Janaki Somaiya is writing her Ph.D. thesis in Sociology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Her research focuses on an analysis of images shared by users on social media utilizing a psychoanalytic-semiotic method. It intends to situate the phenomenon of social media within an account of late capitalism and its ideological delineations. Her previous research was centred on Decolonizing Sociology and Sociological Practices in India Using a Foucauldian Theoretical Lens. She is also an activist and has been involved in building a growing extra-parliamentary Left movement in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Her praxis often extends to the classroom where she teaches Sociology to undergraduate students at the University of Auckland. Her research interests include Critical Pedagogy, Marxist Critical theory, Lacanian psychoanalysis, Althusser and ideology critique, semiotics, visual culture analysis and Social media studies.
Advertising images and marketing discourses constantly invoke desires that render the most banal objects desirable to us.
A commonly held assumption about social media is that because users create their own content such as images, videos and so on and thereby their own representations, social media are largely free from any ideological dispositions imposed from above. Creating images is a discursive practice, mediated by a myriad of social and cultural influences that we encounter in our everyday lives. Like in any other form of communication, certain image sharing practices become more dominant, where they intersect with a range of connotative meanings and their ideological dimensions. Within our current conjuncture of global consumerist capitalism, the dominant cultural order is that of maximizing enjoyment through consumption. This essay puts forth a semiotic reading of a cross-section of travel images shared by users on Instagram to explicate the relationship between travel photography, enjoyment as an ideology and capitalism. It is argued that to travel is not just an activity but it is a commodity that is consumed by us and sold to us by the tourism industry. Contradictions of life under global capitalism remain, with growing inequalities, precarious working conditions, casual job contracts and meagre pays. Material enjoyment remains illusory for many, while the ideological inducements to enjoy finds its outlet in the images we share. When shared on social media for the gaze and ‘likes’ of the viewers, our travel images are not just memoirs of a journey undertaken but also an affirmation of our enjoyment. For the viewers of these images, the enjoyment of others pertaining to consumption is to be envied or held up to an ideal against which the viewers may imagine their own enjoyment. Capitalism demands enjoyment in the form of consumption, and those who cannot enjoy, are ‘free’ to fantasize about such enjoyment in the future. While ‘free’ is the buzzword under neoliberal global capitalism, enjoyment is that kernel that underpins and sustains its ideology.