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Wednesday, July 29 • 15:16 - 16:45
"#therealme: digitally mediated gender subjectivities of young women, transgender, and non-binary young people through selfies"

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Author: Katie Warfield

The selfie, or “photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a Smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website (Oxford 2013)”, is not an entirely novel phenomenon but rather marks a convergence of old and new technologies, which are resulting in lively scholarly debates over the ontological breadth of the phenomenon. Scholars interested in selfies are connecting interdisciplinary relationships as wide ranging as autobiography and dataveillance (Rettberg 2014), celebrity and identity (Marwick 2014; Senft 2014), sexuality and the body (Albury 2014; Tiidenberg 2015), and audience research and embodiment (Warfield 2014; Lasen 2009). 

Early mass media discourse of the phenomenon of selfies—apart from being deeply critical—was also analogous with the discourses on analogue photography and early digital and mobile photography (Kindberg 2005; Spasojevic at al.2005; Lasen 2006; Manovich 2013), which presented images as communicative and archival texts of what has happened (Lister 1995). The Microsoft-funded project by Tim Kindberg, Mirjana Spasojevic, Rowanne Fleck and Abigail Sellen examined and categorized a collection of camera phone images in order to produce a sort of typology of uses (Kindberg 2005). A similar project by Nancy Van House interviewed 44 university students about what images they took and why (Van House 2005). A textual conception of selfies is important and valid but to conceive of selfies only in this manner is reductionist, narrow and perpetuates the idea that digital images of bodies (especially those of women) continue to be simply 2-D flattened photocopies disconnected from the embodied subject of (who is also often at the same time the producer of) the image. (Del Busso, 2010; Warfield, 2014). 

Objective: 
The goal of this work is to advocate phenomenologicaly methods to study selfies, which beckons a widening of the research aperture to include not only analysis of the image content but analysis of the embodied digital subjectivities of the selfie producer (Csordas 1999; Lasen 2004; Sobchak 2004). By exploring the person producing the image, the place of production, as well as any potential emotional and bodily relationships users have to these new digitally-circulated images the discussion becomes not one just of what how audiences can read images, but how is a person’s digital subjectivity reflected, felt and experienced through and with online images. 

Methods: 
Phenomenological Interviews (young women COMPLETE; transgender and NB young people 
IN PROGRESS Spring/Summer 2015) 

Online survey with content analysis (young women COMPLETE; transgender and NB young people IN PROGRESS Spring/Summer 2015) 

Results: 
The results of this study indicate that according to an online questionnaire of 42 female avid-selfie takers, the subjectivities girls experience through the production of selfies parallels the multimodal format of the selfie itself: girls present themselves at once as if they were in a photo (the model), in a mirror (the #realme), and on a stage (the self-conscious thespian). The final section of the paper draws upon the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty to propose, polemically, that perhaps the way these plugged-in girls experience subjectivity is rather as subjectivities, which are multilayered, experiential, objectified, and subjectively embodied. Furthermore when young women “enact” their identities in-front of the camera they play with and among visual tropes and conventions of femininity. When transgender men and women enact in front of a camera, they also play and adopt tropes of both masculine and feminine conventions. 

More broadly I aim to suggest that because of the multiple subjectivities experienced in multimodal phenomenon of the selfie, future research on digital subjectivities also ought to also be multi-modal and interdisciplinary, consider embodiment and spatiality, gender norms and gender fluidity, and draw upon theory as wide reaching as cyberfeminist theory, gender theory, phenomenology, technology and internet studies, and visual culture theory. 

Future Work: 
Expanding into the intersections of gender, I’m interested in looking at a group of Muslim youth on selfie-taking practices. Same methods different cohort. 

References: 

Albury, Kath et al. (2013) Young people and sexting in Australia: Ethics, representation and the law. Online. Available at: http://www.cci.edu.au/node/1522 
Csordas, T. (1999). Embodiment and Cultural Phenomenology. In Weiss, G & Haber, F (Eds.), Perspectives on Embodiment: the intersections of nature and culture. London: Routledge. 
Del Busso. L.A. (2010). Moving beyond the surface: a post-structural phenomenology of young women’s embodied experiences in everyday life. Psychology & Sexuality, 4(1), 1-6. 
Kindberg, T. et al 2005. The Ubiquitous Camera: An In-Depth Study of Camera Phone Use. IEEE: 
Lasen, A. 2004. Affective technologies: emotions and mobile phones. Reciever, Vodaphone, 2004 
Manovich, L. 2013. Selfiecity Project. http://selfiecity.net/ 
Lister, Martin. 1995. The Photographic Image in Digital culture. London: Routledge. 
Livingstone, S. (1999). New Media, New Audiences? New Media Society, 1, 59 -66. 
Livingstone, S & Das, R (2009, September, 3-4) The end of audiences?: theoretical echoes of reception amidst the uncertainties of use. Paper presented at: Transforming Audiences, University of Westminster. 
Marwick, Alice and danah boyd. (2014). “Networked privacy: How teenagers negotiate context in social media.” New Media & Society 16(7): 1051-1067. 
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. (1962). Phenomenology of Perception. New York: Routledge. 
Meskimmon, Marsha. 1996. The Art of Reflection. New York: Columbia University Press.

Speakers
avatar for Katie Warfield

Katie Warfield

Faculty, Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Director of the Visual Media Workshop @KwantlenU | Lead researcher of Making Selfies/Making Self | Faculty, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Surrey BC | Katie Warfield is faculty in the Department of Journalism and Communication at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Surrey BC. She is director of the Visual Media workshop and lead researcher for the Making Selfies/Making Self Research Project, which explores the production and curation of... Read More →


Wednesday July 29, 2015 15:16 - 16:45
(8th Floor) TRS 2-166 (Ted Rogers School of Management) 55 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M5G 2C3

Attendees (9)