SMS Special Issue CFP

Special Issue in Social Media + Society

Studying Instagram Beyond Selfies

Peer reviewed, open access scholarly journal

Word count: 8,000 words, but no page limit
Citation style: APA
Number of papers included in the Special Issue: 8

Manuscript Guidelines:

Submission deadline: 10 January 2019

Submission address:


Alessandro Caliandro, University of Bath

James Graham, Middlesex University London

On behalf of the guest editorial team at Social Media + Society, we would like to invite all the participants to the 2018 Instagram Conference (hosted by Middlesex University London on 1 June 2018) to submit to our Special Issue on “Studying Instagram Beyond Selfies” in SM+S journal. Submissions from scholars who didn’t participate in the conference may be taken into consideration too.

Call for Papers

With the impressive amount of 800 million of active users worldwide – more than Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest combined (Omnicore 2018; Forbes 2016) – Instagram has become one of the most important social networking sites globally and in the process has transformed the role of photographs and photography in visual culture. Designed to exploit the affordances of mobile media (Carah 2015) and the immediate and intuitive logic of visual communication, Instagram is notably popular among young people (18-29 years old) (WordStream 2017).

The phenomenal success of Instagram has not gone unnoticed by brands and influencers that increased their investments and activities on the platform – (according to Forbes the current financial value of Instagram stays somewhere between $25 billion and $50 billion (Forbes 2016).

Beyond its popularity and commercial value, Instagram is an environment but also a device that offers rich possibilities for that conducting social research. Most notably it opens up a number of new pathways for exploring socio-cultural processes related to the more mundane, tiny, and unseen aspects of people’s ordinary lives (Williams 1989). Instagram enables researchers to see through the eyes of social actors, and glimpsing into their everyday micro-rituals, private moments, and back- as well as front stages – the essential material of sociology and anthropology, which were either unavailable or prohibitively expensive to explore before at scale (Latour et al. 2012).

To date there have been two major challenges that have arisen in research on Instagram, concerning both theoretical and methodological issues.

From a theoretical point of view there is a scarcity of empirical research conducted through Instagram (if compared, for example, to Twitter). In addition, although Instagram has been used for exploring a variety of topics (from urban life to grief) (Boy, Uitermark 2015; Gibbs et al. 2015), the majority of projects have tended to focus on the selfie phenomenon (Manovich 2015; Warfield et al. 2016; Lim 2016). For all its zeitgeisty appeal, the selfie is in fact a niche phenomenon in the larger context of Instagram genres. Of approximately 40 billion photos posted on Instagram so far only 282 million are selfies, just 0.7% (WordStream 2017).

The attention given to selfies is more than understandable, given their importance to brands and micro-celebrities as promotional tools (Marwick 2015). However, such users represent just a portion of the whole Instagram population. Hence a need for new theories and approaches capable of unlocking the full socio-anthropological potential of Instagram, and better enabling researchers to undertake the deep exploration of to everyday practices through the platform. Of course, it is not our intention to downplay the selfie phenomenon as well as dismiss selfies as frivolous acts (Abidin 2016). We just see opportunities to open up brand new paths of research in the field of Instagram studies.

From the methodological perspective the major issue concerning Instagram relates to that fact that in 2016 the platform heavily curtailed access to it feed API for non-commercial partners, rendering it particularly difficult for many academics to access it for research purposes (Caliandro, Gandini 2017). This poses serious limitations to the possibility of developing sustainable and effective strategies for collecting and analysing Instagram data. Again, we see here another major concern that is urgent to address and discuss within an International Conference.

Given the scenario we sketched above, we are therefore looking for contributors who are willing to discuss and address the aforementioned challenges. We invite scholars to submit their papers around a particular theme. All submissions will undergo double-blind peer review. Submissions have an 8,000-word limit for the main text (excluding references and Appendices), but are not constrained by a page limit. SM+S requires the APA citation style.

Possible questions to address (but not limited to these):

Theoretical Questions:

– What do ‘ordinary’ users use Instagram for?

– Subversive uses of selfies on Instagram

– Studying every day practices and rituals on Instagram

– Identity work on Instagram

– Brands on Instagram: how do brands relate to consumers on Instagram?

– Brands on Instagram: how do consumers relate to brands on Instagram?

– Instagram as a tool for PR, Advertising, and Marketing research

– Children and/or Teenagers on Instagram

– Which kind of social formations does Instagram afford? Communities? Publics? Crowds?

– How is affective labour performed on Instagram? Which are the best strategies to capture and measure it?

– How can we study creative work through Instagram?

– How is creative work performed on Instagram?

– How does creativity work on Instagram?

– How is arts consumption influenced by Instagram?

– How do artists use Instagram?

– How is the concept of artistic value affected by Instagram?


Methodological Questions:


– Is still possible to explore Instagram without public APIs? And if so how?

– Innovative Instagram research methods that have gone beyond the API roadblock

– Content analysis on Instagram between traditional and natively digital approaches: which works better? Is it possible and advantageous to combine the two? How?

– Network analysis on Instagram: is network analysis a suitable approach for studying Instagram? What are the best strategies?

– Automated visual analysis: challenges, possibilities, and limitations

– Instagram Algorithms: how do they work? How do they shape the user experience? How do they shape the practices of researchers? Which are the best strategies for studying and understating Instagram algorithms?  

– Data visualisation on Instagram: innovative approaches

– Big Data analysis on Instagram: challenges, possibilities, and limitations

– Studying Instagram via mobile devices

– How can we study Instagram via its new features, that is, Instagram stories and carousel?

– How can we study the urban space using Instagram?

– Can we study politics via Instagram?

– Is Instagram a good environment for studying the gig economy?  


January 10, 2019: Submission deadline for the Special Issue

April 30, 2019: First round reviews

August 31, 2019: Final editorial decisions

January 2020: Publication of the SM+S Special Issue




If you have any questions regarding the Special Issue, please feel free to contact Dr. Alessandro Caliandro at:



Abidin, C. (2016). “Aren’t these just young, rich women doing vain things online?”: Influencer selfies as subversive frivolity. Social Media+ Society, 2(2). 1-17.

Boy, J. D., and Uitermark, J. (2015). ‘Capture and share the city: Mapping Instagram’s uneven geography in Amsterdam’. In RC21 International Conference on “The Ideal City: Between Myth and Reality. Representations, policies, contradictions and challenges for tomorrow’s urban life,” Urbino, Italy, available at’s_uneven_geography_in_Amsterdam/links/55ca52ee08aeca747d69e688.pdf.

Caliandro, A. and A. Gandini (2017). Qualitative Research in Digital Environments: a Research Toolkit, London, Routledge.

Carah, N. and M. Shaul (2015). ‘Brands and Instagram: Point, tap, swipe, glance’, Mobile Media and Communication, 4(1), 69-84.

Forbes (2016), Instagram, The $50 Billion Grand Slam Driving Facebook’s Future: The Forbes Cover Story, available at

Gibbs, M., Meese, J., Arnold, M., Nansen, B., & Carter, M. (2015). ‘# Funeral and Instagram: Death, social media, and platform vernacular. Information’, Communication & Society, 18(3), 255-268.

Latour, B., Jensen, P., Venturini, T., Grauwin, S., & Boullier, D. (2012). ‘The whole is always smaller than its parts’– a digital test of Gabriel Tardes’ monads’. The British journal of sociology, 63(4), 590-615.

Lim, W. M. (2016). ‘Understanding the selfie phenomenon: current insights and future research directions’. European Journal of Marketing, 50(9/10), 1773-1788.

Manovich, L (2015). ‘Selfiecity: Exploring Photography and Self-Fashioning on Social Media in Berry, David M. and Michael Dieter, eds. Postdigital Aesthetics: Art, Computation and Design. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 109-122.

Marwick, A. E. (2015). ‘Instafame: Luxury selfies in the attention economy’. Public Culture, 27(1/75), 137-160.

Omnicore (2018), Instagram by the Numbers: Stats, Demographics & Fun Facts, available at

Warfield, K., C. Cambre, C. Abidin (2016), ‘Introduction to the Social Media + Society Special Issue on Selfies: Me-diated Inter-faces’, Social Media + Society, April-June 2016: 1–5.

We Are Social (2016), Digital in 2016, available at

We Are Social (2017), Digital in 2017: Global Overview, available at

Williams, R. (1989). ‘Culture is Ordinary’, eds. Williams R., Resources of Hope, Culture, Democracy, Socialism. London: Verso, pp. 3-14.

WordStream (2017), 33 Mind-Boggling Instagram Stats & Facts for 2017, available at