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Scholarship of Selfies

In a random research quest, I sought out to explore the scholarship around selfies.   When I say scholarship, I’m not talking about getting a full ride to Columbia because of an instagram photo.  I’m talking about published research that is peer-reviewed in journals.  The title of this article is misleading, because there is little to none.  Even expanding my research to Instagram came up with the slightest mention of the application, with hardly a study that solely focuses on the platform in the methodology.

Recently added to the dictionary, defined as “selfie is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone. Selfies are often shared on social networking services such as InstagramSnapchat, and Tumblr. They are often casual, and are typically taken either with a camera held at arm’s length or in a mirror.” (Wikipedia)

How official.  But official they have become.  There are even annual awards for selfies!

But watch out!  There are now Selfie Police!  All for a good cause of course, calling for each selfie to give $1.

I began thinking about this topic after watching the viral vid (almost to hit 89 Million views), fittingly called #Selfie.

Ugh, I know now you’ll have that song in your head all day.  But admit, you all take selfies.  Here is what I feel like is one of my better ones, ride on a bike no less!  Instagram filter applied.


Selfies didn’t start with Instagram.  I remember holding up my neon pink Concord camera which took 110 film in middle school to get a photo with me and a friend after soccer practice.  You just had to wait a week for the film to come back and ‘hope’ it turned out.

Then digital came out with screen views and an instant approval could be given after extending that arm out with a big smile.

But no, selfies actually started even earlier in our history!

Learn more here:

However, social media took selfies to another level, especially on Instagram.

instagramInstagram is a mobile-only application where users share images and videos uploaded to their profiles.  Filters can be applied to uploaded pictures with the option to share pictures and videos to Facebook, Twitter, and more.  Since creation in 2010, the application has quickly gained popularity, with 50 million active users who average posting 55 million photo posts per day (

A recent report Salomon (2013) called Instagram the third most popular social media tool used by college students.  Instragram can be connected to many different social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.  After a picture is uploaded, it can be shared on these platforms.  This feature allows Instagram activity to extend beyond just the users of the application.

High schools and Universities seem to be a various points in embracing selfie culture or pushing against.  For example a number of schools have attempted to ‘ban selfies’ at graduation.  To this I say, best of good luck enforcing that and why?  On the other hand, there have been institutions using Instagram as a teaching tool.

Research is starting to come in, slowly.  Selfiecity is looking at selfies through theoretic and quantitative methods.  They gathered thousands of selfies from five countries including cities from Bangkok, Berlin, Mascow, New York and Sao Paelo.  Each city had 20,000 images represented and analyzed with computer software which they call ‘selfie-mapping.’   Imageplots were used to reveal visual patterns.  There is also an interactive portion called ‘selfie exploration’ where one can explore the set of 3,200 images.

What did they find?  Based upon all images gathered, only 3-5% were selfies.  So maybe selfies aren’t as viral as we thought?  Looking at demographics younger users were more like to post selfies and more women than men looking at all ages.  (

What research have you seen around selfies or Instagram?  Are you bother by selfies or enjoy a good self pic from time to time?

And to all faculty, grad students and doctoral researcher…you have a research topic to get on!

Resources & References

Instagram (2013). Press.  Retrieved from

Losh, L. (2014).  Selfies, Snapchat and Distance Learning.  Dml Central.  Retrieved from

Salomon, Danielle (2013).  Moving on from Facebook.  Using Instagram to connect with undergraduates and engage in teaching and learning.  ACRL TechConnect, 408-412.

Straumsheim, C (2014).  Take the shot.  Inside Higher Ed.  Retrieved from

Selfiecity (2014).  Introduction.  Retrieved from

Updated Sources, thanks to a reply from The Texas Social Media Research Institute

Grier, D. (2013). The Trappings of Power. Computer, 46(11), 120. doi:10.1109/MC.2013.399

Pogontseva, D. (2013). Selfie as the modern social and psychological phenomenon. (English). Concept / Koncept, (12), 1.
Tiidenberg, K. (2014). Bringing sexy back: Reclaiming the body aesthetic via self-shooting. Cyberpsychology, 8(1), 1-15. doi:10.5817/CP2014-1-3

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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