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Do Instagram And Flickr Shape the Art of the Revolution?

December 12, 2017

Frame ArtIs Instagram a significant factor in how Egyptian artists used street art to protest the revolution?

How about Flickr?

My sense, based on all the recent books and articles about street art in Cairo, is “no,” but I don’t have the data I need to support it.

I’m asking the question because I just read an article in Media, Culture & Society entitled “‘I’d Double Tap That!!’: street art, graffiti, and Instagram research” by Lachlan John MacDowall and Poppy de Souza. The authors explain that:

the production and consumption of forms of street art and graffiti are increasingly shaped by the architectures, protocols, and uses of Instagram

In other words, how one does street art is increasingly shaped by an awareness of how the people who see your art will share it based on its Instagrammability.

An article in Visual Culture by Axel 

Both of these articles fit in with the growing fascination of Western, and especially European media scholars with “mediatization,” this awareness that the practices of everyday life are increasingly being shaped by the integration of new media technologies into our lives. McDowell is at University of Melbourne, DeSouza is an Australian independent researcher, Philipps and Zerr are with Leibniz University Hannover, and Herder is at Radboud University Nijmegen.

I enjoyed both articles…

but…

when I read an article like this, the anthropologist in me keeps wanting to scream:

Where?!

Who are “we”?!

I’m glad that we have articles on media use across the Western world. They raise important questions and offer fascinating ideas that we who work outside of Western Europe, Australia and North America may find stimulating for our own work in places like Egypt, Nigeria, India, China or Brazil.

But one of my pet peeves in media studies is the tendency of scholars to look at data in one setting–even a broad setting like urban cities in Australia or the UK or among European participants on Flickr–and extrapolate broadly to the rest of the universe. This is especially a temptation for scholars who discuss media affordances (even if they shy away from using the term). It is such a temptation to assume that if media is shaping the ways we do things, it must necessarily be shaping things in similar ways everywhere.

It may well be true, for example, that many street artists in Melbourne or Sidney are deliberately shaping their art to be “spreadable” by social media like Instagram and Flickr. That’s fascinating, and it raises an important question: is this also true for revolutionary street artists in Cairo? For street artists in Bangalore? For street artists in the projects in New York?

I wish scholars in Europe and North America could stop imagining themselves to be “the global” and add modifiers– “in the UK,” “in urban London.” You know damn well that if I wrote about Instagram and street art in Egypt I’d have to include “…in Egypt” or “…in Cairo” in my title and abstract.

Because even in an age of digital media, the global is comprised of overlapping and interconnected locals.

Here’s the abstract for the Instagram article:

Recent scholarship into the uses of social media has opened up productive ways of thinking about the dynamic relationship between user-generated content and new forms of sociality and social practice. However, compared with Twitter and Facebook, the photo- and video-sharing platform Instagram has received relatively little scholarly attention. Instagram is only the latest in a complex media history that has shaped a range of social practices, including graffiti and street art. This article considers the relationship between street art, graffiti, and mobile digital technologies, in particular the ways in which the production and consumption of forms of street art and graffiti are increasingly shaped by the architectures, protocols, and uses of Instagram. Beyond thinking conceptually about how Instagram is reshaping these practices, it also considers some analytic strategies for Instagram research that can illuminate this emerging and dynamic relationship. We also suggest that thinking of Instagram simply as another tool obscures both the complex issues of using Instagram metadata for research (privacy, the definition of publication, intellectual property, archiving, and conservation) and they ways in which the platform itself is in no way distinct from the cultural formations to which it promises access.

And here’s the abstract for the Flickr article:

Street art is public art; it’s accessible; it’s of the people; it’s an urban voice; it’s on public view; it’s on-the-street. Nonetheless, the World Wide Web has been party responsible for street art becoming both recognised and popular. As a result, this study is investigating how street art is represented on the open photo-sharing platform, Flickr. It is a social network site offering a large portfolio of photographs showing a wide range of images, which have been categorised and classified using ‘tags’. By using a visual content analysis based on theoretically determined categories to examine the uploaded photographs, this investigation will shed light on what a selection of Flickr users recognise as street art and how they record and index it.

References

MacDowall, Lachlan John and Poppy de Souza. 2018. ‘I’d Double Tap That!!’: street art, graffiti, and Instagram research. Media, Culture & Society 40(1): 3 – 22

The representation of street art on Flickr. Studying reception with visual content analysis. Visual Studies 32(4): 382-393.
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