The Insta-Gaze: power, images, and stereotypes of Africa

Authors: Hilary Hungerford*, Utah Valley University, Ang Subulwa, University of Wisonsin-Oshkosh
Topics: Africa
Keywords: Africa, visual, digital, Instagram, power
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Senate Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Instagram--the widely popular photo sharing app--can be a useful tool in critical geographic studies of power and representation of place. This paper presents both a methodological reflection on challenges of using Instagram and an analysis of content about Africa and the perpetuation of common stereotypes. We analyzed thousands of images from 2012-2017 from the Everyday Africa project on Instagram, a project that explicitly aims to combat stereotypes of the continent by presenting what they call pictures of everyday, ‘normal’ life. The Everyday Africa project received critical acclaim and was featured in mainstream media as a transformative project. The creators of this project were two American photojournalists that partner with about a dozen photographers based in cities across the continent. In our analysis of the photographs, our main research question was whether the images on Everyday Africa reinforce or resist stereotypical narratives of the continent, as outlined by Myers (2001), Kiem (2013), and Wainaina (2006 & 2012). Although some alternative narratives emerged in our analysis, these alternative images were not the narratives that people responded to (liked) or engaged with (commented). The photographs that received the most audience engagement overwhelming conformed to common stereotypical representations of the continent, reinforcing long standing power dynamics that shape Western views of the continent.

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