Achieving Visibility: Midlife and Older Women's Literate Practices on Instagram and Blogs

Laura McGrath, Kennesaw State University
2018 Literacy in Composition Studies  
I n literacy and composition studies, much of what we know about the literate practices of social media users comes from research on youth and young adults (e.g., Amicucci; boyd; Buck; Ito, et al.; Pigg; Shepherd, "FB in FYC" and "Men, Women and Web 2.0 Writing"; Tomlinson; Warner). Despite evidence of social media use across the life course (Smith and Anderson), the literate activities of midlife and older adults on social media remain under-researched, leaving us with an incomplete
more » ... complete perspective on digital literacy practices. In order to help address this gap and contribute new knowledge on digital literacy across the life course, I present the results of observational and survey research on the literate activities of an active community of Instagrammers (users who contribute content to the social media platform Instagram) who range in age from approximately fifty-three to over eighty. Over the course of nine months, I studied multimodal content produced by ninety midlife and older women for their Instagram feeds, focusing particular attention on twenty-five of those women. Many of the women also maintain blogs, and in those cases, I studied the blog content as well. As part of my research process, I collected data on hashtag usage, recorded observations about practices and interactions, and identified common themes that emerged in posts and comments. In addition, I surveyed the women about their uses of Instagram and blogs and obtained completed questionnaires from twenty-one of the ninety women. The Instagrammers I observed draw on a variety of semiotic resources as they construct identities and perform age on social media. Instagram and blog posts are "ensembles of modes, brought together to realise particular meanings" (Kress 115). These multimodal ensembles reveal "individual and group identities that are constructed through repeated performances of self and in anticipation of the expectations, social codes and discourses available within a given context" (Lewis 231). Digital literacies-knowledge, practices, and skills the women have developed through self-study and/or sponsorship (Brandt)-enable the multimodal performances I analyze in this article. Through their performances, the women render themselves visible "as part of the cultural mainstream" (Givskov and Deuze 401). Some use this visibility to push back against ageist stereotypes. Others pursue a range of other personal and professional goals. In all cases, the women's performances are situated within broader discourses on age and gender. Due to the epistemological complexity inherent in social media research and the opportunity this special issue provides to read age through multiple lenses, my work has been informed by a broad range of concepts from literacy, composition, media, gender, and age studies. I will examine some of these concepts prior to describing the methods and
doi:10.21623/ fatcat:ocu34pdj5jgitfr325pe7czdry