The visual digital self: A discourse theoretical analysis of young people’s negotiations on gender, reputation and sexual morality online

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Burcu Korkmazer (Ghent University)

Sander De Ridder (Ghent University)

Sofie Van Bauwel (Ghent University)

Published May 17, 2021


Young people’s self-presentations on Instagram often display considerate discourses on gender, reputation and (sexual) morality. Previous studies have explored how these discourses are embedded in cultural narratives, while overseeing the significance of visibility and visual storytelling cultures online. Using a Foucauldian Feminist approach, we explore how young people’s discourses reflect the visual performance of aesthetic and neoliberal subjectivities online. Through six groups of young people between thirteen and twenty years old, we investigate how the visibility afforded by Instagram affects the negotiations of young people on gender, reputation and sexual morality. We gave them the agency to create, narrate and reflect upon fictious social media profiles with ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘ideal’ self-presentations, using a discourse theoretical analysis to examine the visual artefacts, individual stories and group conversations. Our analysis shows that youth’s discourses on self-presentation are based on a dynamic relation between self-determination and self-monitoring. Ideal self-presentations are understood as self-determining performances of visual, aesthetic and neoliberal subjectivities, whereas bad self-presentations are often negotiated as self-monitoring performances regarding sexual morality.

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