Connecting With Cultures Through Food – Reflection

For my Digital Asia body of work, I felt drawn to explore the topic of food through cooking. I had recently found and tested a laksa recipe online. While cooking it, and during the meal itself, I felt so at home. See, I spent my formative years in Singapore and Malaysia, and travelling across South East Asia. I’m originally South African, but moved to South East Asia when I was about 6 or 7. Growing up across cultures, my parents cooked South African dishes like babotie and bunny chow at home as a way to remember and share the culture they grew up in. After moving to Australia for high school, stir fries and curries remained a big part of our diets, and an important way to connect with the culture we’d left behind. Food and its connection to memory is an important aspect of the ways in which immigrants try to “maintain a historically validated ethnic identity” (Holtzman 2006: 366).


I decided to interview international students about what foods were culturally or mnemonically important to them. I posted on Facebook for volunteers, and explained to those who reached out what my projects involved, who would be likely to read and view them, and that I would be attempting to cook the foods they told me about. I felt it was really important that the participants were comfortable with me engaging with their stories and cultures in that way. I was careful to obtain consent to use their stories and names and emphasised that it could be withdrawn at any time. I felt these negotiations and agreements were critical in the ethical production of the research, and was careful to “address guidelines for respectful engagement… ethics of authorship… and how the data can be used by the collaborators” (Lapadat 2017: 600).


I met with Shayan, Gracie, Thu, and Charlene over coffee or beer and had casual, unstructured conversations, with participants leading the way, rather than being questioned. I was interested in hearing their stories, and the practice of interactive interviews described by Ellis et. al. (2011), wherein researchers and participants explore cultural themes through conversation, was most appropriate for exploring emotional connections to food. The experiences with Shayan and Thu were shared to the Digital Asia blog. Myself and my coresearcher realised too late that we could only produce two pieces within the word limit for that assessment. I published a brief account of my encounter with Gracie on my personal blog, knowing from our conversation that I really wanted to cook the food she told me about. In the blogs and the videos, I was careful to acknowledge the contributions of Shayan and Gracie, without whom the research could not have been, nor been what it was.


After the first phase of the project, the blogs, I attempted to cook some of the foods that we’d talked about in the interviews; pancit from the Philippines, from Gracie’s childhood, and Sindhi biryani, a Pakistani dish that Shayan described as the ‘national dish of Pakistan’. I felt that finding ingredients and recipes, cooking them myself, and sampling the foods would provide more of an immersive experience than ordering at a restaurant.


My first filmed cooking experience yielded two hours of footage. I filmed my entire afternoon in the kitchen, start to finish, hoping to capture my impressions, reactions, and experience of interacting with another culture. I quickly realised I had instead captured 20 minutes of silent chopping, or simmering, or cleaning. When I filmed my second video, I began recording only when I wanted to speak about the experience or share my thoughts, producing significantly less raw data to filter through. A few weeks later, when it came time to edit each video down to five minute YouTube videos, I was faced with the challenge of deciding which parts of the video were relevant, forcing me to consider what kind of research and work I wanted to produce. Ultimately I decided to focus on my reactions and musings, rather than on the cooking process, being mindful of the goal of autoethnographic research to “analyse personal experience to gain an understanding of the cultural experience” (Ellis et al cited in Pitard 2017: 109).


In the final videos, there were two common themes that really struck me and stuck with me – for each dish, I found a range of recipes with plenty of variation and without explicit instructions; and both yielded enough food to feed 8-10 people. On the first theme, I put forth the theory that these are recipes which would be passed along generationally within families, rather than formalised in recipes – my own mother swears I’ll only get her recipes, which exist in her head only, once I’m married. On the second, drawing on my own experience of South East Asian cultures which are neighbours to the cultures I explored, I mused that this was likely a result of children and grandparents living at home for longer, and extended family living together or nearby. Intrigued by these epiphanies, I was compelled to look into the cultural structures that influenced the recipes I found.


On a different note, I was really curious about the superstition around birthdays and noodles mentioned in the pancit recipe I used, and found an interesting explanation, which I shared with my YouTube video.


Intrigued by the quantity of food produced, I researched intergenerational living and kinship ties in South Asia. I found that more than 70% of elderly parents live with their children in the Philippines (Milagros et. al. 1995: 145), and that coresidence among extended family, or living very closeby, is also extremely common due to strong traditions of kinship and family reliance (Peterson 1993). This research corresponds with and complements the experience described by Gracie of large family dinners, and my own experiences growing up.


On my theory regarding recipe variation, I found the work of Sutton very informative – he describes the act of cooking as cultural reproduction, and describes the “traditional transmission of cooking knowledge from mothers and grandmothers to daughters and granddaughters” through “a visit to the person’s kitchen to observe and participate” (2001: 125-6). Other researchers have noted that recipes cannot replace the apprenticeship of a relative, but should instead “serve as memory-johs for previous learning that has been acquired through experience” (Heldke, cited in Sutton 2001: 134). Shayan, talking of the women gathering in the kitchen together to cook the biriyani for family gatherings, alluded to these practices of intergenerational teaching. Like my mother, his mother didn’t have a written recipe that I could borrow for this assessment.


Both Gracie and Shayan have read the published blogs from our interviews. Both were happy with how their experience and conversation had been represented, and both consented to me continuing with the project. Gracie requested a few minor changes, which I made immediately. As a coresearcher, giving her the power to adjust, improve, or change in any way the product of our research is important to address the ethical issues inherent in representing or speaking for others (Lapadat 2017: 589). Shayan’s response to the blog I wrote, which was much more in-depth, was “thank you for portraying my culture and religion in such a positive way by backing it with good research and evidence. I appreciate it. 🙂” Consent was sought to include our personal interactions.


The videos will go live at the time of submitting this assessment, and both Shayan and Gracie will be invited to give their feedback.


Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. Available at:

Holtzmann, J 2006, Food and Memory, Annual Review of Anthropology, vol. 35, pp. 361-78

Lapadat, JC 2017, ‘Ethics in Autoethnography and Collaborative Autoethnography’, Qualitative Inquiry, vol. 23, no. 8, pp. 589-603

Asis, M.M.B., Domingo, L., Knodel, J, Mehta, K 1995, Living arrangements in four Asian countries: a comparative perspective, Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology, vol. 10, no. 1-2, pp. 145-162

Parker, S, & Amilbangsa, G 2017, Connecting with Cultures Through Food – Philippines, I Just Woke Up Like This, blog, October 3,

Parker, S, & Chawla, S 2017, Connecting with Cultures Through Food – Pakistan, I Just Woke Up Like This, blog, October 17,

Parker, S 2017, Connecting With Cultures Through Food – Biryani, 2 November,

Parker, S 2017, Connecting With Cultures Through Food – Pancit, 2 November,

Peterson, JT 1993, ‘Generalized extended family exchange: A case from the Philippines’, Journal of Marriage and the Family, vol. 55, no. 3, pp. 570-584

Pitard, J 2017, ‘A Journey to the Centre of Self: Positioning the Researcher in Autoethnography’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 108-127

Sutton, DE 2001, Remembrance Of Repasts : An Anthropology Of Food And Memory / David E. Sutton, n.p.: Oxford : Berg, 2001

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Connecting with Cultures Through Food – Pakistan

When we met in a cafe on campus, Shayan, a Pakistani international student, told me about his love of food. He revealed his secret dreams, which he called his ‘realistic goal and the unrealistic one’ – to become a food reviewer on YouTube, and to open an excellent steakhouse back in Pakistan. Good steak is rare in Pakistan, he tells me, despite meat being a big part of their food culture, particularly for the Muslim community of which he is part.

Shayan says, “Muslims and Hindus used to live together in India, and Hindus won’t generally eat meat, so historically speaking, Muslims will make sure we eat meat to… it’s all about bragging right.” Not only is meat important to their cultural identity, but to their religious traditions as well. The Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, meaning the Feast of Sacrifice, is one of the holiest on the calendar. Shayan tells me families are required to slaughter an animal and divide the meat, keeping one third for themselves, giving one third to family and friends, and giving one third to the poor and needy.

“Then we all get together for a big BBQ. I bring my meat, you bring yours, and the women make biryani. It must be Sindhi biryani, though,” he says with a laugh.


My attempt at Sindhi biryani for my next project – stay tuned for the video

Coming from a big South African family, I can picture so easily the men around the BBQ, bonding over the grill, and the family event it must be – a South African braai is a real event. It just goes to show that good meat and good company bring people together the world over.

When Shayan told me about Eid and the religious rituals of sharing with those in need, I thought it was wonderful. Centering religious practice around acts of kindness and love for fellow humans is something that I (as a non-religious person) can get on board with. I became really intrigued by the idea and practices of an animal sacrifice – it’s something my mind associates with ancient civilizations. I’m also a confirmed meat-eater, but I’m still squeamish about how it gets to my table.

My curiosity (and admitted squeamishness) led to research, where I learned that Muslims sacrifice animals at Eid to “commemorate Abraham’s act of devotion… (and) identify themselves with Abraham’s obedience and his spirit of sacrifice” (Si Thu, 2016, 196). These expressions of piety and obedience seem to me to be coupled with self-discipline as well as cultural identity.

While the practice may be about piety and obedience, I learned that it’s also a pretty important part of life in Pakistan. The required sacrifice and distribution of meat to the needy is an important aspect of poverty alleviation, particularly in rural areas. For many of the extremely poor, it may be the only meat they eat all year.  Moreover, Hussain & Khan (2009) explain how it’s more wide-reaching and effective than monetary aid – the practice benefits farmers and breeders who supply the livestock (and in turn, their suppliers), butchers who prepare the meat after the ritual, craftsmen who work and sell the wool and leathers (and each family recoups some cost of purchasing the animal through the sale of skins), and, of course, the poor, who can either consume the meat or trade it for other essentials. These far-reaching benefits couldn’t be implemented just with monetary alms-giving or established charitable organisations (which have their place in aid). Hussain & Khan argue that these traditional practices assist in ways and areas that government financial aid has not, which is important in a country with such enduring wealth inequality.

I can easily see that my own internalised beliefs and assumptions (Pitard 2017, p108) about animal welfare, charitable acts, and family barbecues made me want to understand why it’s necessary to sacrifice an animal, rather than just donate. While I make conscious efforts not to judge, my subconscious seeks to justify practices that I would shy away from. I believe though that it was easier to approach the topic with an open mind, from a place of acceptance of cultural differences, because I learned of it from somebody I could relate to and just relax with – our coffee was fun and chill af. Shayan and I have so much in common that our differences are easy to reconcile. Collaborative research with an interpersonal approach is a more effective way to understand and connect with cultures. (Lapadat 2017, p598).

By Sage Parker and Shayan Chawla


Hussain, S, & Khan, M 2009, ‘Poverty Alleviation: The Redistribution Impact of Eid-ul-Azha Animals’ Sacrifice on Rural Economy’, Journal Of Managerial Sciences, 3, 2, pp. 248-260

Lapadat, JC 2017, ‘Ethics in Autoethnography and Collaborative Autoethnography’, Qualitative Inquiry, vol. 23, no. 8, pp. 589-603

Pitard, J 2017, ‘A Journey to the Centre of Self: Positioning the Researcher in Autoethnography’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 108-127

Si Thu, T 2016, ‘The Celebration of Eid in Burma and Reconciliation’, Asia Journal of Theology, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 193-207.

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Connect with Cultures Through Food – Philippines

Gracie, a student at the University of Wollongong and fellow debater, speaks with an accent that’s hard to put your finger on – she calls it pan-global. Grace was born in the Philippines, and as a child moved around between Australia, India and the UAE. Her heritage is mixed Chinese and Spanish.

Like many other third-culture kids (TCK), Gracie struggles to define where home is, but says she feels “culturally Filipino,” because at home, her family speaks Filipino languages and eats primarily Filipino food. As a TCK myself, this resonated with me in a very personal way.

The Philippines has quite a history of international involvement, Gracie tells me. Their culture and food is strongly influenced by the wave of Chinese migrants and settlers, and then Spanish colonizers, who introduced bread and new spices to the Philippines, and then by Americans, who controlled the Philippines during WWII and had military bases and thousands of soldiers in the country. Americans brought with them sweet foods, chain restaurants, and fried chicken – “You can’t have a party without fried chicken,” laughs Gracie.

fried chicken

At home, Gracie’s mom does most of the cooking, making more traditional Filo foods  – “You use whatever you’ve got, anything leftover goes into the soup.” Family staples are sinigang, from her father’s home region, and pancit, which is stir-fried rice noodles.

Grace has lived all over, and tells me “Food and language help me feel connected to my past, to the cultures I’ve lived in.” Those smells and tastes are such powerful tools of nostalgia, and great ways of bonding and sharing culture, no matter how far away from home you are.


By Sage Parker and Gracie Amilbangsa

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‘Lanterns: The Harvest Festival’ Review

A tile-placing game set in imperial China, ‘Lanterns: The Harvest Festival’ is family board game for players of all ages developed by Foxtrot Games. Two to four players must prepare the Emperor’s palace for the Harvest Festival by placing colourful lanterns across the lake. The artisan (player) who earns the most honour before the festival begins is the winner.


‘Lanterns’ is played with 35 lake tiles, 56 lantern cards, 20 wood favour tokens and 1 wood fishing boat. Players take turns laying lake tiles to create patterns with the coloured lanterns printed on the lake tiles, and receive lantern cards corresponding to the colour of the lanterns facing their direction on the lake tile. When the players have collected enough lantern cards, they can make a dedication, trading lantern cards for honour tokens. Dedications can be made as four of a kind, three pair, or one of each card.

One of the truly excellent mechanics of ‘Lanterns’ is that the amount of honour for each dedication becomes lower with each card; the first card on the pile is worth 9, the next 8, and so on. The available honour dwindles as the game proceeds, and the race is on!

The distribution of lanterns in this game is also ingenious. When a tile is placed, all players receive a lantern card corresponding to the colour facing them on the lake tile that’s placed. This risk vs reward structure introduces strategy and long-term planning into the game which must be weighed against the need for speed to earn the most possible honour. The combination of strategy, planning, speed, and cooperation  is what won this game the Mensa Select status at the 2015 Mind Games.

To further explore the mechanics, check out the rulebook, supplied by Foxtrot Games.

The rulebook is easy to understand and laid out in a logical order, a small but important feature. From the first play through, the game is easy to understand and follow, and referring to the rulebook continuously isn’t necessary.



Visual Design

I cannot rave enough about the design elements of ‘Lanterns’. To put it simply, it’s stunning. The lake tiles abound with colour and delicate shapes, balancing the colours in a beautiful harmony. Each lantern colour on the lake tiles also has its own distinctive shape, appearing to be glowing flowers floating on a serene lake.

The lantern cards come in seven colours, each with their own shape. Lanterns come in blue, purple, blue, red, orange, green, black, and white, and each of them in a shade I can only describe as deeply calming. Holding the lantern cards in your hand, with a soft glow emanating from the delicate paper lantern, is almost a zen experience.



‘Lanterns’ is so fun and simple – its simplicity makes it easy to play and enjoy from the first time, but the complex strategies involved in laying the tiles are what lets you play this game again and again without it getting stale. Every time you play, watch a new scene on the water unfold before you. Moreover though, ‘Lanterns’ is just gorgeous. Even though I lost (to my ongoing rival), the simple beauty and lovely materiality of the game kept the smile on my face. You’ll want to play this game over and over, just for the prettiness.

‘Lanterns’ is available in Australia through Good Games, and it’s well worth the $56 RRP. Get your friends and family together to compete for the favour of the Emperor!

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Critique of Jame’s Blunsum’s ‘Safe Spaces and Trigger Warnings’

Over the course of the semester I’ve been following the research project of my classmate, James Blunsum, concerning the establishment of safe spaces on university campuses and the use of trigger warnings in a university context. Here I will try to present a fair and helpful critique of his project, which is available at

Initial ideas

At the beginning of the semester, James was interested in the effect of intersectional feminist movements on university campuses. However, through his research and in-class work, his ideas became more specific and targeted. In his first presentation, James made it clear that his initial overarching theme, ‘Feminists Negative Influence’ was too broad and he had decided to narrow it down to discussing safe spaces and trigger warnings in a university context, as he considered them to be heavily influenced by intersectional feminism and similar interest groups.

In his pitch, James outlined a plan for the semester to explore how safe spaces and trigger warnings were harmful to higher education by examining the goals of higher education and how those goals were affected by the feminist-led initiatives of safe spaces and trigger warnings. James identified American university campuses as being the focus of his project, as these campuses were and are at the forefront of the dialogue surrounding safe spaces and trigger warnings. The first project pitch made it clear that the project would be critical of safe spaces and trigger warnings as shields protecting students from things that made them uncomfortable.

At the time of the first pitch, it was suggested to James that he examine and discuss the difference between things being uncomfortable versus harmful and explore the way these ideas are expressed within the movements for safe spaces and trigger warnings in universities.


Blog posts

James’ project is comprised of six blog posts on WordPress. The first blog post, titled ‘It’s a Threat – Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces’ sets the tone of the project and makes clear what approach the author will be taking in his review of the topics. This first blog gives an outline of what safe spaces and trigger warnings are within the context of universities. The first blog post weighs in at a lengthy 1000-odd words, but is very effective in making clear James’ stance on the issue. I felt that the information would have been more digestible if the blog post had been shorter, or if safe spaces and trigger warnings were each given their own blog post to define and give examples. However, James makes good use of images and memes to engage the audience.

The project does well in relating trigger warnings to PTSD and discussing mental health, but could have provided more research on prevalence of mental health issues on campuses. The project describes the demand for trigger warnings and safe spaces as simply “hyper-sensitivity and over-the-top political correctness“, but the example given is outside of the university context.

Some blog posts in the series, particularly the one dealing with Stefonknee Wolscht, seemed at times off-topic. As Blunsum explained in his seminar, however, it draws attention to the challenges of providing equality in the law for diverse needs and identities that aren’t fully understood. This is a strong argument about the difficulty of giving every student exactly what they need.

In his third blog, Blunsum gets stuck into the meat of his topic. James outlines his views that universities need to be intellectually diverse and resilient and that if content has an impact on the mental health of a student, the onus is on the student to prevent this as “the university should have no obligation to cater to those who do not take care of themselves.”

ABS statistics show that 26% of people aged 16-24 deal with mental health problems. Of that 26%, only a quarter seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health issues  Given that at least a quarter of students suffer from mental health problems, it is fair to believe that universities have a role to play in management and support. James argues that students need to take care of themselves, but I would suggest that campaigning for safe spaces and trigger warnings is exactly that.

James’ project goes on to discuss why safe spaces are not necessary because universities as a whole are safe – ignoring the ongoing reports of incidents based on racial bias, sexual identity bias, gender bias, etc. at universities. While the project talks explicitly about intellectual ideas being uncomfortable, it’s safe to say that if students are experiencing violence, they are also experiencing harassment and harmful speech.

In light of these figures and reports, I feel that James’ project may have benefited from an analysis of the factors that contribute to students demanding safe spaces.

Safe spaces

Throughout the project, the author describes safe spaces as physical spaces where students can go to feel unchallenged and to recover from mental strain. The author also consistently argues that safe spaces are a threat that censor information and threaten intellectual diversity. Professor Gannon of Grand View University says that safe spaces are places people can go “to be affirmed and assisted” and to “process and discuss challenging material”. Safe spaces don’t censor course content, but provide a community. Professor Gannon goes on to say “If we don’t challenge students, we fail. But that challenge isn’t a constant bombardment. And it’s not a constant, 24/7 thing.”

The project would have benefited from a more clear and consistent definition of safe spaces as either a physical construct or an ideology across a university as a whole.

Trigger Warnings

The project defines trigger warnings as being used to warn people with PTSD that what they will be exposed to will trigger their PTSD. The project doesn’t discuss what can cause PTSD or what causes of PTSD are ‘valid’. Trigger warnings are further described as ‘a heads up about the potential harmfulness of information’.  The author also suggests that trigger warnings would censor academia and stop material from being taught. The project doesn’t provide any examples of universities where this is the case. The University of Chicago famously refused to use trigger warnings, but lecturers there argued that “the right to speak up and to make demands is at the very heart of academic freedom.”

Monash University in Melbourne is preparing to include trigger warnings in subject outlines, denoting when a lecture or tutorial will tackle a difficult subject, to give students the opportunity prepare themselves for the content beforehand. This is in line with the self-care promoted by Blunsum in his talk of student responsibility.

The project would have benefited from the analysis of where and how trigger warnings are being used on campuses, as well as ‘real world’ applications, such as content warnings in the news, media classification guidelines, etc.


Blunsum puts forward some strong ideas about academic freedom and intellectual diversity, both of which are essential to the learning process. The author presents passionate arguments and opinions which may be compelling with the right sources. James stuck to his project plan very successfully and provided quite a lot of coverage on his chosen topic. He also produced more blogs than he originally anticipated and published pretty consistently.






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Images of Struggle

***This post features no inline pictures as a matter of respect for the subjects and audiences. However, linked resources may cause distress.***

Earlier this year, Fiji suffered a devastating hurricane and the rest of the world looked on through their screens. The response from the global community was rapid, with fund raising efforts coming from large corporations, media organisations and local communities alike.

Whenever disaster hits, mass media ceases all coverage of other events. Most major broadcasters provide round the clock coverage in major issues like natural disasters, terrorist attacks, disease outbreaks, major criminal sentencings, etc. Journalists will tell you this is because of ‘news worthiness’, because these stories are important to hear  and will generate the most public interest and sales.

But when it comes to representing struggle and crisis in the media, how much is appropriate to show and share? Portraying suffering in the media carries serious ethical considerations. To what extent does sharing an image, like those of refugee children washing ashore, actually help the victims of these disasters? Are we really creating a sense of global community, or just watching from our seats of privilege and comfort?

“The representation of suffering bodies is a conspicuous and
unavoidable trait of modern humanitarianism, which has gained
the status of a social norm.” (Calain, 2013, p283)

While disastrous events do serve to mobilise fundraising efforts, some argue that people donate not out of compassion but to gain a sense of morality or of ‘saving poor nations from themselves’. This approach completely denies the victims agency in their own saving. In my last post, I talked about the importance of expressing agency in creating and controlling self-portrayal in social media. On a much larger scale, the people shown in images and stories of disaster are denied that agency and their stories and identities are crafted instead by reporters far from the situation. Instead it makes of them commodities in the media cycle.

In Australia and many other Western countries, people only care if their nation is involved, with many news agencies focusing on national victims rather than the overall impact.

As Chouliaraki, 2008 (p343),  explains, “the care for the suffering of distant others expands beyond the West only in so far as the West is part of this suffering, both experiencing and witnessing it.”

So is it really just about casting Western countries in the role of either tragic victim or hero to the desperate?

Many argue that the value of images and stories like the above examples are to generate public interest and support for the victims. Sadly, the conversations sparked by this approach don’t last very long, and soon the media turns its attention elsewhere. The audience and their wallets soon follow.

“We should not idealize the audience, believing that all we need to do in order to awake compassion and engagement is to expose people to pictures of humanitarian disasters.” (Höijer, 2004, p529)

But what else can we do? Foreign audiences often don’t have the power or political capital abroad to impact real change, or the ability or desire to physically go to the situation and offer real help.  And at least we can help financially, we hear over and over. So what’s the comparative?

In reporting on disaster, on crisis, on poverty – on suffering at large – it is essential that the media uses its powers of influence to highlight the root causes of the problems they’re reporting on. In natural disasters, the focus should be on the systemic problems in response and relief. In terror attacks, the focus must be the circumstances leading up to the event. In humanitarian crises, we must emphasise the ways in which political structure, both domestic and international, allows this to happen to begin with. This approach respects the victims of crises, without placing them in a position of being inferior to those providing aid.

While stirring images might ignite a public outcry, it is the duty of the media to turn that outcry into public debate and global action. Without this debate and action, these shocking images are little more than a tug on the collective heartstrings.

Calain, P, 2013, ‘Ethics and images of suffering bodies in humanitarian medicine’, Social Science & Medicine, vol 98, pp 278-285,

Chouliaraki, L, 2008, ‘The symbolic power of transnational media: Managing the visibility of suffering’, Global Media and Communication, vol 4 no 3, pp 329 – 351

Höijer, B, 2004, ‘The discourse of global compassion: the audienceand media reporting of human suffering’, Media, Culture & Society, vol 26 no 4, pp. 513-531



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First Let’s Take A Selfie

The selfie phenomenon in popular culture is mind boggling.  There’s not a single day that Facebook isn’t abuzz with selfies from friends, and our news streams are being flooded and overtaken with yet more Kardashian selfies.

And I have to be honest, I don’t get the obsession. We all have friends who post multiple selfies a day,no matter how bored their audience gets. Is it an exercise in vanity? It can sure look that way from the outside. “In its most pessimistic characterization, to take selfies is to stroke and fondle the self in a masturbatory display of self-aggrandizement.” (Murray, 2015, p511)

In a more favourable analysis, selfies are a way that we craft, control and present ourselves to the world. Social media and selfie culture can be viewed as a powerful tool for expressing agency and mediating the way you come across to the people in your sphere of influence. Rettberg, 2014 (p.42), says social media and selfies allow us to “change our self-presentation over time.”

The way that I use social media is very controlled. The selfies I post are almost exclusively with other people. Selfies taken just of me are only posted if I’m desperate for a new profile photo. It’s not that I don’t like the way I look. But I definitely don’t want to be perceived as overly interested in my appearance, or as having so much free time and self interest. Moreover, whatever I’m doing is probably more interesting than my involvement in it.

On the rare occasion I post photos of myself, with or without others, I have standards and rules that apply to all uploaded photos. First, they should be on my good side (the right). I should be smiling, doing something interesting, and of course, having a good hair day. Bonus points if the selfie is celebrating something.



Of course, I have rules for the non-visual content I post and share as well. My social media sites are full of celebratory posts, funny things I’ve seen, places I’ve been. They project a happy, active, busy and confident young woman. At least, that’s the intent. My content rules include (but aren’t limited to); don’t air dirty laundry – save that for the bff; don’t insult or complain about other people or things – this will come back to haunt you; don’t post anything an employer shouldn’t see because they will google you.

Seidman, 2013 (p406), analysed how personality types affect self representation online –

“High neuroticism and low conscientiousness were the best predictors of self-presentation. Conscientious individuals are cautious in their online self-presentations.”

I’ll choose to take conscientious as a good thing (although it could be read as paranoid). Considering how deeply our media usage infiltrates our lives and how many people – acquaintances, lecturers, employers – use social media as an initial evaluation, it pays to be cautious. For the first time, we have have a radical kind of agency that allows us to not only create our own self-definitions, but even go back and edit them later.

Why not take advantage?


Murray, D.C, 2015, ‘Notes to self: the visual culture ofselfies in the age of social media’, Consumption Markets & Culture, vol 18, no 6, pp 490-516

Rettberg, J, 2014, ‘Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: How We Use Selfies, Blogs and Wearable Devices To See and Shape Ourselves‘, Palgrave Macmilllan, Hampshire

Seidman, G, 2013, ‘Self-presentation and belonging on Facebook: How personality influences social media use and motivations’, Personality and Individual Differences, no 54, pp 402- 407



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