This is the first in a series posts about my Instagram project. This one is fairly academic; the next one (coming soon) is a bit more focused on the practicality of the project.
In October 2016, I began an experiment using Instagram as a method of research dissemination – the #AustralianBeachspace project. Primarily using my PhD thesis (2013) as the basis for content, I combined photographic images of Australian beaches with informational captions. The project is finite: I have three months of content planned (one post per day for six days a week) that will form an archive on completion. One of my motivations for this project was to try and capture one of my main findings from my thesis, which (in brief) is that visual representations of the beach seem to regularly prove less engaging and authentic for viewers (as evidenced by poor box office and critical reception of filmic and televisual representations of Australian beaches). As such, I wanted to experiment with visual representation as a core part of sharing information from my research into this area.
Obviously there are some other motivations, many of which will be familiar to other academics: the desire to share my research in an open-access and timely format; the importance of associating my name to my research area as an early career academic; to provide motivation to generate some research outcomes outside the scope of my academic employment. As such, it seemed a useful opportunity to investigate – using one specific case study – how Instagram might be a useful tool for sharing qualitative, cultural research.
This is certainly not the first time research dissemination has occurred through social media: many academics utilise Twitter, for instance, as a means to share their recent publications or projects. Conferences regularly utilise livetweeting and conference hashtags as a way of sharing conversations and research emerging in these spaces. A useful article is the Mahrt, Weller & Peters ‘Twitter in Scholarly Communication’ chapter (2014) that provides some preliminary discussion into the still underexamined practice of scholarly Twitter use, suggesting the platform provides opportunities for conference engagement as well as URL sharing as citation practice.
However, there is less discussion about the use of Instagram as a research tool. While interesting investigations into Instagram use exists – see, for instance, Highfield & Leaver’s methodology for analysing Instagram hashtags (2015) – there is certainly no widespread investigation into how it functions as a research dissemination tool.
One article I particularly like is ‘Social media as leisure culture’ (Albrechtslund & Albrechstlund 2014), which challenges the idea of playful social media use as useless. Considering that my Instagram project, #AustralianBeachspace, is disseminating research of cultural and textual representations of the Australian beach, the significance of leisure activity is therefore of interest. Albrechtslund & Albrechtslund note four ‘touristic practices’: the sight; the tourist; the camera; and the postcard. They suggest considering ‘posting’ practice as a component of social media use (therefore not specific to any particular platform, and that may incorporate a number of communication types: text; photo; other images; locations; and so on), as a method for analysing social media use. And, they also note the similarities of social media posting with postcards: “The central touristic device of the postcard embodies the blending of spheres that are often perceived as separate, connecting vacation and everyday life as well as public and private communication” (Albrechtslund & Albrechtslund 2014, para 32).
In many ways, my Instagram project is engaging with touristic practices. I organised my posts around the thematic chapters in my thesis, and I have selected images to accompany my research specific captions accordingly. However, while the images may speak to different themes of the research, they can generally all be considered striking. For instance, this post includes an image of Bondi Beach taken at night; it was selected as part of the ‘badlands beach’ category and is accompanied by a caption that reads:
The beach at night always feels different. The lifesavers have left for the day and the water is dark and impenetrable. What seems familiar in the sunlight can seem sinister or uncomfortable. The water in particular becomes more menacing: it’s harder to navigate the rips and currents without the visual markers. This image of Bondi captures how a familiar, recognisable scene can be transformed by the night.
Have you ever visited the beach at night?
📷 Jeremy Bishop
Regardless of the perhaps darker tone of the caption and the image itself, it is nonetheless a beautiful image that would not be out of place on a postcard. This, of course, is part of the tension I noticed in my research: the Australian beach as a cultural construct is quite complex and functions in a number of different ways for the population. Visual representations, however, have a tendency to capture a singular type of experience of the beach and this makes it difficult to capture the authenticity we expect when we think of the space. (See the conclusion of my thesis for more discussion of this point.)
It makes me suspect my project is an interesting choice to engage Instagram as a platform for disseminating research as there are a number of other factors – the visual power of the Australian beach images; the tension of visual representations of the Australian beach as a cultural site; and the touristic practice of posting/postcards – that add layers to this research specifically using a visual social media platform.
Where to from here? I have not played with social media analytics in any formal way and I’m interested to track some of the outcomes of my Instagram experiment through both qualitative and perhaps quantitative means. In the meantime, I’ll continue to post and track data, and see if it makes sense at the end!
Albrechstlund, Anne-Metter Bech and Albrechtslund, Anders. 2014. ‘Social media as leisure culture’. First Monday, 19 (4). http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4877/3867. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v19i4.4877. Accessed October 18, 2016.
Ellison, Elizabeth. 2013. The Australian beachspace: flagging the spaces of Australian beach texts. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology. https://eprints.qut.edu.au/63468/
Highfield, Tim and Leaver, Tama. 2015. ‘A methodology for mapping Instagram hashtags’. First Monday, 20 (1). http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/5563/4195. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v20i1.5563. Accessed October 18, 2016.
Marht, Merja, Weller, Katrin and Peters, Isabella. 2014, ‘Twitter in Scholarly Communication’ in Twitter and Society. Weller, Katrin, Bruns, Axel, Burgess, Jean, Mahrt, Merja, & Puschmann, Cornelius (Eds.) Digital Formations, 89. Peter Lang, New York, pp. 399 – 410. https://eprints.qut.edu.au/66321/1/Twitter_and_Society_(2014).pdf#page=438