Memory & Heritage

New article in Narrative Inquiry on Sharing ‘memories’ on Instagram

Taylor Annabell

I am delighted that my article, ‘Sharing ‘memories’ on Instagram: A narrative approach to the performance of remembered experience by young women online’ has been published in Narrative Inquiry.

This article considers how sharing that takes place in-the-moment on Instagram involves the performance of remembered experience. Although the platform pushes us to share about the ‘here’ and ‘now’ and algorithmically prioritises the reproduction of the never-ending now, people selectively mobilise the past in this temporal context. I grapple with why the past is shared and how the past (re)presented within the practices and perspectives of young women living in London.

In the article, I propose that the small stories analytical framework provides a way to examine at a micro level sharing of ‘memories’ online by addressing practices of selecting the past, showing and telling the past and interacting with the past in digital traces. For digital memory studies, this moves beyond a focus on affordances and infrastructure transformed memory and the examination of how people engage with memories that have been predefined.

I draw on the Instagram activities of 16 young women aged between 18–21 years old living in London from December 2019 until November 2020. From the 4,386 Instagram Stories and posts collected, I identified 263 Stories and 23 posts that incorporated the past. My analysis of the performance of remembered experience reveals three types of digital traces: responses to specific past moments, reflections on change and markers of occasions.

I argue that the past is mobilised by young women to tell stories about their lives in their here and now. It is connected to a range of occasions and social functions including constructing personal identity, performing and maintaining friendship and managing the experience of change especially related to Covid-19. The meanings attributed to the past are connected to experiences, occasions and circumstances of the here and now.

At the micro level, then there is evidence that young women accept Instagram’s claim that representations of the past can be treated as ‘memories’. This exists alongside the way that young women positioned the representations of the past as a catalyst for remembering. Consequently, ‘memories’ are understood as something to be interacted with, exchanged and valued as mnemonic evidence.

This article emerges from my PhD research on the worth of remembering in the lives of young women as well as discussions with colleagues from within the CMCI community. In 2021, I presented an early exploration of bringing small stories to digital memory studies at the Memory Studies Association Conference on the Panel: Research approaches to meaning-making of the past in the present chaired by CMCI alumni Thomas Van de Putte. This paper received the Best Paper Award 2021. Whilst developing the paper into an article for the Special Issue on Memory and Narrative in Narrative Inquiry, I had the opportunity to present my analysis at a CMCI PhD seminar. The following discussion was also valuable in shaping and refining the argument I put forward in the article.