Macquarie University
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Situating the self in spaces of sorrow: an analysis of Instagram self-representations at the 9/11 Memorial

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posted on 2023-12-19, 04:09 authored by Amanda Louise Burgess

If you visited New York City’s 9/11 Memorial, would you take a selfie? Instagram is frequently used to share experiences at Ground Zero, a popular tourist destination commemorating those who lost their lives in the 9/11 terror attack. Often accompanied by emotional written reflections, the visually striking features of the 9/11 Memorial appear prominently across amateur photography and videography shared to Instagram. However, despite personal photography being permitted in visitor guidelines, self-portraits taken at the 9/11 Memorial and shared online are widely considered to be disrespectful. Commentators seek out the most polarising examples to shame visitors in news and opinion articles, rather than considering them as part of a broader, nuanced act of witnessing that allows people to connect to places of trauma. Through a content analysis of over 500 Instagram posts shared under the 9/11 World Trade Center (WTC) Memorial and Museum geo-tag in 2022, this thesis maps the visual and written patterns that form this complex mode of representation.

Building upon the growing fields of self-representation and memorial scholarship, I assert that videos, photographs and Instagram carousels constitute a representation of the self. By doing so, this thesis challenges reductive narratives which focus only on the selfie or self-portrait, when in fact these categories only constitute 10% of 9/11 Memorial geo-tag content. This holistic approach forms part of platform vernacular, a theoretical framework used widely in Instagram research that considers the influence of platform-specific technical affordances and their everyday uses. However, the fraught political history of the 9/11 Memorial site complicates this reading. In dialogue with key debates across visual culture, photography, memorial and memory studies, this thesis also considers wider cultural factors such as the American exceptionalism narrative that consciously and unconsciously shapes 9/11 Memorial self-representations.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter 1: Literature review -- Chapter 2: Methodology -- Chapter 3: Mapping visual practices at the 9/11 Memorial -- Chapter 4: Mapping written practices at the 9/11 Memorial -- Conclusion -- Reference list -- Appendix

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


Master of Research

Department, Centre or School

Department of Media, Communications, Creative Arts, Languages and Literature

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Jane Simon

Additional Supervisor 1

John Potts


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




81 pages

Former Identifiers

AMIS ID: 288943

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