Perhaps no contemporary image is simultaneously more common, celebrated, and reviled than the selfie.  The self-portrait taking at arm’s length or in a bathroom mirror is now among the most commonplace image on a host of sites like Instagram, tumblr, and snapchat, and Presidents and Popes have joined the universe of celebrities and our neighbors who are commemorating their everyday lives, celebrating their bodies, or striking pensive gazes.  Of course what this actually means about us individually and socially is contested:  Some observers suggest selfies are a confirmation of shallow youthful vanity, if not a “cry for help”; others lament that selfies are yet another exercise in narcissism; others more soberly see it as a perpetual reflection of our collective interest in appearance; some divine women’s objectification in an effort to secure bodily and social visibility; and for some the selfie is a genuine display of self-empowerment controlling how we imagine ourselves to be seen and appear. 

This exercise examines some of the meanings of particular collections of selfies.  You will examine a series of digital selfies and prepare a written analysis of that particular type of selfie and examine what you think such selfies are communicating.  Some of them are focused on a particular theme, like #nomakeupselfies; others focus on some dimension of everyday life, like football selfies; and some are focused on a place (e.g., Museum selfies).  Some of the examples for this exercise are twitter groups or tags; others are facebook pages; a few are tumblr groups; and some are instagram tags.

In general, a selfie is defined by its visual expression of self-awareness on the part of a photographer who is themselves a subject.  But the genre has myriad complexities beyond that fundamental framing:  some selfies capture “moments” that are consequential for a whole range of reasons (e.g., good hair days, family events, etc); nearly all are meant to be “shared” in some way digitally and instantly (or nearly instantly); and they tend to focus on our personality as it is somehow expressed in our corporeality.

I require you review one of the following web pages, tags, or user groups below and analyze the collection based on the questions below.  You must include a close examination of at least three examples of individual selfies.  You must include links or printed images of your three example selfies in the paper’s appendix (a PDF of the image is fine).  I will return the paper if the link is dead or you do not provide me a copy of the images.  You are welcome to refer to other examples beyond those three pictures, of course, but please examine three in a fair amount of systematic detail to illustrate what you think are patterns in this particular set of selfies, if not in the genre at large.

The paper is due November 11th.  Most written papers will be at least five pages long.

For those who have never been online before, some of the digital celebration of beauty and bodies goes overboard and includes images we may not be personally interested in sharing.  I have done my very best to not link to any material that is not safe for work, but please ignore a page if it includes material that is unpleasant or offensive.

If you wish to analyze another collection of selfies please approve it with me beforehand.  Absolutely no naughty selfies are acceptable subjects of analysis.  

For some background on selfies, visit the Selfiecity database on global selfie patterns, which includes several scholarly papers.  Katie Warfield’s Making Selfies/Making Self page is a thoughtful, firm, and sympathetic analysis focused on young women’s experience of selfies.  The Selfies Network is a thorough and scholarly facebook group on selfies research that links to lots of selfies publications in the popular press and scholarship alike.  Among recent scholarly work, I recommend Fatima Aziz’s Visual Transactions: Facebook, an Online Resource for Dating; Analyzing Selfies; Daniel Miller’s Know Thy Selfie blog post; or even my thoughts on heritage site selfies.

Last updated July 28, 2014
Selfie at the Lincoln Memorial image from Joe Flood