My (Twitter) self: Visual, linguistic and relational constitution of the subject

Scrolling down my Twitter profile, I see what I am trying to do. I see the constructed pictures, the themed videos, the linked academic articles, and the carefully considered following of people and businesses. I see how I try to be in and be a part of the contemporary world. I see how I constantly create and recreate my profile to constitute myself in the postmodern world. A fragmented world where the sociocultural complexity increases and identities become fragile (Kellner 1995, p. 233). My online identity on Twitter is my subject’s digital attempt to constitute its self under diffuse contemporary circumstances.

These postmodern conditions cause conscious individuals who understand their self as being unique and having an agency in the world (Poletti & Rak 2014, p. 4). New media is an identity technology that influences the self insofar that the self is understood as an effect of this online representation (Poletti & Rak 2014, p. 6). The elements involved in constructing an online representation must therefore be explored to understand the self, which the two American professors Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson (2014) have attempted. To interpret some of their elements, I have completed a Prezi:

Screenshot of ‘Building Material for Online Identity‘ by Anne Bro, April 2017 at Prezi

Database, audience, authenticity and branding are four elements that we use as building material for constructing our online identity (Smith & Watson 2014, p. 72-79). Digital media enables a conscious representation of self that includes these elements, and allows us to constitute a complex and considering self in the noisy world. Digital media creates an online world of coded systems and corporatized environments (Smith & Watson 2014, p. 72-79) that facilitate our online identity project to constitute our self.

On Twitter, my profile picture is a visual construction of my online identity that has been carefully picked to express a fitting self:

Image 1
Photograph by Anne Bro, February 2017

The picture is taken in a hip area in Richmond, Melbourne with charismatic Vietnamese restaurants and hipster cafes. The surroundings are taking up a bigger percentage of the picture than I, so the coffee with latte art, the retro furniture, the street art and the urban streets of Melbourne become symbols of the identity that I am trying to construct on Twitter. The slightly off photographic angle of my face and my whimsical smile forms a relaxed and informal representation of my identity. The filter added to the picture reveals an editing and staging, which underlines the notion of construction in a picture that might appear casual. Therefore, the authenticity of my identity in the profile picture is manufactured even though the scenario might be authentic. The concept of authenticity in relation to my profile picture can be understood through the Australian professor David Marshall’s notion of the public private self:

It is in this version of the self that the celebrity engages, or at least appears to engage, in the world of social networking. It is a recognition of the new notion of a public that implies some sort of further exposure of the individual’s life. […] The value of the public private self is still being determined, as individuals construct their versions of what parts of their lives they are willing to convey to an on-line public (Marshall 2010, p. 44-45).

In this quote, Marshall explains new media culture comparatively to celebrity discourse of the self. My profile picture is with its surroundings and their connotations constructing my authentic private self that I wish to display for public presentation.

With my tweets, Twitter also allows me a linguistic construction of my identity. Taking point of departure in the French structuralist linguist Émile Benveniste, language is understood as a system in which subjects are embedded and with which they constitute themselves (Benveniste 1973, p. 220). Benveniste focuses on how subject constitution occurs through the use of pronouns (Benveniste 1973, p. 223), whereas I would suggest that a similar subject constitution happens in the self’s ability to tweet. In my first tweet example, I link to an article by the philosopher Bernard Stiegler:

            Tweet embedded from my @Annebbro Twitter profile

When I tweet about phenomenology and digital media, I position a self interrelated with academia concerning this area. In my second tweet example, I link to the work by the Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima:

           Tweet embedded from my @Annebbro Twitter profile

Here Twitter facilitates my identity to be linguistically constituted in relation to contemporary Japanese art and technology. This tweet is directed towards my audience of people interested in art and technology, and therefore they also constitute this certain identity. In my last example, I link to my blog post about selfies in an art historical perspective:

            Tweet embedded from my @Annebbro Twitter profile

I once again constitute an identity relating to digital media and visual art at the same time as I construct my identity as a brand with interest in and knowledge of these topics. The tweet enables me to integrate my knowledge and ability in Twitter’s corporatized environment.

Other than the visual and linguistic content I share on Twitter, the people and businesses that I follow are likewise an identity construction. I have visualised an outline of my following on Twitter:

Image 2
Drawing by Anne Bro, April 2017

The Australian professor Rob Cover argues that actions like following on digital media is a construction of subjectivity:

An alternative view is to consider the ways in which social networking sites operate as a space for the continued, ongoing construction of subjectivity – neither a site for identity play nor for static representation of the self, but as an ongoing reflexive performance and articulation of selfhood that utilizes the full range of tools made available through common social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook (Cover 2014, p. 55).

The quote supports how following is a performative act that enables a belonging to certain communities and thereby defining a selfhood (Cover 2014, p. 55). Cover understands online identity in relation to the American philosopher Judith Butler’s performativity theory (Cover 2014, p. 56). In this theory, Butler argues that gender is a performative social construct rather than an ontological essence (Butler 1990, p. 9-10). When I follow art networks on Twitter, it is a performative act where I embed my subject in a context with connotations I thereby mirror. In Butler’s performativity theory, she discusses how the subject is always already embedded in the discourses of the culture (Butler 1990, p. 13). On Twitter, these discourses are materialised in who I follow, with which I understand my subject. When I follow an art network, it is archived in Twitter’s database, and these algorithms are understood as the discourses that construct my Twitter platform to support my online identity.

Twitter is a tool for contemporary individuals to constitute a sense of self in the postmodern, fragmented world. My identity on Twitter is constructed visually, linguistically and through whom I follow, and represents a public private self that is defined through associations with art and technology, formal and informal. Database, audience, authenticity and brand are the elements I consciously consider in my online performance on Twitter. At the same time as my online performance is constructing my identity, it is also limiting my identity because I constantly verify a specific self in a closed circle of context and environment.

(1,024 words, not including citations and captions)

My broader ALC203-related online activity

My ALC203-related activity online has consisted of regularly tweets. The tweets have been related to readings and discussions within the unit, where I have reflected on technology related topics, linked to several articles and concepts, and participated in the Tiffit Challenges. On Twitter, I have been engaging in discussions with my peers to reflect upon digital media together. Additional to my Twitter activity, I have weekly been blogging on WordPress about different issues from the ALC203 unit. On my blog, I have used readings from the unit to critically interpret different aspects on digital media.

(100 words)


Benveniste, É 1973, ‘The Nature of Pronounce’, Problems in General Linguistics, Miami University Press, Oxford, OH, pp. 217-230

Butler, J 1990, Gender Trouble, Routledge Classics, New York City, NY

Cover, R 2014, ‘Becoming and belonging: Performativity, subjectivity, and the cultural purposes of social networking’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J (eds.), Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI, pp. 55-69

Kellner, D 1995, Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity, and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern, Routledge, New York, NY

Marshall, PD 2010, ‘The promotion and presentation of the self: Celebrity as marker of presentational media’, Celebrity Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 35-48

Poletti, A and Rak, J 2014, ‘Introduction: Digital Dialogues’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J (eds.), Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI, pp. 3-11

Smith, S and Watson, J 2014, ‘Virtually Me: A Toolbox about Online Self-Presentation’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J (eds.), Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI, pp. 70-95


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s