ProjectCurating the Feed: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Digital Image Feeds and Their Curatorial Assemblages

Basic data

Curating the Feed: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Digital Image Feeds and Their Curatorial Assemblages
01/03/2023 to 28/02/2026
Abstract / short description:
In fall 2021, the annual ARD/ZDF study on online behavior in Germany (Beisch and Koch 2021, 500)
found that 73% of 14–29-year-olds in Germany use the image-based social media platform
Instagram at least once a week, and 55% of them use it daily. Instagram is closely followed by other
image-based platforms, with weekly use reaching 44% for Snapchat, 32% for TikTok, and 18% for
Pinterest. By contrast, the figure for Twitter, which consists primarily of text, is a mere 9%. Clearly,
for a young generation of Internet users, image-based social media platforms have become a
significant part of their everyday routines.
For those platforms, digital images are both engine and fuel. Digital image technologies allow us to
produce, edit, display, and consume images in vast – seemingly infinite – numbers. As the original
concept for the priority program (PP) The Digital Image put it, a central property of the digital image
is its “ubiquity”. The digital image is ubiquitous because it exists in the form of reproducible and
instantly shareable binary codes, which individual user interfaces (e.g. smartphones, tablets, or
personal computers) translate into pictures. On social media, however, digital images do not appear
to users as single images. Instead, they are part of digital image feeds – curated flows of images
and other forms of media content tailored to individual users. Given the popularity of social media
platforms, digital image feeds play a central role in the everyday life of digital societies, especially
for the younger generation. If we are to improve “the understanding of the role of the digital image in
the broader knowledge society”1 – a key goal of the priority program – then we must carefully
investigate the role of image feeds in social media.
We will not analyze digital image feeds as isolated formations. Rather, we will study how they unfold
within “curatorial assemblages”, ever-evolving networks of (human) practices and (non-human)
technologies. We believe that studying how feeds emerge within the larger context of assemblages
can make a strong contribution to all three key tasks outlined in the priority program’s call for projects:
1) The project contributes to “a theory of the digital image” through its theorization of image feeds
and their curatorial assemblages. 2) By studying image feeds empirically, it will offer new insights
into “the phenomenon, manifestations, and practices of the digital turn in its visual dimensions”. 3)
The project will also target the technological side of image feed curation by exploring how algorithms
can identify one-sided feeds and support users in interacting with more diverse images. Our multidimensional
research design requires interdisciplinary collaboration, which is why the project brings
together digital anthropology (PI Bareither) with media and interface studies (PI Wirth), and computer
science and natural language processing (PI Stein).

Involved staff


Institute of Historical and Cultural Anthropology (LUI)
Department of Social Sciences, Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences

Local organizational units

Institute of Historical and Cultural Anthropology (LUI)
Department of Social Sciences
Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences


Bonn, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

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