Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
With the increasing importance of social media in people’s lives, imagery has become a key form of self-making. Online performance and self-curation are now highly visual practices. While scholars have paid attention to self-making through overt symbolism in social-media images, little work uses digital ethnography to theorize visual images which lack conscious aesthetic attention. I focus on the copper mining region of northern Chile where social-media imagery often eschews the presentation of “beauty,” spaces of consumption, leisurely lifestyles, or upward class mobility. Instead, imagery commonly found on social media is more closely aligned with working-class sensibilities in which those thought to spend too much money on frivolity or care too much about appearances become objects of neighborhood gossip. Such a stance may not be surprising given the region’s interwoven histories of resource extraction, labor movements, Pinochet regime repression, and neoliberal structures through which most residents see themselves as exploited. With attention to such contexts, this paper adapts critical discourse analysis to focus on the semiotic elements of social-media imagery of northern Chileans. It concentrates on the performativity of images which appear to eschew the expected aesthetics of North Atlantic assumptions of middle classness, or Latin American upward class mobility. In doing so, it positions photography as an act, and image curation as a conscious process, while also taking account of the ways in which local norms become implicitly embedded in aesthetics, arguing for visual media as an important site of ethnographic inquiry and linguistic analysis.