users can add depth to this reading, allowing the banal character of self-representation practices to become apparent. Self-representations – broadly defined to include not only selfies and self-portraits, but also photos of the user taken by friends – allow for users to express their identities by sharing aestheticised fragments of their daily lives, lifestyles, fashion choices, and cultural consumption. These images are often shared with little context. The political discourses frequently associated with social media and fourth-wave feminism (Chamberlain 2017) are often either absent from these “ordinary” accounts, or only tangentially emerge accompanying mundane self-representations, for example by adding hashtags celebrating #bodypositivity to gym selfies. This paper explores the relationship between the broader political theoretical discussions surrounding Instagram with the banal aspect of the self-representations produced in the context of individual “ordinary” uses of Instagram.

Citation

Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

Chicago
Pereira Caldeira, Ana Sofia. 2018. “Between the Banal and the Political : a Qualitative Textual Analysis of Women’s Photographic Self-representation on Instagram .” In .
APA
Pereira Caldeira, A. S. (2018). Between the banal and the political : a qualitative textual analysis of women’s photographic self-representation on Instagram . Presented at the Instagram Conference 2018: Studying Instagram Beyond Selfies.
Vancouver
1.
Pereira Caldeira AS. Between the banal and the political : a qualitative textual analysis of women’s photographic self-representation on Instagram . 2018.
MLA
Pereira Caldeira, Ana Sofia. “Between the Banal and the Political : a Qualitative Textual Analysis of Women’s Photographic Self-representation on Instagram .” 2018. Print.
@inproceedings{8590182,
  abstract     = {Women's self-representation on Instagram is often discussed in popular media in polarizing terms, as either a tool for resistance or for incorporation of gendered stereotypes (Ringrose \& Barajas 2011). Following Mouffe's (2005) conception of {\textquoteleft}the political{\textquoteright} as expressed through personal experiences, we can read self-representation on Instagram as, on one hand, holding an everyday political potential (Highfield 2016) -- with user-generated content allowing visibility for a larger diversity of representations. Or understand it as an everyday practice (Thumim 2012) that often produces mundane images. By empirically grounding the discussion on the analysis of self-representations of {\textquotedblleft}ordinary{\textquotedblright} Instagram users (i.e. not celebrities or Insta-famous users) we can explore the intersections between these two levels.
This research is based on the on-going textual analysis of a theoretical sample of 77 randomly selected female Instagram users, ages 18-35. All users have public profiles and consented to participate in the research. We focus on a sample of the users' photographic self-representations, along with their surrounding textual context -- captions, comments, and likes.
Looking at a relatively large sample of self-representations as a broad corpus of analysis  allows to perceive the diversity of representations of femininity existing on Instagram -- for example in terms of race and ethnicity, occupations, or beauty ideals. However, shifting the focus to a qualitative analysis of individual users can add depth to this reading, allowing the banal character of self-representation practices to become apparent. 
Self-representations -- broadly defined to include not only selfies and self-portraits, but also photos of the user taken by friends -- allow for users to express their identities by sharing aestheticised fragments of their daily lives, lifestyles, fashion choices, and cultural consumption. These images are often shared with little context. The political discourses frequently associated with social media and fourth-wave feminism (Chamberlain 2017) are often either absent from these {\textquotedblleft}ordinary{\textquotedblright} accounts, or only tangentially emerge accompanying mundane self-representations, for example by adding hashtags celebrating \#bodypositivity to gym selfies.
This paper explores the relationship between the broader political theoretical discussions surrounding Instagram with the banal aspect of the self-representations produced in the context of individual {\textquotedblleft}ordinary{\textquotedblright} uses of Instagram.},
  author       = {Pereira Caldeira, Ana Sofia},
  location     = {London},
  title        = {Between the banal and the political : a qualitative textual analysis of women's photographic self-representation on Instagram },
  year         = {2018},
}