Resistance and Protests Through the “Selfie”: Recasting the Self Through the Politics of Protest

Resistance and Protests Through the “Selfie”: Recasting the Self Through the Politics of Protest

Yasmin Ibrahim (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4796-0.ch001


Conjoining images of digital self-portraits (i.e., ‘selfies') with protests and resistance recasts the self through new paradigms of enquiry in the social media landscape. The appropriation of digital self-imagery to express protest and partake in social movements and resistance personalises and individuates collective resistance, and, in the process, the ‘self-image' becomes a tool of embodied self-expression as well as solidarity imbuing the ‘self' through new modalities of social relations where the material body is co-opted into a politics of protest without de-centring the self. This chapter examines the phenomenon of selfie-activism within the social media era where the ‘visual' turn of instant imagery lends new forms of the attention economy to protests and campaigns, pulling physically bound protests into virtual and voyeuristic forms online where they perform both to the politics of protest and the demands of semiotic capitalism.
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There has been increasing interest in the area of selfies as a research enquiry in its own right. From the aesthetics of selfies to their commodification online, this is an area of robust scholarship seeking to delve beyond narcissistic frameworks to understand the curation and the projection of the self onto social media and public digital platforms where it may be re-assembled and consumed differentially (See Nikunen 2019; Vega 2017; Losh 2014). The selfie has emerged as a resonant cultural form not only as a self-curated self-portraiture but as a tool to convey presence, invite validation, and as a mode of communication and reciprocation with family and peers. Its utility is not confined solely to diarizing the self and its quotidian or extraordinary journeys through life. It can be observed as a common resource of digitalized civilizations embedded intimately in their patterns and rhythms of articulation and self-organization with the increasing use of smartphones in our everyday lives. This imbues it with cultural readings and interpretations, where both universalities and particularities might apply with reference to different contexts in consuming these as commodity forms or making them available as transactable digital artefacts online. The selfie as a cultural form is undeniably complex, as we witness its proliferation through convergent technologies and its concurrence in the everyday. The selfie as a form of everyday experience is then synonymous with culture and the forms of signification which circulate within society (Williams 2011) bound with the intimate spheres of social relations and beyond. Culture, for Raymond Williams, gives a common resource for meanings where the ordinary culture of the everyday can collide with national and global cultures. Hence, through the concept of ‘structures of feeling’, Williams sought to convey the amalgamation of representations with lived experience, fusing the everyday with a wider world of signification. This then implicates the selfie as an everyday artefact implicated through the intimacies of everyday life and beyond. Everyday life is also a site rich with subversions, transgressions and nuanced articulations of resistance and as such it is important to go beyond the cursory to examine the common cultural resources we take for granted (Brown 1996: 729) where the perfunctory may be reassembled as a site of resistance. The material and immaterial modes of life signification become re-assembled through the digital architecture of the internet where the selfie can both acquire meaning and value as a political tool or a symbol of solidarity, yet is diminished through multitudinous agendas online.

The incorporation of recording and imaging devices on smartphones and the improved resolution of imaging and recording technologies on mobile gadgets has meant that self-portraiture, instances of which are dubbed ‘selfies’, has produced enormous interest and uptake as a form of expressing the self, as a mode of communication, diarization, exchange and a commodity form producing value and social capital in its own right (See Ibrahim 2018a; 2017a; 2015a; 2010a). The saturation of selfies on social media platforms has meant the convening of new forms of gaze, including self-fetishization, accumulation of value, and aestheticization; and the utilization of the selfie can be seen through varied economies from consumerism to resistance as well as the expression of solidarity with a cause. Invariably these have raised difficult ethical questions about the popularity of the selfie in different contexts and the human endeavour to leave traces of ourselves online, even in spaces of unfolding trauma or tragic scenarios of loss (Ibrahim 2015b).

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