Photographic Autobiographies: Personal and Algorithmic Narratives in Social Networks

Project: Research

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The shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 has provided new tools of self-expression which are significantly different from traditional forms of self-presentation and autobiographical writing. Individual statements on personal websites, weblogs, and social networks are publicly accessible and subject the autobiographic self to immediate feedback and permanent evaluation. In social networks explicit forms of self-expression are accompanied and increasingly replaced by automated recording of personal data. The resulting autobiography is an assemblage of deliberate verbal and non-verbal utterances and automated records of the user’s actions and of other users’ interactions (postings, comments, visits, likes, shares etc.). In contrast to traditional autobiographical writing, those reports or records about the self are not the result of self-reflexive identity construction but the datafied mirror of a self that is constructed through its actions in and beyond the social network. Combining the expertise of scholars in literary and media studies and blending close reading of autobiographical writing with the analysis of the technical and social frameworks of such writing, this project aims to understand how the affordances and constraints of digital technology in social networks change autobiographical writing and self-understanding. The primary data will come from a six-week period analysis of twenty Facebook-accounts as well as diaries kept simultaneously during two weeks of that period by ten of the participants. The reported events (status updates and interactions with other sites) and responses (comments, likes, shares) on the Facebook-accounts will be analyzed for keyword patterns and cause and effect trajectories as ‘hidden narratives’. The analysis of the diaries will shed light on the differences between self-description within the interactive constellation of a social network and self-description undertaken without time pressure, space limits, and pending interaction. Data will also include in-depth qualitative interviews with participants about their own retrospective understanding of the time covered on their Facebook-site and in their diary and about their awareness of revealed relations between entries on their Facebook-site. The project will provide an understanding of the role certain techniques of self- expression in digital and social media play in contemporary forms of identity construction. Results of the project will be used to design an undergraduate general education course on autobiographical writing in digital media.


Project number9042307
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/1618/10/17

    Research areas

  • narrative,autobiography,identity,social networks,