Social Media Narrative:
The Rutgers Camden Digital Studies Center
Facebook, November 16 - 21, 2016
Katrin Tiidenberg is a researcher and lecturer splitting her time between Aarhus University in Aarhus, Denmark and Tallinn University in Tallin, Estonia. This semester she is co-teaching a master's course on Digital Identities with Annette Markham and a PhD course on the emotional, relational and visual labor of "Negotiating Identity in Social Media" with Nancy Baym and Annette Markham.
Her work focuses on visual self presentation on social media, in particular the gendered, sexuality-, and embodiment related aspects of it. She publishes on selfie practices on Tumblr and Instagram, and whether sharing selfies can be a way of pushing back against dominant normative ideologies.
Her research blog is available at kkatot.tumblr.com
Identity on Tumblr
I study people's visual self-presentation and identity on social media. More pertinently for this discussion - I study people's self-storying via NSFW (not safe for work) selfies and sex blogs on Tumblr. I'm interested in what selfie-, and blogging practices do for my informants' everyday lived experiences, and in terms of wider normative narratives of aesthetics, sexuality, power, control, gender etc.
One of the interesting things I've found is that people, who are not activists or artists, but amateurs participating for the sake of entertainment, support, relationships and belonging, can still end up pushing back at some dominant cultural narratives. By posting sexy selfies within that particular community on Tumblr (the socio-technical affordances of the platforms and the cultural norms of the community are undoubtedly relevant for how these experiences play out), my informants can reject the "regime of order and the regime of shame" (Koskela, 2004, p. 206-207) that visual economy predominantly functions with. Occasionally selfie-practices can even lead to "self-storying as activism" (Crawley & Broad, 2004, p. 68), which means that a blogger will use her own body and her own selfies to push back at what our visual culture positions as photographable. This is a position of voluntary vulnerability that troubles the grand narratives of what is beautiful or sexy; who can be seen; who has the right to show what. So through what is seemingly a personal, maybe even a trivial practice, people can regain control not only over their own (sexual) story telling, but also the narratives of aesthetics or sexiness in a wider sense.
In conceptualizing these things, I join many others, who believe that narratives have a meaning making function. They are both means of knowing and methods of telling. Narratives of who we are, and are not reveal the constant flux of being and becoming, belonging and longing to belong (Riessman, 2008; Yuval-Davis, 2006). So our subjectivities gel and our practices take on meanings through stories that we tell (ourselves and others). I also believe that these stories are told in images, captions, hashtags, blog posts and that a "text" doesn't have to follow the classical narrative structure to be considered a narrative.
The framework of visual narrative analysis (cf. Catherine Riessman's and Gillian Rose's work) highlights that narratives gain meaning not merely from their relationship to what they are about, but also from their connection to other narratives. Thus, in addition to the "how," "why" and "what" of a story told in words, and the "how," "why" and "what" of a story told in images, there are stories told in words about images, and stories told in images about words. It basically means incorporating a remix approach to methods that pays homage to Barthes' famous claim that images are related to and dependent on accompanying text. A fruitful approach thus respects the intertextuality of images, captions, hashtags and text posts, as well as the relationality of body/selves and images.
Transcript of The Identity on Tumblr Conversation
James J. Brown, Jr.
Rutgers Camden DSC