The interplay of (semiotic) technologies and genre: The case of the selfie

Sumin Zhao, Michele Zappavigna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The selfie is one of the most widely publicised, criticized, and debated visual phenomena of our time. However, formulating a definition of the selfie is not straightforward, as visual clues—be they representational or compositional—alone are not sufficient for identification (Authors, 2017). Recognising an image as a selfie, rather than a portrait, often requires viewers to “make inferences about the non-depictive technocultural conditions in which the image was made” (Frosh, 2015, p. 1608). In this paper, we consider in detail the technological conditions that have shaped the evolution of the selfie as a visual genre. Central to our discussion is the premise that the selfie is not simply a genre for self-representation, but means of generating various perspectives: that of the selfie maker, the represented visual participant, and the viewer (Authors, 2017, a. b.). This unique perspective-generating affordance of the selfie is both facilitated and constrained by the various technologies involved in selfie practices. On the one hand, the technological and physical constraints of the smart phone camera give rise to a specific form of ‘distorted’ look which makes certain types of selfie possible, e.g. presented selfies (a close up portrait of the selfie maker in an unbalanced composition, and inferred or implied selfies (where perspective of the self is represented by body part or an object). On the other hand, social media platforms facilitate the sharing of selfies, which results in increasingly stylized and creative ways in which perspectives of the self can be represented, negotiated, and, in the case of selfies manipulated via apps, augmented.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)665-682
Number of pages18
JournalSocial Semiotics
Issue number5
Early online date28 Aug 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Aug 2018


  • selfies
  • social media platform
  • genre
  • social semiotics


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