Media Portrayal of Sustainable Lives

Anastasia is an ECR at the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP). She has recently been interested in images of good and/or sustainable lives, particularly in mundane media such as films, photographs, and Instagram posts. As these images support us in creating our own understandings of what kind of lives are desirable, they play a role in enabling/constraining transitions to more sustainable ways of living. Beyond looking at the images themselves, Anastasia has been keen on exploring the processes that underpin their creation and circulation. Thus far, this has involved two strands of research: the first focusing on the artistic conventions that underpin the use of different visual media; the second aiming to identify some of the non-artistic factors (e.g. algorithms, third-party apps, funding sources, etc.) which shape image creation and circulation. Her research highlights that existing social and artistic conventions that underpin the creation of images in various media contribute to shaping the kinds of good life stories that are conveyed. Crucially, social and artistic conventions as well as processes of circulation are disproportionately shaped by those who are in positions of power – which means that the most viewed and most common images tend to be the ones that represent good lives that can benefit them in one way or another. On Instagram for instance, the combined actions of the algorithm, users’ use of third-party hashtag optimisation apps, and social and artistic conventions relating to posting #goodlife content results in the promotion of content which represents less rather than more sustainable ways of living. But on the platform, as in other types of visual media, images that represent potentially more sustainable ways of living do exist. The current context makes these kinds of images especially important.

Dr Anastasia Loukianov, Centre for Environment and Sustainability, Department of Sociology.