What does the selfie say? Investigating a global phenomenon

Theresa M. Senft*, Nancy K. Baym

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

257 Citations (Scopus)
2256 Downloads (Pure)


This special section brings together diverse scholars working from varied locations and perspectives to break through this hype and lay groundwork for treating the selfie phenomenon with the nuanced attention it deserves. Asked to explain why the production and circulation of self-generated digital photographic portraiture, spread primarily via social media, has grown so popular of late, economists and technologists tend to point to the global saturation of camera phones (especially but not exclusively the smart phone); the aggressive marketing and adoption of the front-facing phone camera; and the growing popularity of online photo-sharing platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Tumblr, WeChat, and Tinder.

Although there is no denying the role technology has played in the rise of the selfie phenomenon, as communications theorists, we are more interested in the selfie as cultural artifact and social practice. A selfie is a way of speaking and an object to which actors (both human and nonhuman) respond. Our inquiry can be thought of as threefold. First, we ask, what does the selfie say about what different cultures value, dismiss, or contest at the levels of ontology, evidence, epistemology, affect, ethics, and politics? Next, how is this saying figured by factors such as age, race, gender, sexuality, class, power, access, language, faith, nation, and history? Finally, how do selfies flow, and, in so doing, how do they facilitate flows and debates around meaning, affect, and representation in easily digestible bits?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1588-1606
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Communication
Issue numberFeature
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2015. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • selfie
  • self-portrait
  • social media
  • photography
  • autobiography
  • moral panic
  • meme
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Snapchat


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