Visual social media project

This project is a collaboration with Sumin Zhao at the University of Edinburgh (@SuminZhao). We adopt a multimodal and social semiotic approach to exploring visual meaning-making on social media platforms. A particular focus of this project is the intersubjective function of the selfie. We argue that the presence of selfhood is often an assumption. What distinguishes the selfie from other photographic genres is its ability to enact intersubjectivity—the possibility for difference of perspectives to be created and this difference to be shared between the image creator and the viewer. Based on a social semiotic analysis of selfies we identify five subtypes of selfie (presented, mirrored, inferred, implied, still life), each deploying a combination of visual resources to represent a distinct form of intersubjectivity. Our analysis suggests that the potential for empowerment is inherent in the visual structure of the selfie, and that as a genre in an interplay with semiotic technologies, it is open for recontextualisation across contexts (e.g. motherhood blogging, cycling etc.) and social media platforms (e.g. Instagram). The project also considers other dimensions of visual social media such as memes and minimalism discourses.

Pre-print versions of the articles below are available on the ResearchGate Project Page. Paywalled versions are listed below. Please email for copies.

Related publications

Zappavigna, M., & Zhao, S. (2020). Selfies and recontextualisation: Still life self-imaging in social media. In M. Miles & E. Welch (Eds.), Photography and its Publics. London: Bloomsbury. pp. 205-227.

Ross, A. & Zappavigna, M. (2019). My sport, my perspectives: Intersubjectivity in cyclist Instagram postsDiscourse, Context & Media. 34. Available online ahead of print 23 August 2019.

Zhao, S. & Zappavigna, M. (2018). The interplay of (semiotic) technologies and genre: The case of the selfieSocial Semiotics (special issue on Social Media as Semiotic Technology). 28(5), 665-682.

Zappavigna, M. (2019). The Organised Self and Lifestyle Minimalism: Multimodal Deixis and Point of View in Decluttering Vlogs on YouTubeMultimodal Communication, 8(1), 1-14. doi:10.1515/mc-2019-0001

Zhao, S. & Zappavigna, M. (2018). Digital Scrapbooks, everyday aesthetics & the curatorial self: Social photography in female visual blogging. In F. Forsgren & E.S. Tønnessen (Eds.), Multimodality and Aesthetics. London, New York: Routledge. pp. 218–235.

Zappavigna, M. & Zhao, S. (2017). Selfies in 'mommyblogging': An emerging visual genreDiscourse, Context and Media (Special issue on media evolution and genre expectations). 20, 239-247.

Zhao, S. & Zappavigna, M. (2017). Beyond the self: Intersubjectivity and the social semiotic interpretation of the selfieNew Media and Society. 20(5), 1735-1754.

Zappavigna M. (2016). Social media photography: construing subjectivity in Instagram imagesVisual Communication. 15(3), 271-92.

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