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Media Aesthetics Workshop

"Screen Cultures at Media Aesthetics" (1)

Media Aesthetics invites Screen Cultures to a joint workshop focusing on Screen Cultures. More information about this collaboration is coming soon.

On the program:

Steffen Krüger will use the opportunity to dust off his pet project with the working title "Instagram, plasticity and mental health - the persistent question of narcissism in social media". 

The steady ascent of the image-sharing platform Instagram to a global “cultural powerhouse” (Victor, 2018) has been accompanied (although not perturbed) by constant warnings about its harmful effects on its users’ self-esteem and body image. “You Won’t Find Your Self-Worth on Instagram” (Marikar, 2019); “Why Instagram Is the Worst Social Media for Mental Health” (MacMillan, 2017). Such headlines are supported by empirical findings that correlate social media use with self-objectification, internalisation of beauty ideals, dissatisfaction with one’s body and poor self-esteem (e.g. Fardouly et al, 2018; Feltman & Szymanski, 2018). 
 
The correlation between social media use and low self-esteem is by no means new, but has, together with the younger user demographics, moved from Facebook to Instagram. While these two platforms are markedly different from each other, their differences are outweighed by the similarities in their effects on users’ self-image (see e.g. Fardouly, 2018, p. 1382).  Whereas Facebook has been pushing a preference for idealised self-presentations since its launch in 2004, Instagram’s emphasis on imagery, artistry and celebrity seems to have exacerbated this drive towards idealisation further. The FaceTune application, presently synonymous with image practices on Instagram, allows users to freely manipulate their own likeness, from the removal of pimples, via the modulation of smiles, to the subtle change of one’s face shape and the correction of the position of the eyes. 
 
These possibilities of playful self-optimisation have a highly seductive potential. And yet, the question of what it is that keeps so many of us attached to practices that also come at such a high cost for one’s mental health remains somewhat elusive. While the answer clearly needs to be found in the wider cultural contexts in which Instagram is embedded, I want to approach these contexts via the psychological concept of narcissism.
 
Narcissism is by no means underused in studies on social media – to the contrary, there is a deluge of publications drawing on the term (Campbell & McCain, 2016). In these publications, however, narcissism is frequently applied in a simplistic way that does not only leave its meaning potential largely untapped, but tends to render the concept essentialist and characterological. In this view, narcissists, due to their will to self-aggrandisement, are prone to spend more time on social media than the average user, amass more followers and post more status updates and selfies (Campbell & McCain, 2019). 
 
Against the grain of this tradition, I want to insert the concept of narcissism into research on the link between digital media and self-esteem, by unpacking its meaning potentials in post-Freudian psychoanalytic works. Specifically, I will shed light on narcissism as the interchanging between states of possession and non-possession of one’s self (Mitchell, 1974), as the illusion of self-sufficiency in situations of extreme dependency (Walsh, 2015) and the anxious response to the question of ‘How does the other want me to be?’ (Johnson, 1996). Bringing these understandings in touch with research on Instagram and self-esteem will give us a better grasp of the wider cultural contexts to which they belong. ​
Published Oct. 31, 2019 8:26 AM - Last modified Mar. 30, 2020 9:49 PM