Beyond the self: Intersubjectivity and the social semiotic interpretation of the selfie

Sumin Zhao, Michele Zappavigna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As an iconic image of our time, the selfie has attracted much attention in popular media and scholarly writing. The focus so far has been on the representation of the self or subjectivity. We propose a complementary perspective that foregrounds the intersubjective function of the selfie. We argue that the presence of selfhood is often an assumption. What distinguishes the selfie from other photographic genres is its ability to enact intersubjectivity – the possibility for difference of perspectives to be created and this difference to be shared between the image creator and the viewer. Based on a social semiotic analysis of selfies on Instagram, we identify four subtypes of selfie, each deploying a combination of visual resources to represent a distinct form of intersubjectivity. Our analysis suggests that the potential for empowerment is inherent in the visual structure of the selfie, and that, as a genre, it is open for recontextualisation across contexts and social media platforms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1735– 1754
JournalNew Media and Society
Issue number5
Early online date7 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


  • instagram
  • intersubjectivity
  • selfie
  • social semiotics
  • visual grammar


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