Call For Papers: Studying Selfies: Evidence, Affect, Ethics, and the Internet’s Visual Turn

Studying Selfies: Evidence, Affect, Ethics, and the Internet’s Visual Turn
A special section of the International Journal of Communication (IJoC)

Guest-edited by:

Dr. Theresa Senft
Master Teacher in Global Liberal Studies
New York University

Dr. Nancy Baym
Principal Researcher
Microsoft Research



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 ( All articles will be available online at the point of publication. The anticipated publication timeframe for this special section is March 2015.


Contact Information

All submissions should be emailed to by June 15, 2014. Late submissions will not be included for consideration. 

The Hidden Biases in Big Data


Image credit: Harvard Business Review.

SMC Principal Researcher Kate Crawford reached the number-one slot on the “Most Read” list of the Harvard Business Review this week with her sharp and insightful blog post on the weaknesses of big data.

Debunking the commonly held belief that “numbers speak for themselves” in large data sets, Kate brings the voice of reason to utopian and determinist claims that reams of “raw” data are the solution for a multitude of societal ills:

Data and data sets are not objective; they are creations of human design. We give numbers their voice, draw inferences from them, and define their meaning through our interpretations. Hidden biases in both the collection and analysis stages present considerable risks, and are as important to the big-data equation as the numbers themselves.

Kate goes on to argue that while they may seem abstract, data sets are “intricately linked to physical place and human culture”, and that both qualitative methods and computational social science will need to join forces in order to fulfill the true potential of big data science:  “data with depth”.

To read the full piece, click here.

Look Who Stopped By: Jason Mittell

We get a lot of wonderful and interesting visitors here at SMC. Today, we had the pleasure of spending time with Jason Mittell, Chair of the Department of  Film and Media Culture at Middlebury College. 


SMC: So what brings you to MSR today?

JM: Visiting with Nancy Baym, and chatting to just see how things work here.

SMC: What’s the most fun thing that you learned during your visit today?

JM: You have a wide assortment of coffee-related products.

SMC: Ah, yes, our famous beverage bar!  So, out of our many options, what was your drink of choice today?

JM: I had a double espresso, which was quite excellent.

CAUTION!! Boundary Work Ahead for Internet Studies

This past October, Mary was one of  the plenary speakers at the Association of Internet Researchers IR13.0. Below is the text from her presentation.

Suggested citation: Gray, Mary L. “ ‘CAUTION!! Boundary Work Ahead for Internet Studies …or, Why the Twilight of the ‘Toaster Studies’ Approach to Internet Research is a Very, Very Good Thing”. Paper presented at IR13, University of Salford, Manchester, October 19, 2012.

CAUTION!! Boundary Work Ahead for Internet Studies


Why the Twilight of the ‘Toaster Studies’ Approach to Internet Research is a Very, Very Good Thing

My thanks to the organizers, particularly Feona Attwood and Ben Light. I’m honored to share this session with 2 scholars I read and admire. They, along with the other plenary speakers and keynote, produce scholarship critical to the relevance and future of internet studies. Their momentum is why I think we’re heading toward the twilight of a techno-centric approach to internet studies.

This year’s conference theme asks us to examine the place of the Internet in the contemporary world and in relation to a range of existing and emerging technologies. To consider its impact in a context where life is entangled with technologies of all kinds.

Continue reading “CAUTION!! Boundary Work Ahead for Internet Studies”

Look Who Stopped By: Siva Vaidhyanathan

We get a lot of wonderful and interesting visitors here at SMC. Today, we had the pleasure of spending time with Siva Vaidhyanathan, Robertson Professor and the Chair of the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. 


SMC: So what brings you to MSR today?

SV: For years I’ve wanted to visit MSR and talk to the folks who are working on the social science questions. Ever since danah boyd came here 4 years ago, maybe 5 years ago, I knew that something really interesting was happening here, and that someone here was smart enough to hire danah. That said a lot. But then once  Kate and Nancy and Mary all announced their willingness to join this team, I knew that the absolute best work was going to come out of this group. So, you know, I’ve been itching to hang out with these folks. They’re not only doing the best work on internet culture, but they’re also really fun, nice people. And they attract other fun, nice people! So I was not disappointed.

SMC: What’s the most fun thing that you learned during your visit today?

SV: That Neal Stephenson goes to church. (laughs) Cambridge is a tremendous salon of thought and research about the most interesting questions about digital technology and culture. I don’t know that there’s a better town in the US for these sorts of conversations, and MSR is a big part of that. Between MSR and Berkman, you have critical mass of really smart people who are asking all the right questions and generating sophisticated answers.

SMC: SMC has quite an extensive beverage bar.  Out of our many options, what was your drink of choice today?

SV: (laughs) I had chai.