Incongruent images: Connective mourning rituals on Instagram following the 2017 Manchester Arena attack

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch

  • Ally McCrow-Young
The bombing of the Manchester Arena by the so-called Isis in 2017 was the United Kingdom’s deadliest terror attack in decades. As the city of Manchester became a site of spontaneous memorial, so too did visual social media, where users created and shared thousands of images showing candles lit in their homes, flowers and handwritten tributes. By the following day, users had shared almost 100,000 images with the hashtag #PrayForManchester on Instagram alone. Conversely, an equal number of images similarly commemorating the attack depicted beauty products, dogs and food. With one billion monthly users, Instagram offers community and solidarity, but as a commercial space, it is also characterised by incongruities, with the potential for users to co-opt the global publicity of an event like Manchester.
To examine the dynamics of these everyday images amidst extraordinary events such as terror attacks, this project proposes the concept connective mourning rituals. The concept extends existing notions of “mediatized mourning rituals” (Cottle, 2006, Pantti and Sumiala, 2009), combining it with “phatic culture” (Miller, 2008) and “platform vernacular” (Gibbs et al., 2014) to account for the altered dynamics of connective spaces. Connective mourning rituals embody the ambivalence of today’s online participatory spaces. In many ways, they reflect traditional mourning rituals, reproducing common tribute symbols and fostering communality. However, on Instagram they become modified, intersecting with platform-specific cultures that are anchored around the self, blending disparate topics and publics with expressions of mourning and tribute.
This project analyses the images shared on Instagram in the immediate aftermath of the Manchester attack, by combining qualitative content analysis with the proposed method ‘connective visual mapping’, a platform-specific approach that employs a number of digital tools for collation and analysis. Existing research has overwhelmingly centred on text-driven platforms such as Twitter, which has allowed for the establishment of rigorous and diverse research methodologies. As methodological approaches to visual social media are currently in their infancy, this project offers a flexible method for analysing Instagram data, as well as responding to the challenges of the continually shifting policies of commercial platforms.
This project contributes to emerging scholarship in two areas, both of which remain understudied: it expands research into online mourning rituals, and it adds to research on visual social media and mediatized disasters. The project illustrates the plurality of connective mourning rituals, which are simultaneously self-promotional, personally expressive, branded and collectively engaged. From fan art, to homemade shrines, to dog influencers, to travel photos, the empirical findings highlight the wide spectrum of intersecting online identities, interests and communities that are woven into individual and collective mourning following the Manchester attack.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDet Humanistiske Fakultet, Københavns Universitet
Number of pages256
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

Note re. dissertation

Ph.d.-afhandling forsvaret 4. juni 2020.

ID: 242609727