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Photo of Maggie Cummings with her students.
Maggie Cummings with her students. Photo courtesy of Maggie Cummings

A+ in Selfies

A UTSC anthropology assignment gives students a new view of the selfie

“Anthropologists learn by doing fieldwork,” says Maggie Cummings, a lecturer at UTSC. So when she’s teaching the cultural politics of visual representation, what better assignment than to ask students to take – and analyze – a selfie? “A lot of professors think of cellphones as the enemy,” says Cummings, “but I wanted to actually use the phone as a tool and look at it as a cultural artifact.”

Her students loved the assignment. “They had fun; they created fantastic photos and said really interesting things in their papers,” says Cummings. After a class discussion about narcissism and selfies, one male student took a picture with a female friend in the background, trying on lipstick in a mirror. “He wrote a great paper,” says Cummings, “questioning the norms of the objectification of women that we take for granted.”

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