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My Selfie Practice: Self-Knowledge Production and Agency

Over the course of this term, we have debunked the popularized myth that selfies are shallow cultural artifacts. Domestic photography, snapshots, and #selfies of all genres have dynamic semiotic functions and play a major role in “backyard ethnographies” and (re)claiming agency. Borrowing methodology from Smith and Watson’s Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives and ideologies of the autobiographical “I” from Linda Rugg’s Picturing Ourselves: Photography and Autobiography I’ve reviewed the selfies I’ve taken, edited, and posted over the past two years. I’ve collected these selfies from my Instagram account, as this site affords expressive posting and breadth of audience.

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As seen above, my personal selfie practice is driven by self-knowledge production and expression of emotional and ideological fragmentation.

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Linda Rugg, discusses the ways in which autobiographic practice transforms the author from subject into both subject and object. I have noted that “this fragmentation, though alienating, ultimately allows the author to regain agency through the reassembling, or re-membering of these fragments” (Pelka). My selfies take fragmentation beyond the metaphor of the autobiographical “I” and expresses it literally. The self-distance created by autobiographical production allows me to engage with my emotions more directly. Re-membering my fragmented emotional states thus becomes an act of self-knowledge production.

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Through self-fragmentation, or not showing my “whole self,” I aim to remove myself from objectifying gazes. This collection of selfies expresses what I think and how I feel, rather than how I look and what I look like I’m feeling or should be feeling. This forces the audience to read the image in a different way. It is not “she looks good,” but “she is good.” Manipulating the affordances for interpretation of my image grants me agency.

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The paratextual aspects of Instagram afford this mode of autobiography. While highly expressive, my Instagram selfies are not necessarily meant to be socially communicative. The distance between a user and their audience on Instagram affords more abstractc use of visual semiotics. There is less risk in posting sensitive material when there is no obligation to respond to a comment. Additionally, Instagram also allows me to position myself as inclusive to knowledge of culture and aesthetics.

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Through the self-fragmentation of my own body in my selfie practice, I aim to gain agency by directly addressing my emotional states, while also diverging from objectifying practices of “whole” self-representation.

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Smith, Sidonie and Julia Watson. Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives.  Second edition. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 2010.

Rugg, Linda Haverty. Picturing Ourselves: Photography and Autobiography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

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About sophiapelka

MA Experiment Digital Media @uwaterloo. Sandwich eater. Into visual n audio semiotics n hard thinks.

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