Журнал: Научный журнал «Студенческий форум» выпуск №35(171)

Рубрика: Социология

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Sharafeeva D. REPRESENTATION OF CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION PRACTICES OF YOUNG PEOPLE: FOOD ON INSTAGRAM // Студенческий форум: электрон. научн. журн. 2021. № 35(171). URL: https://nauchforum.ru/journal/stud/171/99352 (дата обращения: 30.06.2022).
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Sharafeeva Diana
Student, National Research University “Higher School of Economics”, Russia, St. Petersburg




Шарафеева Диана Эмилевна

студент, Высшая Школа Экономики, РФ, г. Санкт-Петербург



Over the resent years, social media and social networking sites have been developing a lot, starting with the basic features such as messaging and blogging, now providing the possibilities to cover roughly all areas of person`s social life. Such modification in the nature of social networks has become possible due to the fact that different online platforms allow users to achieve their goals by covering almost any topic. Visibility of the lifestyle and consumption on online spaces plays a huge role in constant self-representation in this digital sphere. Since the economic sociology and sociology of consumption defines consumption as a self-expressive behavior that shapes personal narrative, the availability and ubiquity of Instagram is reflected in both conscious and unconscious self-expression (Bozkurt & Tu, 2016). Food, in turn, is just one of the aspects that is the main focus of this work due to the huge increase in the amount and attention paid to food content (Mejova et al., 2016). The general goal of the study is to present various patterns of foodstagramming among young adults. Concept of “foodstagramming” can be understood as a process in which an individual captures food photo and posts them onto social media that specializes in sharing visual content – Instagram (Perullo, 2018). So, this work was devoted to cover a research gap in the sphere since food in online communities and blogs was analyzed either from the nutritional perspective (mostly recipes), or social media in general. The main object of the study is young people posting food content on Instagram. Qualitative study investigates what exactly do they publish, what is the point they put into it, what is their goal. The following research question arises: what are the common patterns of conspicuous foodstagramming?

Literature review

Digital identity is an online social identity which is constructed online profiles that are used to represent selves on networks in a social context (Bozkurt & Tu, 2016). Information retrieval via SNS is specifically linked to the needs of youth consumers for inclusion in the emergent trends of cultural and consumption culture, where technology is agency to emotions, cognition and social patterns of Generation Y. This generation who are born after the 1982 regularly interact, seek entertainment and moderate feelings with each other through their SNS of choice (Bolton et al., 2013). Social networks can be analyzed as a stage in the concept of dramaturgy developed by E. Goffman which states that identity expression as a performance is a part of social interaction where individuals construct identity performances. Goffman’s dramaturgical approach is a metaphorical technique used to explain how individuals present an “idealized” rather than authentic version of themselves (Hogan, 2010). The total visuality of modern social networks brings the representation of life in a virtual environment to the demonstration of idleness (Veblen, 1899)and conspicuous consumption, which is described as showy spending (Sundie et al., 2011), motivated by social factors like impressing others, enhancing ones’ social status and gathering prestige and not by quality considerations (Han, 2010). Reflecting the modern trends of conspicuous consumption and acting as a digital analogue of glossy magazines, the social network Instagram is becoming the main tool for demonstrating one's life and representing one's own self. With specific features, such as mass character, interactivity, hyper-informativeness, participation and ritualism, specifically Instagram creates a fashion for idleness and visualization. At the same time, the demonstration of an idle image takes place according to predetermined reference canons and strategies of representation, focused on the massiveness and interactivity of consumption of glossy images by all network users. Instagram in this schema plays a mediating effect between using SNS and conspicuous consumption.

In the case of posting food photos, social media allow consumers to express their identities through presenting to others the food that they eat and giving them opportunities to communicate and influence a mass audience (Daugherty et al., 2010). Photographs of food serve not only as evidence of wealth, but also as a self-categorization in the environment surrounded by status attributes, such as dishes and interior, etc (Lisenkova, 2019). Instagram has a special place among other SNSs in posting pictures of everyday life, expressed in a ubiquitous social phenomenon – foodstagramming. It can be conceptualized (Perullo, 2018)as a process in which an individual captures food photo and posts them onto social media that specializes in sharing visual content - Instagram.

As social species, people are intrinsically driven to share their personal experiences with others to seek their attention (Csibra & Gergely, 2011). So, posting photos on Instagram is a way of satisfying this need for self-expression results in emotional pleasure (Fournier, 1998)and intrinsic enjoyment (Berthon et al., 2008).


I will use a qualitative research strategy to deeply analyze practices of demonstration food on Instagram by young people and their thoughts about it. To gain a better insight into the patterns of foodstagramming, 10 semi-structured interviews were conducted. I recruited informants making a quick pre-screening survey shared in my social networks. I decided to use criterion sampling method to target young people from million-plus cities who actively post food pictures on Instagram. I conducted interviews in the format of online go-along interview to get more detailed information, as participants look through their photo content and remembers the details.


Many results that help to answer the research question were obtained during the study. I start with the introductory results of the summarized portrait of the informants and their food culture at home. Later there is a part of the results about eating out: what cafes a person visits, how often, for what purpose, what characteristics of the institution are important. And finally, the main block containing information about foodstagramming will be considered: youths` attitude towards Instagram, their behavior, which photos are considered beautiful and why, the purpose and consequences of posting food pictures.

It was necessary to start with the brief description of a person who posts food content on Instagram. An attention was mostly on the level and area of education, work and hobbies. Illustrating an education, most part of the respondents received or are receiving a higher education. Surprisingly, no one has an education in fields related directly to food or photography. Describing hobbies, the most part of the respondents noted an enthusiasm in art, reading, visiting museums and fancy restaurants and digital. Those who stated that they often look at Instagram content as art, take into account composition and color combinations, graduated or at least studied at art schools and various courses.

When studying the culture of eating outside the home, the differences are significant, they are expressed in many ways: from the initial motivation to go to a cafe, to important characteristics in the interior and the choice of dishes. It is impossible to ignore this topic, since 8 out of 10 respondents prefer to take photographs of food in establishments, and not at home. A very small number of respondents go to cafes and restaurants just to eat and directly satisfy their hunger, the analysis revealed that the most common reason is the manifestation of social life. The desire to prove oneself, get approval from society and the like, which is the most important social need of any person (Han, 2010). Indeed, some not only go to fashionable and popular places, but also post photos from there. This perfectly confirms the initial hypothesis that the photos of food on Instagram are demonstrative, serve as confirmation of an active social life and can be considered as example of conspicuous consumption.

Becoming an everyday routine for many people Instagram is used a lot, the study participants spend two to six hours daily on this social network! Of course, their behavior patterns and the digital image they create depend on what they use Instagram for (Bozkurt, 2014). Creating a personal account on a social network is already a whole personalized project that requires a thoughtful approach and building content, and not just uploading any randomly taken photos whenever you want (Han, 2010). In general, results of the research coincide with the theoretical background, the following main motives can be distinguished among the informants: a means of self-expression, a way to get additional attention and social recognition, inspiration and search for useful information. If we talk about self-expression, then people, as social beings, initially tend to share their personal experiences and their lives in order to attract attention to themselves. The need for self-expression leads to the desire for social approval (Lin et al., 2014), attention to oneself as a successful and interesting person. 2 informants noted that they show an embellished, improved version of their real life, trying to position themselves as an “idealized self” in order to receive positive and delighted feedback from their subscribers.

Moving directly to the analysis of the content on Instagram, photos and videos would be studied since the visual information plays a central role in the Instagram (Marwick, 2015). A big topic for discussion is the form of the content, since stories are significantly different – as to named “vanishing” content since publications are available for 24 hours. Even though, people more attention is paid to this type of content (Ringrose & Naezer, 2017). Almost every informant stated that stories are better for showing personality, so most of their content is published in that way. Hence, further mostly stories would be considered. Obviously, the characteristics of the visual series are very different between the respondents: both the amount of content published per day the style of photo processing (is discussed in detail in the context of food content further on), elements and details in the photo. Besides a desire to share moments of their life with subscribers and get some kind of reaction from them, which is inherent in everyone, some respondents refer to Instagram as a personal "memory archive". For this reason, not all photos and videos that are published in the profile contain clear descriptions, marks of people, the frames themselves can be smeared, strange and incomprehensible to subscribers, since they are not focused on them. Since there are practically no people among the respondents for whom Instagram is the main place of work, expectations and consequences of posting are mainly in meeting the needs for self-realization through informal social approval and attention from subscribers. However, do not forget that this social network can be used by experts to demonstrate their professional knowledge and then attract clients. Such goals are pursued by 2 out of 10 respondents, both of whom work in the field of fitness and post food content in terms of nutrition and healthy eating.

I would like to start analyzing directly photo content, which contains elements of food, with a reference to the dramatic analysis of social interactions, as if they were theatrical performances. Erwing Hoffmann argued that people themselves create social reality, and a person's social life is divided into front and back regions. In the context of Instagram, a social platform can be viewed as a transition from a theoretical approach to a digital level. Demonstration of sincere faith in an actor (in this case, the author of food content) occurs through reactions to published content: likes, replies, comments, which the actor perceives as one of the manifestations of social approval. If we talk about the front, which is an expressive means for defining the situation, then it is divided into scenery and personal. Places of establishments, interiors, and so on can be used as decorations, and the appearance and manners shown in the actor's personal account can be used as personal decorations. During the research, it was possible to distinguish three patterns in the published food content among the respondents, which generally corresponds to the existing theoretical background. This is broadcasting healthy eating as part of a healthy lifestyle, demonstrating active consumption to gain social acceptance and conveying an aesthetic perception of the world through food photos on Instagram. This determines what will be shown in the photo, format of posting, processing and preparation for the photo, expectations and consequences after publication. As it was said before, many people use social networking sites in order to achieve their personal health goals by creating additional motivation, support for themselves, which helps and improves personal management. So, for example, the habit of regularly uploading photos of your meal and descriptions to it, pushes a person to plan their diet in advance and make it more varied.


This research work was aimed to investigate visual representation of conspicuous food consumption by the qualitative research via thematic analysis of the interviews with young people posting food content on Instagram. The main theoretical gap, which this work tried to cover is that before food related content publish on online platforms was studied mainly from the nutritional point of view (Fischler, 1988)and in online platforms in general, but the current situation with the increasing attention paid to it in Instagram, made it necessary to pay attention to this area from a research point of view. Analysis of the empirical data allowed to study and structure a structure of the field. Thematic analysis of the interviews has revealed the following patterns in the representation of food consumption on Instagram: published content influences the formation of digital identity, the location and composition of food elements in the photo is related to food culture, the visual characteristics of the photo depend on the background and goals of the person. Regarding digital identity, publishing any content on Instagram being a practice of online blogging, contributes to the development of self-reflection in young people by the possibility to structure and analyze thoughts and feelings. Moreover, the main result is that people mainly do not try to create a certain online image, idealizing themselves and artificially broadcasting specific values and ideas. The formed and existing digital identity depends on the lifestyle, background, hobbies and interests in the real life. Another crucial aspect is the patterns of foodstagramming. The main relationships to both the creation and perception of food content can be described as follows: healthy dieting and sport, aesthetic food as an art object, (natural – created, by the artists), own happy moments of life to save memories, created to seek the social approval. Moving to the visual component of photography, then: it's more photos than videos, stories than posts, real life, not staged life, less editing than before, content was made mostly in cafes or restaurants, there is practically no homemade food. Regarding the purposes and results of posting food content, most part of young adults do it for personal reasons and not for work. Direct impact is the part of the self-expression and the indirect one is manifested in social approval, provided by the followers. Al in all, Food practices and their representation in Instagram carry broad meanings in young people's lives and allow to negotiate their social relationships, which correlates with the previous works in the field (Neely et al., 2014).

Doubtless, the work has some limitations. First of all, it captures both the professional bloggers, which were studied before, and regular users. These two categories have many differences in their own relation to social networking sites, and various patterns of foodstagramming. Moreover, one of the sampling criteria was the respondents' residence in large cities with millionaires, which allows them to make frequently published content in cafes and restaurants. It turns out that the resulting sample group is not very uniform. Of course, the results of the qualitative analysis cannot be generalized above the sample group, but the moment of the criteria for the selection of respondents should be given more attention in order to obtain more specific results.

Another point, which is even more important, is that there no content analysis of Instagram accounts and food related pictures themselves. Obviously, this is an informative base of a visual empirical material, from which extensive conclusions about characteristics of Instagram accounts and various type of food content could be drawn. The lack of content analysis of the pictures could be explained by the capabilities of the researcher and also by the time constraint. However, it should be noted that it is one of the possible and desirable direction for the development of the work.


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