Structure, Agenca and Identity in Taiwanese Girls’ Self-Portraiture Online
In this era of the Internet and Web 2.0, an abundant corpus of research on girls’ various forms of digital content-creation has been done. Prevalent in this vigorous body of studies is a positive attitude that celebrates the ‘discovery’ and acknowledgment of girls’ role as agents in cultural activities and a potential rejuvenation of feminism, much like the excitement of discovering female pleasure and resistance in reception studies two decades ago. My project looks into Taiwanese girls’ online photographic self-portraiture on Taiwan’s most popular Social Networking Site (SNS), and asks what role this practice plays in the formation of their identity. I view their media consumption and selfportrait production as embedded in the grain and context of everyday life, shaped and reflecting the identification, negotiation and resistance between individual agency and hetero-normative structural influences (commercial, familial, media and cultural). I acknowledge that girls’ agency exists but also bear in mind issues such as commercialization and sexualization. In this sense, I will engage sociological theories of ‘individualisation’ with feminist critiques of the post-feminist ‘empowerment’ discourse and ask how we can move beyond the opposition between optimism-agency and pessimism-exploitation. Also, if the feminism perspective is to be brought into the examination of the risk-taking, boundary-exploring behaviours of girls’ self-portraiture, how do we approach this occasionally highly-sexual practice without resorting to moralism and conservatism? To this end, I have attempted to outline the possible positions in understanding girls and Internet self-portraiture as follows: 1/ Active-Hope: Empowerment 2/ Passive-Hope: Pleasure 3/ Active-Fear: Self-Objectification 4/ Passive-Fear: Exploitation/Victimization My research questions are grouped in three categories: 1/ The nature of self-portraiture: What are young people’s Internet self-portraits like? Are there discernible patterns emerging from boys and girls self-portraits? What are gender-related characteristics and differences in their self-portraits? 2/ Girls and self-portraiture on Social Networking Site: What does self-portraiture mean to girls? Why, how and when do they do it? What kind of activities do they do on their SNS space, with whom do they interact, and how involved are they? What elements from their everyday lives do they incorporate in their self-portraiture? What are the factors that inform their decision of self-portraiture? How might their self-portraiture reflect traces of social-structural influences and also their attempts to express and make sense of girlhood? 3/ Media in the self-portraiture: Do girls draw references from media representations (TV, magazine, advertisements, others’ selfportraits) into their self-portraits? What elements of the media representations do they import and how do they make use of them? The project uses a mixed method of quantitative content analysis of 200 self-portraits of 100 girls and 100 boys selected at random, as well as online participant observation and semi-structured IM interviews with 16 girls. Ultimately, this project aims to understand how Taiwanese girls make sense of their lives via self-portraiture on SNS, and to identify the opportunities and risks in their online engagement for the development of (new) media literacy education in Taiwan.