The adoption and communication of Scottish identity on Instagram

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Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing six Scottish fashion and lifestyle bloggers about the adoption and communication of Scottish identity on Instagram. My interview approach is semi structured where I begin by talking to participants about their own national identity quite generally, moving on to how Scotland features in this. The only criteria to take part in the interview is that you are promoting personal fashion and style identity publicly on Instagram and that Scotland or Scottish is mentioned in your Instagram biography. Although participants don’t have to have a blog, everyone – so far – does.

The second part of the interview focuses on Instagram where participants were asked to provide (in advance of the interview) a selection of posts that they feel represent their identity as a Scottish fashion influencers. This is something I didn’t ask for in my preliminary research interviews and I’ve found it so interesting seeing the images that participants chose and also hearing more about why they chose the posts they chose and how they went about doing so. Some participants replied to me within an hour with their images and others preferred to consider this more carefully; some felt it was very easy to select the images and others found it more difficult. I’ve not yet found many examples of research that use this type of photo elicitation technique. Although photo elicitation – as an approach – is recognised in social science research, this usually appears to involve the researcher selecting the images and showing these to participants during the interview in order to analyse their response (Collier, 1957). Indeed there is also a technique called “photo voice” where participants are given a camera and asked to take photos that tell a story about a particular issue or place (Photovoice, 2017). This is almost the reverse of that, where the story has already been told and, through the eyes of the participant, I’m able to gain further insights into not just the story itself but also the motivations and experience behind this.

Because I wish to keep the identity of my participants private, and protect their personal responses around the issue of identity and place in fashion and lifestyle blogging, I thought I would select a small sample of images from my own Instagram that I feel represent my own Scottish identity… Because I don’t set out to convey Scottish fashion and style identity in a public way on my Instagram, my examples might be limited, for example I don’t post many pictures of myself. Also, given the focus of my research (and the fact I have now seen the images provided by my interviewees) I might also be a little biased in my selection of images. Anyway – here they are:

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The photo above shows my place of work, set along the banks of the River Dee.. It was taken on a sunnier day a few weeks ago when my colleague and I were lunching outside, something that doesn’t happen very often…

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A key annual event for me, as a lecturer, is our summer and winter graduation ceremonies which take place each year at the beautiful His Majesty’s Theatre and our Musical Hall. The photo above shows two of my first ever first years on their way to graduation and, to me, it screams “Aberdeen” with the rain reflecting off the cobbles (in July!) and the typically grey granite backdrop.

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The above is a really old photo, taken about 4 years ago (hence the horrible filter/ image quality) but it reminded me that I am 100% more likely to post an image of an item of clothing that has Scottish connotations; and that I still do that to this day (see below). Here I am (above) with tartan effect skinny jeans (which I still have but rarely wear), heading out for drinks with friends to watch my first (maybe second?) rugby match – supporting Scotland of course! This photo was definitely taken in summer but I still appear to be wearing a puffy Zara coat because… well, in Scotland you can never be sure!

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In the photo above I’m wearing my trusty camel coat (which actually is not always a great move in Scotland due to its colour and lack of waterproof qualities) which is one of my few post baby/ returning to work purchases (I’m also wearing it today). I took this photo when I was walking to work for a keeping in touch day before returning the next month from my second maternity leave (I think it might have been our first year induction) and the scarf is the reason I chose it. This is not a Burberry scarf (although I do have a vintage one that once belonged to my Nana), this is from the Edinburgh Woollen Mill and is favoured because it’s 100% cashmere, was fairly inexpensive (I have about 3 variations) and less scratchy than the Burberry alternative. But it looks quite Scottish no? Well, that’s probably why I posted it.

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The above is what can only be described as overtly Scottish. Again you must excuse the slightly dodgy filter that I’ve used, this was taken in September 2014 and, if you live in Scotland (maybe even if you don’t?), you’ll probably be able to guess the connotations behind it. These cupcakes were being sold by my favourite Aberdeen bakery (Blackbird Bakery) which will always hold a special place in my heart as my, now, husband proposed to me using a box of their cupcakes which spelled out the words “marry me?”

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On that note, it’s where we got our wedding cake and here’s us leaving Banchory Lodge hotel (above) after dropping it off the day before our wedding. Take note of the beautiful venue but also the grey sky and thick jackets we’re wearing…

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Fast forward 24 hours are here we are after getting married outdoors in the beautiful warmth and sunshine on the banks of the River Dee, in September. Who could possibly have predicted that? I remember being very anxious because it was so, completely unplanned but it was lovely and now I can’t imagine us having done it any other way. This is something I love and hate about Scotland, where the weather can surprise you in both directions. One of the reasons we chose September was because I so badly didn’t want to get my hopes up for good weather. However, after our wedding I did vow never to complain about the Scottish weather again!

You’ll also note the Scottish thistles in my bouquet and my Geordie (English) husband who is wearing a tartan tie. His family and many of his friends are based in Newcastle and travelled to Aberdeenshire for our wedding; most of them had never visited before and it was so nice for them to see it in the sunshine.

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Above are my niece and nephew playing on the river bank during the drinks reception; it was moments like these that are what made the day so special and memorable.

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Through the eyes of my children, I’m able to appreciate Scotland and Aberdeen by spending more time outside and enjoying our natural surroundings, stopping to appreciate some of the small examples of beauty around us. My daughter always stops to admire and (where appropriate!) pick flowers. Neither of my children have ever been good at napping indoors so we’ve always gone out for walks to get fresh air and encourage sleep and so there are parts of Aberdeen that will always make me remember when my children were very young babies, like Duthie Park, the West End, the old Deeside Railway line, etc.

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Pink or purple contrasts really beautifully with the grey granite that is so strongly associated with Aberdeen and that’s something that some of my participants have also highlighted in their responses, where I’ve seen a few examples of hot pink Rhododendrons against a granite backdrop. Indeed we had a mature one in the front garden of our previous granite home and so I suppose this must have been a bit of a floral, garden trend… The photo below is of said Rhododendron and, interestingly, although you can’t see the granite of our house, I appear to have selected a grey framing effect, which might indicate that I associate this colour quite strongly with the flower.

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We have taken to visiting lots of castles and stately homes; Crathes (below) is our go-to as it’s not too far from home and the kids love it there. They’re too young really to take a tour of the castle but we can enjoy the walled gardens, the surrounding woodlands and (of course) the cafe!

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It’s also quite nice that we often have my husband’s family visiting from Newcastle and this forces us to actively think about (and visit) interesting places in and around Aberdeen.

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A fashion related challenge for me, which I appreciate is not unique to Scotland alone, is an inability to commit to a summer wardrobe. We were lucky enough to experience some truly glorious weather a couple of weeks ago and I was entirely underprepared for this and, as a result, so were my children! However, it’s rained almost every day since so I’m actually quite glad I didn’t go out and buy lots of summer clothes! I’d rarely invest in summer clothes for myself but tend to wear the same things year on year and I am far more excited by winter fashion, both for myself and for the children. I tried on a gorgeous maxi dress in Zara last week and it was actually quite inexpensive but I just couldn’t bring myself to buy it; even though we’re going on holiday to Spain later this year, it just didn’t seem worth it knowing I would probably never wear it at home. Interestingly, this view was echoed by some of my research participants, particularly two that had experiences of living (or travelling) in warmer countries.

I’m still looking for 4-6 participants to take part in my research and so, if you happen to come across this post and are interested in taking part please get in touch!

 

References

Collier, J. Jr. (1957). Photography in anthropology: a report on two experiments. American Anthropologist. 59(5). pp. 843-859.

Photovoice, (2017). Our vision and mission. [Online]. Available at: https://photovoice.org/vision-and-mission/. [Accessed on 5th June 2017].

 

 

 

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Long time, no post…

So I’ve broken one of the cardinal rules of blogging and not posted anything for over a year! My excuse… another baby! Arlo – lovingly known as “baby brother”. Anyone who follows me on Instagram will know how active I am on there and I really don’t want to turn this into a baby blog (even though I LOVE mummy bloggers) so I’ve resisted posting some of my day-to-day maternity leave antics. Anyway I’m back at work now and back to my research. I’d actually planned to stay research active during my maternity leave and had grand plans to publish papers but you can guess what came of those plans… nothing! I had a lovely maternity leave filled with coffee dates, making new mummy friends and hanging out with my best friend – 3 year old daughter and world’s bestest big sister, Romy.

Since being off work and taking a little break from my research my focus has shifted a little – it’s broader, in that I am looking at Scotland as a whole rather than focusing on the North East of Scotland, and I plan to look more specifically at fashion communicators on Instagram. My rationale comes primarily from the preliminary interviews I carried out with fashion bloggers in the summer of 2015. During these interviews it really became apparent that bloggers in the North East of Scotland were not branding themselves to a specific city or place (mainly due to concerns around security and a perceived lack of follower knowledge or interest in a more remote region) but most were proud to identify themselves as “Scottish” bloggers, where they saw this as a unique selling point and something that made them stand out in a the ever crowded blogosphere. My interviewees also spoke quite animatedly about online relationships and communities that then became offline friendships and networks through the use of hashtags and virtual and physical meet ups; interestingly these relationships were actually a key motivator for some of my participants – something that kept them blogging. Why the focus on Instagram? Well, in some ways I’m not really just concerned with Instagram, rather fashion influencers for want of a better term, but it does seem like a good place to start in terms of building a picture (literally!) of what the Scottish fashion and style landscape online looks like. Is there a blogger in the world who isn’t on Instagram? Is there a blogger in the world that posts on their blog more than they post on Instagram? My preliminary interviews showed that bloggers 1) get most of their traffic through Instagram; 2) post on Instagram more regularly than on their blog; and 3) feel that their Instagram is an extension of their blogging identity and something they take seriously.

So, over the past few weeks, I’ve been carrying out a content analysis of all Scottish fashion and style related content on Instagram using a number of hashtags. Predictably, this is taking a lot longer than anticipated but it’s actually really interesting. At this stage, the analysis is quantitative where I am going through all the images (there are thousands!) and basically trying to gain a sense of what types of images that are being associated with Scottish fashion and lifestyle on Instagram. Once I’ve done this I plan to organise these into categories and sample images from these groups which will be subject to further, more in-depth, qualitative analysis. I’m delighted to have started the second stage of my research and I’m really looking forward to sharing some of my findings on the blog at a later date!

My love for Instagram

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My love for Instagram just keeps growing ❤

Last night I was looking back through my own photos and thought it was really interesting to see how my visual identity has changed over the past 2-3 years since I created my profile. It was also fascinating to see how image quality and filters have developed over this time (something I hadn’t appreciated!)

Here’s the most recent snapshot from my Instagram profile (which I think sums me up quite well). Mum to baby Romy, auntie to two amazing nieces and a nephew, dog lover, birthday cake connoisseur and consumer of fashion; the latter has evolved from personal to baby fashion as you can see! A more recent addiction (over the past year or so) is children’s books! I just love spending time in the book shop, library or garden centre (yes – they have the best books!) with Romy and she just loves a book! I think this all reinforces some of Veblen’s ideas about conspicuous consumption where social media has simply made this all the more conspicuous; is the reason we consume to be seen to consume?

After pondering my own identity I revisited the profiles of two of my closest (and oldest) friends:

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I’ve been friends with Eilidh and Adele since we met at School about 16 years ago (such a long time really!) and we’ve been close ever since. We have very particular ideas about what is nice and our tastes are actually very similar.

These screenshots are from their most recent array of photos; none of us are hugely regular posters. We probably average around 1-2 posts most weeks. Eilidh (above) is a makeup and fashion lover from Aberdeen. She loves her sisters, friends and family (and cocktails – of course). Eilidh is a fabulous present buyer and a loyal and generous friend – she takes her time over detail (and is as a result a fantastic organiser of events). Eilidh tells it like it is and is one of the funniest people I’ve met.

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Adele (probably the least frequent poster of us all) is a successful restaraunteur, who runs 210 Bistro in Aberdeen. She’s a clever cookie and works so hard to make her business amazing! She enjoys fine dining almost as much as she loves skiing and snowboarding. Adele is a thoughtful and caring friend and girlfriend who is very close with her family. She loves to bake (mostly for friends’ birthdays) and travel.

It’s hard to believe that Instagram has only been around for 5 years and it’ll be interesting to see how things evolve…

“Pinterest makes me hate my house”

“Pinterest makes me hate my house”

“Everyone’s life looks better on the internet than it does in real life”.

This is a really interesting article by Shauna Niequist on Relevant Magazine’s website (2013). It more or less sums up aspects of the identity part of my research, where I want to explore the identity that’s being portrayed through social media and the way that identity is then received by the follower.

“Our envy buttons… get pushed because we rarely check Facebook when we’re having our own peak experiences. We check it when we’re bored and when we’re lonely, and it intensifies that boredom and loneliness”.

I also think there’s another side to this, where we’re becoming quite suspicious and critical of the communication we are exposed to each day through media like Instagram. One of the questions I ask my first year students, when we discuss social media, is “which media gives you the best insight into an individual or brand’s identity?” and they almost always agree that this comes through Instagram, because a picture says a thousand words; and brands and users are taking advantage of this.

However, when someone posts a photo of flowers their boyfriend has just had sent saying what a lucky girl they are, do we truly believe that this one-off romantic gesture means they have the perfect relationship and are far happier than we are? Or do we actually think the opposite might be the case, where by posting this, the girlfriend is actually confirming that this was unexpected and doesn;t happen all the time; therefore it’s only natural that she’d to make others envious by sharing this publicly. Where the identity becomes more believable (or more constructed, depending on how critical you wish to be) is where this is reaffirmed by regular sharing of “look how wonderful my life” type images or statuses.

I think we’re all guilty of this type of sharing though, in fact when my fiance proposed to me with cupcakes from our local bakery, I shared the news on social media pretty swiftly. Surely everyone’s entitled to initiate a little insta-envy now and again? And if people didn’t “like” these posts then sure we wouldn’t continue to share them? Another question I ask my students is “how would you feel if you posted an image and noone liked it?” and a huge number of them actually admit they’d delete it. I think this demonstrates the extent to which the relationship we have with our followers on social media is two way.

My blog is me

Just like a paper diary, weblogs are structured around ‘I’ narratives. They present the life of a sovereign subject who has a continuous identity and a coherent history, (Reed, 2013, p. 226).

In his article “my blog is me”, Reed explores the identity of bloggers; focusing mainly on the “kinds of person these digital texts can become” and how their identity might be received. This is something I’m interested in exploring with my research, where I will look at the message that the sender is trying to communicate (e.g. via a photograph on Instagram or post via a blog) and how this compares to the message that is actually being received; this will help me to draw conclusions about the identity of the author (or that which they are consciously trying to portray) vs how followers perceive the identity of that author:

Indeed, I believe we need to more regularly ask ourselves (as we do with most other kinds of artefacts), what kind of person is this text? Who does it substitute for? How is agency extended? Into what kind of matrix of relations does this ‘person’ enter? How is the ‘person’ composed and how does that composition alter over time? (p. 224).

An interesting aspect of this could be the extent to which the communicator actually considers the communication and how it might be received before posting it. The instantaneous and ungoverned nature of social media has made it perfectly simple for anyone to share their thoughts and photographs almost without conscious thought. Reed reflects on this:

At the heart of journal blogging is an ethos of immediacy. Weblogs entries are meant to be ‘of the moment’, a record of how the individual felt or thought at that particular point in time, (p. 227).

Although bloggers might reveal quite personal information about themselves, Reed argues “there are always aspects of the subject that remain outside or beyond the text, impressions that they cannot or do not want to post [and] while individuals are happy to assert that ‘my blog is me’, they also insist that ‘I am not my weblog’.”, (p. 230). Where a blogger has followers who they actually know offline, Reed argues they are likely to be more considered in their communications.

In terms of methodology, Reed draws inspiration for Gell (1998) who: “describes four kinds of entities (or subjects): the ‘index’ or material object itself, the ‘artist’ or attributed creator of that thing, the ‘recipient’ or viewer or consumer of it and the ‘prototype’ or entity depicted by the art-object (such as the landscape in a painting)” (p. 223). Reed reviewed a number of blogs, mostly from London, and met some of these bloggers face-to-face; these bloggers maintained that their blogs were “unreserved” representations of themselves. The continuous nature of a blog, where communication is instant and ongoing and a blogger’s story will build up over time, makes the text seem “alive”, (p. 227).

Reed discusses bloggers’ motivations where the most common motivation was to vent or offload personal thoughts or feelings, much like a diary. One of his research participants states: “blogging gets them out of my head, it’s a thing to get all that stuff out of your head that otherwise you couldn’t put anywhere”. Reed identifies that these bloggers often view blogging as being very separate to their work. I would hypothesise that this might be different for fashion bloggers, many of whom might be motivated by career progression, using their blog as a personal portfolio and encouraged to update this regularly due to the dynamic industry’s expectations. Another motivation for most bloggers is to attract more followers and retain existing ones. Bloggers rely on their followers and one of Reed’s participants likens blog posts to “the graffiti that one finds across the city, texts left for strangers to read”, (p. 232).

Bloggers regard each other as equals; they point out that the visitor to one weblog is always the prototype (and author) of another, (p. 232).

This quote is of particular interest to me, as it was my main motivation for setting up this blog. In order to carry out my research, I would like to actively engage with fashion bloggers in their own environment, in what Reed would describe as “conversations between texts”, (p. 235).

 

References

Gell, A. (1998). Art and agency: An anthropological theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Reed, A. (2006). “My blog is me”: Texts and persons in UK online journal culture. Journal of Anthropology. 70(2). Pp. 220-242.

Changing parameters of fashion communication

The communication revolution is here! (Allen, 2009, p. 2)

Although I’ll draw some inspiration from more traditional means of fashion communication (magazines, print ads, etc), the focus of my current research is online media. I’ll be looking, in particular, at fashion blogs, Instagram and Pinterest and analyse messages from a range of “actors”, including opinion leaders, fashion critics, fashion designers and emerging voices.

Instagram and Pinterest are still relatively new media (both were launched in 2010), and there is only limited research into their use as a tool for fashion communication. Blogs, on the other hand, are one of the earliest forms of online “social” media and have played a big role in the democratisation of communication; with fashion bloggers being recognised in their own right as “the new member in the fashion industry”, (Zhang, 2010, np). The control has shifted from sender to receiver and there is a new emphasis on engagement and interactivity, as opposed to top-down instruction. 

Allen (2009) discusses blogs in her exploratory study of the changing parameters in fashion communication, where she draws on earlier theories, for example that of Roland Barthes, (1967). She makes an interesting observation about the lack of a credible “gatekeeper”, where traditionally this control would sit, for example, with the editor of a fashion magazine like Vogue.

Allen makes another valuable point, this time around the style of this communication, which tends to be informal and conversational; on the one hand, this enables bloggers to engage their followers on a more personal level, but it can also lead to careless mistakes and bad grammar; this carelessness is made worse by the general lack of governance and instantaneous nature of social media, where a blogger can communicate a message instantly with relatively no thought or reflection beforehand. 

Blogs connect with their readership in two ways firstly by the conversational communication style of the blog content which includes both written discourse and visual communication. Secondly by the fact that the reader views this on a device that is closely viewed often as a solitary activity and a device owned by them, (Allen, 2009, p. 5).

Allen draws on examples from well known fashion blogs such as Style Bubble and highlights the importance of regular updates and the creation of a sense of “insider” knowledge, in order to encourage a loyal following and appear credible. A good example of language which she uses is the term “I popped to the private view” (Style Bubble, 2009, np).

This article is insightful and I found it a useful starting point for my research.

 

References

Allen, C. (2009). Style surfing  changing parameters of fashion communication – where have they gone? In: 1st Global conference: Fashion exploring critical issues. 25-27 September 2009. Mansfield College: Oxford.

Barthes, R. (1967). The Fashion System. USA: University of California Press.

Style Bubble, (2009). When you’re a boy… [Online]. Available at: http://www.stylebubble.co.uk/style_bubble/. [Accessed on: 17th October 2013].

Zhang, C. (2010). Fashion blogs: the new member in the fashion industry. Journal of Digital Research and Publishing. 3(1). Pp. 153-160.