Visual Life-Stories on Facebook. A Methodological Approach to Old and New Ways of Constructing Biographies

breck2.pngWith the rapidly developing online-communication new practices of creating images breck2of the self, of biographies and identities occur. However, we also can observe continuation of socially established practices to produce ‘snapshot versions’ of our lives (Chalfen 1987).

In my project I explore the specific relation of textual and pictorial narratives in Facebook-communication as to understand how biographies are created visually, especially by organising photographs in albums. By analysing the visual performance of contrasting examples of Facebook-communication, I introduce a specific combination of visual and narration-based methodologies as in-depth case reconstruction. By the method of Segment Analyses (Breckner 2010, 2012), selected images will be interpreted as to reveal implicit configurations of visual self-presentation, complemented by hermeneutic text analyses of captions and comments with which the interactional contexts and the negotiation of the meanings of the images is reconstructed.

The following questions guide the analysis: What kinds of experiences are visually constructed? In what way did the manner of creating visual images of oneself change and which stylistic forms of portraying and photographing social situations prevail? To what extent are traditional ways and functions of creating photo albums (Chalfen 1987; Hirsch 1997/2002; Pauwels 2008; Rose 2010) continued by means of new technology, and in what way new patterns of ‘doing biography’ emerge?
With in-depth-case analyses I provide insights to how the concept of ‘biography’ that has developed as a relevant social practice in modern societies undergoes more or less deep changes in the ongoing media shift.

Visual Segment Analysis reconstructs how from the relationship and formal organisation of various pictorial elements an image emerges, thereby creating, at the moment of viewing, partly determinable and partly indeterminate meanings and connotations in discursive contexts.
In this case we can observe a rather more conventional staging of commonality which can be characterised as ‘Me and the Others’.

Breckner, Roswitha. 2010. Sozialtheorie des Bildes. Zur interpretativen Analyse von Bildern und Fotografien. Bielelfeld: transcript
Breckner, Roswitha. 2012. Bildwahrnehmung – Bildinterpretation. Segmentanalyse als methodischer Zugang zur Erschließung bildlichen Sinns. Österreichische Zeitschrift für Soziologie (ÖZS) 2/12 143-164
Chalfen, Richard. 1987. Snapshot Versions of Life. Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press
Hirsch, Marianne. 1997/2002. Family Frames. Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory. Cambridge/Mass: Harvard University Press
Pauwels, Luc. 2008. A private visual practice going public? Social functions and sociological research opportunities of Web-based family photography. Visual Studies 23 (1): 34-49
Rose, Gillian. 2010. Doing Family Photography. The Domestic, The Public and The Poliltics of Sentiment. Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate

breckRoswitha Breckner is Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology of the University of Vienna, spokesperson of the Research Area Visual Studies in Social Sciences of the Faculty of Social Sciences (, and President of the Research Committee Biography and Society of the International Sociological Association ( Her current research interest focuses on visual communication in Social Networks from a biographical perspective.

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