Studying Selfies: Evidence, Affect, Ethics, and the Internet’s Visual Turn
A special section of the International Journal of Communication (IJoC)
Dr. Theresa Senft
Master Teacher in Global Liberal Studies
New York University
Dr. Nancy Baym
The fact that “selfie” was Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year for 2013 indicates that the selfie is a topic of popular interest. Yet for scholars, the selfie phenomenon represents a paradox. As an object, the selfie lends itself to cultural scorn and shaming. As a cultural practice, however, selfie circulation grows by the moment, moving far beyond the clichéd province of bored teenagers online. The rapid spread of camera-enabled mobile phones worldwide means that selfies have become a global phenomenon. Yet dominant discourses about what selfies are, and what they mean, tend to be extremely U.S. focused.
In this special section, we aim to provide international perspectives on selfies. As an act of production, we are interested in why selfie-making lends itself to discussions featuring words like “narcissistic” or “empowering.” As a media genre, we are interested in the relationship of the selfie to documentary, autobiography, advertising, and celebrity. As a cultural signifier, we ask: What social work does a selfie do in communities where it was intended to circulate, and what happens when it circulates beyond those communities?
As an emblematic part of the social media’s increased “visual turn,” selfies provide opportunities for scholars to develop best practices for interpreting images online in rigorous ways. Case studies of selfie production, consumption and circulation can also provide much needed insight into the social dynamics at play on popular social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, WeChat and Tumblr.
We are seeking scholarly articles from diverse fields, and a wide range of theoretical and methodological approaches, including: media studies, communication, anthropology, digital humanities, computational and social sciences, cultural geography, history, and critical cultural studies.
Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
Selfie as discourse: What is the history (or histories) of the selfie? How do these histories map to contemporary media and scholarly discourses regarding self-representation, autobiography, photography, amateurism, branding, and/or celebrity?
Selfie as evidence: What are the epistemological ramifications of the selfie? How do selfies function as evidence that one attended an event, feels intimate with a partner, was battered in a parking lot, is willing to be “authentic” with fans, or claims particular standing in a social or political community? One uploaded, how do selfies become evidence of a different sort, subject to possibilities like “revenge porn,” data mining, or state surveillance?
Selfie as affect: What feelings do selfies elicit for those who produce, view, and/or circulate them? What are we to make of controversial genres like infant selfies, soldier selfies, selfies with homeless people, or selfies at funerals? How do these discourses about controversial selfies map to larger conversations about “audience numbness” and “empathy deficit” in media?
Selfie as ethics: Who practices “empowering” selfie generation? Who does not? Who cannot? How do these questions map to larger issues of class, race, gender, sexuality, religion and geography? What responsibilities do those who circulate selfies of others have toward the original creator of the photo? What is the relationship between selfies and other forms of documentary photography, with regard to ethics?
Selfie as pedagogy: How can selfies be used as case studies to better understand the visual turn in social media use? How do selfies “speak,” and what methods might we develop to better understand what is being said?
Formatting and Requirements
To be considered for this collection, a paper of maximum 5,000 words (including images with captions, footnotes, references and appendices, if any) must be submitted by June 15, 2014. All submissions should be accompanied by two to three suggested reviewers including their e-mail addresses, titles, affiliations and research interests. Submissions will fall under the category of “Features” which are typically shorter than full research articles.
All submissions must adhere strictly to the most recent version of the APA styleguide (including in-text citations and references). Papers must include the author(s) name, title, affiliation and e-mail address. Any papers that do not follow these guidelines will not be submitted for peer review.
The International Journal of Communication is an open access journal (ijoc.org). All articles will be available online at the point of publication. The anticipated publication timeframe for this special section is March 2015.
All submissions should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org by June 15, 2014. Late submissions will not be included for consideration.