Accepted paper:

Doing emoji: performing the emotional self online


Ruth Dorothea Eggel (University of Bonn)
Barbara Frischling (University of Graz)

Paper short abstract:

This contribution focuses on emojis and their role in the constant documentation and sharing of emotional practices in digital contexts with a cultural analytical approach. Exemplified by emoji practices we seek to deconstruct their role in the performance of the digital self in everyday life.

Paper long abstract:

With their happy and colourful appearance emojis are an integral part of digital self expression and invite to document, share and perform the emotional self in digital culture. Emotional practices online can be read as both, the satisfaction of personal needs as well as the fulfillment of neoliberal imaginations of productivity. As immediate expressions, emoji practices also refer to the dynamics and immediacy of online digitally mediated communication. The increasing use of emoji in everyday communication negotiates established privacy routines and allows to publicly share private sentiments. As visual documentations of emotions, resembling bodies and faces, they are closely associated with individuals, adding an emotional layer to the digital communications repertoire: They allow to share anger, love, sadness and happiness etc. Thus emoji practices of sharing and non-sharing serve as an integral part in building, sustaining or alienating relationships. Their ambivalence becomes evident in misunderstanding, negotiations, and conflicts. Users cannot rely on a fixed meaning of emojis, thus how they are interpreted and "read" depends largely on social, cultural and situative context. Employing these commodified digital objects as performances of the self they point to the necessities of responsibility, self-presentation and emotional involvement in neoliberal subject-making. Our findings are based on an ethnographic research in 2016, on emojis, emotional practices and emotionally involving online content. The multimethod approach consisted of emoji diaries, group discussions and qualitative interviews with students (age 10-16).

panel Digi02
Changing features? Performing the self in digital culture [SIEF WG Digital Ethnology and Folklore] [P+R]