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COURSE NAME: "Selfies and Beyond: Exploring Networked Identities"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2019

INSTRUCTOR: Donatella Della Ratta
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 1:30-2:45 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: COM 311

This course explores the state of the online self—the multiple ways in which identities and subjectivities are constructed in the networked environment—with an emphasis on social networking platforms (Instagram, Tinder, Facebook, etc.). The course ties networked identity’s impact on a number of current topics, including celebrity, consumer culture, dating, gender, violence, emotion, affect, big data, surveillance, collective action, and privacy. The central question explored throughout the course is how identities and subjectivities are shaped in a networked environment, and how they, in their turn, shape culture, social dynamics and politics in everyday life.

Extending and developing the basic research into digital media cultures that students have been introduced to in COM 311, this coursedraws on a variety of research traditions and perspectives—from psychoanalysis to aesthetics to digital ethnography—to go beyond the sociological and political-economic readings of Internet platform capitalism. By providing diverse critical tools and theoretical approaches to contemporary forms of the online self, the course reflects on the ways in which networked communications technologies challenge binary categories such as individualities and collectivities, agency and control, visibilities and invisibilities.To make sense of the complexity of modes and moods of the online self, we explore artistic and literary practices, as well as critical creative approaches that transcend the dominant paradigm of algorithmic predictability. 

The class combines lectures with discussion groups, screenings of relevant material, and practical exercises to test the theoretical frameworks and critical tools analyzed in class on actual online practices, such as social networking, data sharing, etc..


The course provides students with:

1.  a variety of critical approaches to interpret contemporary networked identities and subjectivities, and to understand how the use of networked communications technologies impacts the ‘self’ and the formation of new collectivities;

2.  an insight into how diverse forms of popular culture (e.g. films, novels, performances, etc.)  reflect upon and translate the modes and moods of the online self; 

3.  a broad understanding of the contemporary debate on the online self, and of the major areas of research and artistic experimentation within this domain;

4.critical tools to conduct qualitative research and write quality reflection papers, developing a personal theoretical perspective on the subject matter.


Attendance and participationSee attendance requirements here below. Participation includes doing the assigned readings and actively contributing to class discussions. Each student (alone or in team with another, depending on total number of students) has to lead one group discussion during the semester based on the assigned readings.10%
'Bring your own example' - Weekly reflections on the assigned readingsEvery week students are required to provide a short paragraph connecting the weekly readings to a relevant example. The paragraph should be sent via email the night before the first class of the week.10%
Media ‘experiments’ Students are required to exercise in auto-ethnography applying theoretical frameworks & perspectives studied in class to their daily experience of social networking platforms and other online environments. Detailed guidelines will be provided. 20%
Midterm essay Analysis of a media product from popular culture connected to the topics of the class. Detailed guidelines will be provided.20%
Final research paper, Library assignment, and oral presentationStudents are required to write a paper between 2500-3500 words. A Library assignment will be connected to the research paper. The paper will be presented during the finals. Detailed guidelines to be provided. 35%
Participation to 'Digital Delights & Disturbances' lecture series Students are required to attend 3 sessions of the lecture series. A detailed calendar with dates & event description will be provided at the beginning of the semester. 5%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


Please note that more than 4 absences will automatically result in lowering your participation grade by one letter grade for each absence.
Anything above 8 absences will result in failing the course.

If you have a serious health problem which causes you to miss more classes than allowed here, please contact the Dean's Office.

Lateness: If unexcused, students more than 10 minutes late are marked as absent. Late arrival (less than 10 minutes) is marked as such, and 3 late arrivals are counted as one absence. 

Class procedure:  Use of cell phones and laptops affects your participation grade and is strictly forbidden during class.

Please make sure that your cell phone is turned off (and not just muted) when class starts. Kindly note that any infringement of such policy shall automatically result in a F grade in participation.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


A note on auto-ethnography as a method: 


Class Schedule 


Week 1: The networked self and the social: a theoretical orientation

How does technology impact on the understanding of society, and on man’s own sense of the body?

Excerpts from:

Baudrillard, J. (1983) In the shadow of the silent majorities… or the end of the social and other essays. New York: Semiotext(e).

McLuhan, M. (1996) The Medium is the Massage. Berkeley: Ginko Press. 


Week 2: Identity and subjectivity formation of the online self 

How has the self become a media object? How is our sense of identity created and displayed publicly? What are the consequences?

Excerpts from:

Tiidenberg, K. (2018) SELFIES: Why We Love (and Hate) Them. Bingley: Emerald Publishing. 

Lovink, G. (2016) On Social Media Ideology. E-flux #75, September.

Week 3: Affect theories 

How do we understand and study the online self?

Excerpts from:

Hillis, K., Paasonen, S., and Petit, M., eds., NetworkedAffect. Cambridge, MA, and London: MIT Press. 

Tiidenberg, K. (2018) SELFIES: Why We Love (and Hate) Them. Bingley: Emerald Publishing. 

Week 4: Virality and (hashtag) visibility 

How do data and people become visible and sharable online? Does hashtag visibility form new collectivities?

Dean, J. (2016) Images without Viewers: Selfie communism. Foto-Museum blog post.

Jenkins, H., Ford, S., and Green, J. (2013) Spreadable Media. Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York and London: New York University Press.


Week 5: Celebrities, consumer culture and the ‘edited self’ 

How do networked technologies affect identity presentation and social interaction? How is the ‘edited self’ displayed in public? What happens when average people can influence large audiences through social networking platforms?

Excerpts from:

Senft, T. (2013) ‘Microcelebrity and the Branded Self’. In Hartley, Burgess and Bruns eds., Blackwell Companion to New Media Dynamics. Chicester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Abidin, C. (2014). ‘#In$tagLam: Instagram as a repository of taste, a brimming marketplace, a war of eyeballs’. In Berry and Schleser eds., Mobile Media Making in the Age of Smartphones.New York: Palgrave Pivot.

Week 6: Gender, sexuality and dating 

How does the networked environment shape and reflect gendered subjectivities? How do forms of the online self become central to mediated sexual cultures, from flirting to dating to hooking-up?

Excerpts from: 

Senft, T. (2008) Camgirls: celebrity and community in the age of social networks. New York: Peter Lang Publishing 

Illouz,  E. (2007) Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism,Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. 


Week 7

Recap and midterm exam

Week 8: Violence and visibility of the online self 

What does it happen when the online self takes violent forms, when mundane practices such as Instagramming and taking selfies become instruments of violence? 

Excerpts from: 

Hegghammer T., ed (2017) Jihadi Culture: the art and social practice of militant islamists.Cambdrigde: Cambridge University Press. 

Kuntsman, A. and Stein, R. (2015) Digital Militarism: Israel’s occupation in the social media age. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 


Week 9:Networked emotions 

How do sadness, anxiety, boredom, and other ‘moods’ of the self transform and manifest in the networked environment?

Excerpts from:

McDonough, T. ed. (2017). Boredom. Cambridge, Massachussetts: The MIT Press.

Broder, M. (2016) So Sad Today. New York and Boston: Grand Central Publishing. 


Week 10: Affective networks 

How does the production of affect drive the networks’ economy? What new forms of labor are produced within a networked environment?

Excerpts from:

Wark, M. (2013) The Spectacle of Disintegration: situationist passages out of the Twentieth century. London and New York: Verso.

Hillis, K., Paasonen, S., and Petit, M., eds., NetworkedAffect. Cambridge, MA, and London: MIT Press. 

Week 11: Dataveillance and algorithmic cultures

Is software innocent? Are data numb? What happens when emotions and feelings are constantly turned into data, controlled and sold to corporations and governments, leaked and hacked by criminals for malicious purposes? 

Excerpts from:

van Dijck, J. (2014). Datafication, dataism and dataveillance: Big Data between scientific paradigm and ideology. Surveillance and Society 12(2). 

Chun, W. (2011) Programmed Visions; Software and Memory. Cambridge, Massachussets: The MIT Press. 

Recommended readings

Cheney-Lippold, J. (2017) , We Are Data. Algorithms and the Making of Our Digital Selves, New York: New York University Press. 

Cohen, J. E. (2016) The Surveillance-Innovation Complex: The Irony of the Participatory Turn, in Barney, D. et al. (eds)The Participatory Condition in the Digital Age, Minneapolis – London: University of Minnesota Press.

Case studies on algorithmic predictability (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube) and data mining scandals (Cambridge Analytica, etc)


Week 12 Mask design, anonymity, and new forms of collective action 

Is there any free space left to design new identities and new forms of collective action escaping data mining, corporate, state and peer surveillance? and what premises are hidden in contemporary crypto-design projects?

Excerpts from: 

Coleman, G. (2013). Anonymous in Context: the politics and power behind the mask. Internet Governance Papers. Waterloo, Ontario: The Centre for International Governance Innovation.


deSeriis, M. (2015). Improper names: collective pseudonyms from the Luddites to Anonymous. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 


Week 13: Privacy and the right to digital death

What is the meaning of privacy when public self-disclosure makes the real added value of the networked economy? Is there a way out from being constantly profiled and ranked? Can our digital selves be killed and forgotten? 

Excerpts from:

Senft, T. (2015)’ The skin of the selfie’. In Bieber, A. ed. Ego Update: the future of digital identity. Dusseldorf: NRW Forum Publication. 

Mayer-Schönberger, V. (2009) ‘Reintroducing Forgetting’. Chapter VI, in Delete. The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital AgePrinceton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. 


Week 14

Wrap up & recap