I am pleased to announce that I will be presenting a paper at this year's Theorizing the Web conference, April 25-26. If you cannot physically be at the conference, register anyway! It will be broadcast via Skype. Click here to register. 

#TtW14 "is an inter- and non-disciplinary annual conference that brings together scholars, journalists, artists, activists and commentators to ask big questions about the interrelationships between the web and society."

My paper is based on the research I did for my dissertation at Goldsmiths. It explores the potential power of Instagram (and other photo-sharing apps) to change the way we view public space. Here is the abstract:

Heavily influenced by de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life and inspired by Bataille’s notion of ‘aesthetic action’, this paper deals with Instagram as a background for a communal cartography that has the potential to create ‘geographies of resistance’ (Steve Pile). It seeks to understand our contemporary pictorial turn, which is driven by our dependence on maps and our increasing use of the photograph as a method of communication. What potential does this paring have in the formation of our world? Connected to the locative media (GPS) of the app Foursquare, Instagram the world’s most used photographic app, becomes a map through which the potentiality of new spaces can be realized.

The research for this paper incorporates human geography, new media and political resistance aligning them with certain post-structural theories of Deleuze and Guattari, Barthes (Camera Lucida) and Foucault (Heterotopias). Beginning with an explication of our current visual culture the paper then leads into an analysis of mapping and counter-mapping practices linking them to the act of smart phone photography. It examines the implications of the geo-tag as a method of sharing within social media and it attempts to prove that equipped with photo-sharing applications, the photographic documentation of the smart phone both consumes and produces a new conception of site, creating wholly new spaces, which can be called technogeographies. This term is appropriated from Simondon’s conception of a location where machine/technology create a connection between ‘two geographies’ that once had no connection. Applying the term to the role of Instagram in the recent protests of Brasília and Istanbul’s Gezi Park, the paper then explores these new ‘third spaces’ as counter-maps to the established laws of ownership by state and economic forces. The result of the research is to prove that Instagram’s photography is a method of counter-cartography that re-constructs our notions of shared space through the communal consumption of the photograph as mapped co-ordinate.

More eccentric than extreme, Instagram has the potential for subversivity, which is defined “as a disruptive attitude that tries to create openings, possibilities in the ‘closedness’ of a sysem. . .as a result, [it] more closely resembles cultural activism than political praxis” (De Cauter, ‘Notes on subversion/Theses on Activism’). My hope for this paper is to provoke a shift in the modality of Instagram (and, in future, apps like it) from photo-sharing social network to counter-cartographic device that can ‘prime’ a resistance to the traditional delineations of border and capital imposed on our social spaces. 

Copyright, Sarah Jaffray, January 2014

Image courtesy: Theorizing the Web 2013