Micro Visual Narratives on Instagram: A Critical Analysis of Selfies and Reimagining Personal Narratives on Social Media through Participatory Research


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date23 Jan 2020


The aims of this research are: to give an account of what it is like to live in a world in which selfies and photos on social media are an increasing way for people to tell their own personal narratives; to discuss how this practice could influence people’s perception of social media and their own roles in the production of personal narratives; and to propose alternative and better ways for social media to work. It starts with a discourse analysis of media discussions about selfies, which identified the main debates on the subject as being: dangerous and shameful; good and empowering; and in need of regulation. Then, I discussed the academic discourses about selfies, organized by the categories: who makes selfies; selfies and pathologies; empowering selfies; selfies and the self; selfies as a form of conversation and socialization; selfies as part of the spectacle and consumption society; selfies as visual diary; and selfies as presence statements. The following step was to describe an autoethnography project. This, combined with the literature review, led me to realize the gaps in the academic discourses as: what is a selfie; selfies as multiple practices; how they connect to technological affordances; ways of seeing; power relations; human’s documentary impulses; and storytelling practices.

Next, I conducted semi-structured interviews and undertook a participant observation of Instagram profiles. Amongst other findings, it was identified that some people create multiple profiles on Instagram in order to curate and express their diverse selves. Based on these findings, I amplified my study to all types of personal images shared on social media. I then propose to understand these as micro visual narratives, a derivation from the small stories framework by Georgakopoulou. The main characteristics of micro visual narratives are: single posts composing narrative threads; part of identity construction; narratives made in collaboration; performed and authentic; and potential contributors to personal agency and empowerment.

Finally, I conducted participatory research to understand the potentialities of the practice in a social context. I wanted to verify how micro visual narratives can combine with methodologies that already use narratives to work with social justice and awareness. Adapting Digital Storytelling methodologies to social media times, I developed the app ‘Life Stories’, in which people created their narratives via voice and photos. Inspired by performativity and participatory research, I interviewed the participants with the goal to not only to find out about their participation in the study, but also as a way to provoke a reflection on their own online practices and on how we can rethink social media. To conclude, I proposed to reimagine social media with fewer negative aspects such as hate speech, fake news, and cyberbullying, by improving the opportunities for empathy. I then briefly discussed three clues to achieve this: media literacy; Internet regulation; and safer spaces to share personal stories.

    Research areas

  • Selfies, Instagram, Social Media, Critical Thinking, Discourse Analysis, Netnography, Autoethnography, Participatory Research, Digital Storytelling