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Instagram: Visual Social Media Cultures

Instagram Visual Social Media Cultures CoverInstagram: Visual Social Media Cultures is co-authored by Tama Leaver, Tim Highfield & Crystal Abidin, published in 2020 by Polity Press as part of their Digital Media and Society series. You can read the introduction online here.

We have a companion Twitter account and Instagram account, keeping on top of the latest Instagram research and developments.


Instagram is at the heart of global digital culture, having made selfies, filters and square frames an inescapable part of everyday life since it was launched in 2010.

In the first book-length examination of Instagram, Tama Leaver, Tim Highfield and Crystal Abidin trace how this quintessential mobile photography app has developed as a platform and a culture. They consider aspects such as the new visual social media aesthetics, the rise of Influencers and new visual economies, and the complex politics of the platform as well as examining how Instagram’s users change their use of the platform over time and respond to evolving features. The book highlights the different ways Instagram is used by subcultural groups around the world, and how museums,restaurants and public spaces are striving to be ‘Insta-worthy’. Far from just capturing milestones and moments, the authors argue that Instagram has altered the ways people communicate and share, while also creating new approaches to marketing, advertising, politics and the design of spaces and venues.

Rich with grounded examples from across the world, from birth pictures to selfies at funerals, Instagram is essential reading for students and scholars of media and communication.


“In this wonderfully thoughtful and entertaining book, three leading scholars have given us a rich account of Instagram’s history, culture and politics, as well as conceptual tools to understand the increasingly visual world of social media.”

– Professor Jean Burgess, QUT

“This book brings together three accomplished scholars of visual internet culture to provide a comprehensive overview of Instagram as a platform, culture and marketplace. This will be an essential reference for internet studies and visual studies.

– Professor Jill Walker Rettberg, University of Bergen


Instagram: Visual Social Media Cultures is a seminal book in a growing field of academia which enables readers to analyse the social, visual and cultural changes in our daily lives conceptually. The choice of platform, Instagram, is valuable as the authors remark that ‘the attention economy is primarily visual today, and Instagram remains synonymous with the visual zeitgeist’ (216). While the book is an academic study that examines a popular culture topic, it is highly descriptive rather than based on critical theory. Students, scholars, social media practitioners and platform users can benefit from the book as a great introduction to how to approach and study social media.”

– Beyza Dogan, LSE Review of Books, April 2020.

Instagram: Visual social media cultures contributes a wealth of knowledge to social media research, particularly to the hitherto under-researched Instagram. … this book has undoubtedly provided social media researchers with a collection of relevant and updated platform-specific findings that will be instrumental in Instagram studies going forth from this point.”

– Alexandra van Eeden, Mobile Media & Communication, September 2020.

Instagram: Visual social media cultures provides an important and comprehensive overview of Instagram by examining its history and evolution, how it operates as a platform for visual communication, how different subcultures use Instagram, its commercialization, the rise of influencers, the aesthetics of Instagram, and its place in and infiltration into contemporary society. With examples from around the world, through the authors’ own research, and the presentation of case studies this book succeeds in bringing together a wide variety of topics and debates concerning Instagram, giving the reader an impressive insight into how Instagram has influenced the material world and how we live, behave, communicate, and share today. In conclusion, the book provides an original contribution into how Instagram has evolved into a visual communication platform that has become a part of everyday life.”

– Clare Lushey, Communication, September 2020.

“Leaver, Highfield, and Abidin’s Instagram: Visual Social Media Cultures provides an engaging overview of the platform, weaving the history of its development with the way it is used by the individuals that embrace it. They show how the app has been shaped not only by its competition, but also by the communities that it hosts as they navigate the strengths and limitations of the platform against commercial needs, cultural norms, and living for the ‘gram. As the first book-length introduction to the subject, it navigates the tricky balance of clear communication and depth well, but also expands the conversation through a connected Instagram account. A read well-suited to those new to the study of social media, interested parties looking to examine Instagram more deeply, or those already established in the field looking to refresh their knowledge.”

– Kate Stuart, Networking Knowledge, November 2020.

Instagram: Visual Social Media Cultures is required reading for any social media scholar, student, journalist, or practitioner. Far from just a how‐to guide or criticism of the photo‐sharing platform, Leaver, Highfield, and Abidin’s book explores and explains Instagram with great attention to nuance.”

– Jessica Maddox, Journal of Popular Culture, March 2021.

“…  this well-structured and well written volume problematizes Instagram as a platform from the perspective of culture, aesthetics, ecologies, economies and lifespans. … The authors argue that Instagram should best be understood as a conduit for communication in the increasingly vast landscape of visual social media cultures. Through theme-based chapters, Leaver, Highfield and Abidin show systematically how Instagram has evolved as a mobile photography app with unique digital aesthetic and cultures, which feed off and into existing communicative ecologies and economies. Thus the metamorphosis of Instagram as a quintessential photography app is part and parcel of the larger shifts and disruptions within what some scholars call ‘information capitalism’ and ‘surveillance capitalism’.”

– Admire Mare, Visual Anthropology, May 2021.

Instagram: Visual Social Media Cultures provides an excellent overview of a hitherto under-researched platform in a growing field of social media research. The accessibility of the writing makes the text an easy recommendation for both undergraduate and graduate courses in digital media. The book will generate great discussions regarding both the affordances and limitations of the platform, with plenty of influencer and cultural references students can use to connect to their own experiences.”

– Hojin Song, Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, June 2021.

“Leaver, Highfield, and Abidin’s book tackles a timely and complex topic with precision and clarity. An essential overview of Instagram as a far-reaching, multifunctional platform, the authors deftly map out the ways in which Instagram permeates our daily lives. By providing engaging examples throughout the book, the authors give life to their arguments while leaving room for readers to consider important questions for themselves. ”

Sophia E. Du Val, International Journal of Communication, February 2022.

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