On Display: Instagram, the Self, and the City

Two billion global Instagram users, yet minimal social science research. Beyond its perceived superficiality, Instagram’s self-presentation raises profound questions: Who are we? What do we want to show of ourselves? What do we aspire to be? Justus Uitermark and John Boy present On Display: Instagram, the Self, and the City. The book launch features a talk with Princeton’s ‘sociologist of technology’ Zeynep Tufekci.

On Display is a book about how people remake their worlds through social media. John D. Boy and Justus Uitermark provide an encompassing account of how a platform that is unfailingly polished and ruthlessly judgmental, shapes us and our environments. They examine how personalities, relations, social movements, urban subcultures, and city streets change as they are represented on Instagram. Interviews and ethnographic vignettes render an intimate account of the desires and anxieties that animate the platform. Just as importantly, Boy and Uitermark reveal how Instagram is implicated in social inequalities.

While previous accounts have argued that social media promotes polarization, On Display shows that this is not the case for Instagram where users belong to large and diverse networks, compelling them to take many, often contradictory expectations into account. This means users shy away from producing statements or images that may cause offence to preserve their public image and their social connections. Drawing on sociological theory, long-term qualitative inquiry in Amsterdam, and computational analyses, Boy and Uitermark argue that grasping the power of Instagram–and other social media platforms–requires seeing them not as digital networks of communication and sharing, but as a stage for the expression and affirmation of social status.

The book launch will be followed by a conversation with Zeynep Tufekci, globally acknowledged as an expert in exploring the intersections of technology with social, cultural, and political dynamics.

About the speakers

John D. Boy is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Leiden University, where he coordinates the d12n Research Cluster. He teaches urban studies, digital society, research ethics, and qualitative and computational methods in the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology (CADS) as well as the interdisciplinary Urban Studies program in The Hague.

Justus Uitermark is a Professor of Urban Geography and the Academic Director of the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research at the University of Amsterdam. He studies cities, digital platforms, and politics. His earlier books include ‘Cities and Social Movements’ (with Walter Nicholls) and ‘Dynamics of Power in Dutch Integration Politics’.

Zeynep Tufekci is the Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and columnist for the New York Times and WIRED. She focuses on big social challenges that defy disciplinary boundaries and simple answers and is the author of ‘Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest’.

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