Mid-Atlantic Popular &
American Culture Association

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The Pinspirational Self: Aspiration, Creation, and Curation on Pinterest


Although some of the initial euphoria over digital media has been replaced by more nuanced theorizations of participatory culture (e.g., Green and Jenkins, 2011) and productive labor (e.g., Andrejevic, 2009; Hesmondhalgh, 2010), social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest continue to be celebrated for enabling individuals to engage in identity play and display. Pinterest, a social bookmarking site that has witnessed unprecedented growth in the last few years, represents a form of digital identity play that is both highly visual and uniquely commodity-centric. Users are encouraged to share images they find across the web by organizing (“curating” in Pinterest-speak) them into thematic creative pinboards. Pinboard themes range from the aspirational (and heteronormative)—weddings, baby showers, fashion ideas—to the quirky: Cowboys and Angels and Lego: Greatest.Toy.Ever. Like other social media sites, Pinterest is based upon a reward system of social exchanges whereby pinners who have standout boards attract more followers and therefore more attention to their creative displays of the self. It is against this backdrop that Pinterest has been constructed as a forum for genuine self-expression or, alternatively, as a promotional vehicle whose emphasis on aspirational consumption feeds back into the capitalist commodity system. Our paper, however, hopes to provide a more nuanced and empirically-informed account of Pinterest culture by teasing out themes of “creativity,” “curation,” and “self-expression.” Our mixed method project will bring together data from textual analyses, interviews, and case studies to examine how these practices relate to users’ online and offline senses of self. More broadly, we plan to link the acts of pinning and repinning digital content to postmodern notions of simulacra and hyperreality (Baudrillard, 1994).

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