Week 4

This week’s reading, Zizi Papacharissi’s “Affective Publics: Sentiments, Technology, and Politics,” was honestly the reading I struggled with the most so far. I had a hard time reading and understanding the conceptualization of “affect.” There were a few other concepts, such as “framing,” that were discussed from early on in the book but were not clearly defined in the context of the reading until later on.  

One concept I found interesting in the book was that of “electronic elsewheres,” which the author describes as online spaces where marginalized people can freely express themselves. While the book uses this concept in the context of twitter, there are certainly many other spaces on the internet made for those in marginalized groups to connect and share their views and experiences. One example of this is the website PrisonTalk.com, an online community that describes itself as a “prison information and family support community,” where members of the site (generally those who have incarcerated loved ones) can offer support and information, and can engage in prison activism. Another example that comes to mind is dating apps for people who have HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. I wonder if these types of online spaces would be considered “electronic elsewheres,” because while the sites aren’t actively projecting the users’ views to the public, they are still virtual spaces where people can feel safe engaging in potentially taboo subjects that would not widely be considered socially acceptable to discuss—such as sympathizing with convicts and forming relationships with someone while they are incarcerated, and entering the dating scene as a person with HIV or other incurable sexually transmitted diseases.

Another topic I thought was interesting and relevant to social media today is what Papacharissi identifies as identity expression through “approaches that resemble micro-celebrity, personal branding, and strategic self-commodification” (95). As a big Instagram user, I notice this use of the platform very often. There are tons of “micro-celebrities” who have become Instagram famous for just about any reason— many users that become “famous” on Instagram do so through prolific use of hashtags and engaging on the site with other users. For example, there are communities of (mostly) women who support each other after issues such as miscarriage, stillbirth, and infertility. Many people rise to a “micro-celebrity” status due to documenting their journey struggling with these issues. Another example is the many Instagram accounts of pets. In both examples, there is a commodification of whatever it is the issue or topic is. I have seen instances where people will endorse businesses that make products related to these topics, whether it is a deeply personal memorialization for their stillborn child, or simply a new kind of dog toy. Additionally, some accounts attempt to earn revenue through advertising and selling their own merchandise of their own personal brand. For example, Instagram user “juniperfoxx,” a woman who has an account documenting her rescued pet fox, has links on her account to her online store where she sells various clothing items with paintings of the animal’s face on it. I think it is interesting how people can brand and potentially market just themselves and their stories, without having any other sort of claim to fame or new innovation.

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