Networked Collective Symbolic Capital Revisited: Selfies Sharing and Identity Negotiation Among Taiwanese Gay Men

Networked Collective Symbolic Capital Revisited: Selfies Sharing and Identity Negotiation Among Taiwanese Gay Men

Hong-Chi Shiau (Shih-Hsin University, Taipei, Taiwan)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/IJSVR.2020010102

Abstract

This study attempts to illustrate identity performance via the display of symbolic capital by Taiwanese gay men through photo-sharing experiences on Instagram. For Taiwanese gay men, photo-sharing experiences on Instagram have become a significant venue where they can interact with selected publics through performing various personae. This study has classified roles with various forms of cultural capital as well as clarifying how distinction is meticulously maneuvered among collapsed contexts. Through ethnographic interviews with 17 gay male college students from Taiwan and textual analysis of their correspondence though texting on Instagram, this study first contextualizes how the interactional processes engaged in on Instagram help constitute a collective identity pertaining to Taiwanese gay men on Instagram. The photo-sharing experiences are examined as an identity-making process involving the display of various symbolic capital, illuminating the calculated performance of taste and the collective past oppressed by the heteronormative society. The conclusion offers an alternative sociological intervention that goes beyond the notion of digital narcissism to help understand how the cultural capital on the presumption of photo-sharing experiences is invested.
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Photo-Sharing Addicted Queen?

The quickest way to differentiate a gay man from the straight ones is to look at the number of photo-sharing experiences he takes on his smartphone. (Informant 17)

Gay men derive pride and prejudice from the comments left on their public photo-sharing experiences…so go and check them out if you really want to understand the identity and virtual community. (Informant 13)

The above two comments were drawn from a casual discussion that took place within a LGBTQ society for undergraduate students under my supervision toward the end of the spring semester of 2016. All male members of the society self-identify as gay youth, including the advisor — also the author of this research. While everyone with a camera phone has taken photo-sharing experiences at some time, I was amazed by the number of photographs shared with me, all spontaneously retrieved from the smartphones of participants. Most of the photographs — probably thousands — had never been uploaded to social media, and the disclosure of these “private photo-sharing experiences” provided me with an eye-opening encountering on the wide ranges of the symbolic repertoires of the individuals taking them, and the subtle negotiation involved as the individuals present themselves for future reference. I was caught up with the relentless cultural labor involved in promoting and sustaining their networked personae, some of which is experimentally not flattering, such as a number of pictures featuring a himself standing in the mud, or crying outside in the rain – an unflattering imitation of scenes from Crystal Boy – a local literature masterpiece. A naïve reader may find these photo-sharing experiences self-indulgent and repetitive, but as an advisor to the gay student club, this experience inspired me to come up with a thought-provoking research proposition — why are these vernacular life practices, daunting but nevertheless entertaining, so prominent among them? What are they trying to achieve with these vernacular practices? While my discussion with students can be anecdotal, the cultural and aesthetic investment in producing symbolic repertoire seems tacitly shared across the gay community, and only selected few photographs are shared on social media. This study thus is driven by a desire to unpack an increasingly common vernacular practice among Taiwanese gay male college students, which is common yet under-researched.

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