#selfie – Imag(in)ing the Self in Digital Media
Interdisciplinary Conference, University of Marburg (Germany), 23-24 April 2015


Selfies are everywhere. Miley Cyrus does it, Barack Obama does it, and even pope Francis leaves his popemobile to let his followers take some selfies with him. Since the term ‚selfie’ has been chosen to be the word of the year 2013 by the Oxford Dictionaries, it has become evident that taking and sharing selfies is not just some temporary hype of web culture but a noteworthy cultural practice that calls for further academic exploration. The phenomenon of selfies raises a variety of questions regarding subjectivity, identity, the recent history of photography, network culture, and image theory. What is new about selfies? To what extent should they be considered as a remediation of older image practices like self-portraiture or personal photography? Why did the genre of ‚selfies’ become viral in social online media? How did this new visual genre evolve and develop so many subgenres? What are the technological conditions of the social practice of taking and sharing selfies? The conference seeks to explore these and other questions, which are often facing the intersection of different disciplines. We therefore welcome contributions from the fields of Media Studies, Art History, Cultural Studies, Psychology or Sociology for the following panels/sections:

1) New Technologies of/for the Self

This panel seeks to track the historical development of technical media of self-portrayal and to discuss the consequences of these technological prerequisites for the construction of the self. The shift from analogue to digital media, which is often referred to as the most important media transformation of the 20th century, alters and extends the possibilities of depicting, staging, and sharing personal information. Digital photography changes the way we use and understand personal photography in everyday life. Here, we would like to discuss for example whether the primary function of personal photography as a memory tool is replaced by the function of creating presence or simply communicating with others. What is the technological basis for selfies and what are its aesthetic consequences? How does smartphone design encourage or react to the practice of taking self-portraits? How are the various possibilities of manipulating digital images put into use? In addition, looking at selfies as a subcategory of snapshot photography, questions of authorship are brought into focus. The person taking the picture of herself/himself competes with the camera or the smartphone as medium and apparatus for the status of the author. How do these new, software-based tools like pre-installed filters challenge traditional concepts of authorship?

2) Self(ie)-Aesthetics – Staging the Self

Selfies have specific aesthetic features, which are constituted by their subject as well as by their technological pre-conditions. First, selfies capture the act of taking a picture and can therefore be seen as acts of media-reflexivity. Secondly, they install a certain ‘closeness’ that is inscribed in the technical process of taking a picture of oneself with a smartphone, the face being just an arm-length away. The possibilities and limitations of smartphone photography set the stage for the aesthetic performance in/of selfies. Selfies are made for staging, displaying, depicting, exhibiting, and showing oneself and thus foster psychoanalytical and media-theoretical questions. Selfies seem to serve the individual’s need for continuous self-remodelling and self-monitoring. They can become a tool of creating personal identity and constructing a certain image for an audience as well as they are used as self-disciplinary tools, which is suggested by categories like ‘welfies’ (‘workout-selfies’). The role of body images and the ubiquity of faces and smiles in consumer or popular culture and their media-specific forms of representations can be questioned within this panel.

3) Self-Made Culture

Selfies are self-generated, self-selected pictures and therefore can be contextualised as being part of a certain ‘self-made culture’. The imperative of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) abounds in YouTube-tutorials, blogs and other Social Web applications as well as in ‘real-life’-projects such as urban gardening, which promote a logic of ‘doing’, pursuing different forms of participation. Here, we would like to discuss the role of the user as producer of personal content in personal media. Selfies range between individual expression and collective practice, between DIY and standardisation, which can be noticed i.e. by analysing online manuals for taking selfies. Selfies can also be discussed as a shared practice, which interrelates the ordinary Facebook user with celebrity culture and vice versa.

4) Framing and Locating the Self

In digital media, selfies are always contextualised. Like other digital photographs, selfies are easily networked and distributed via the Internet. They are part of the logic of Social Network Sites and their economies of clicks, tags, likes, and comments. With other audio-visual content on Social Network Sites selfies share the principle of seriality, they appear in multitudes and there is often a certain urge for the next, subsequent self-portrait. The selfie itself on the other hand can be seen as a mobilized frame for the self, which provides localisation in times of ubiquitous mobile communication. Although the figure in the foreground is the centre of attention, the background of each picture reveals information about private or public spaces implicitly or explicitly delivering messages like “I’ve been there!” or “This is my bathroom”. Hence, selfies function as mutable tools for framing and raise many questions regarding their shared and networked nature.

5) Genrefying the Self

This panel discusses how the genre of ‘the selfie’ evolved as a phenomenon of discourse as well as a visual practice and how it can be related to older genre-traditions of visual media. How has the selfie become a genre of its own and what are its genre-criteria? How does this new genre evoke an ever-increasing array of subgenres like ‘belfies’, ‘welfies’, ‘helfies’, ‘shelfies’ etc.? Is it possible to link the selfie to other genres like the self-portrait in painting and analogue photography? In the context of digital media the selfie appears to be only one example of a general trend of ‘genrefication’ ranging from the general category of memes to YouTube-tutorials, ‘planking’ and other recent social media phenomena. This playful formation of new genres resulting in a multitude of norms, standards, and rules challenges classical theories of genre.


We invite papers of 25-30 minutes from researchers of all disciplines. The conference will be held in English and German. Abstracts (in English or German, max. 500 words) including name, affiliation and email address, and a short vita (max. 100 words) should be sent to selfie@uni-marburg.de before July 28th, 2014.


Abstract submission: 28 July 2014


Julia Eckel (M.A.), Prof. Dr. Jens Ruchatz, Sabine Wirth (M.A.)

Institut für Medienwissenschaft
Philipps-Universität Marburg
Wilhelm-Röpke-Straße 6A
D-35039 Marburg


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