How To Look Expensive (but not too much): Cultures of class and youth in the Influencer industry

The earliest formations of the Influencer industry debut in East Asia in the mid-2000s. Having first taken root in vernacular digital cultures: narrative-formats on web blogs and forums, later progressing to still image, moving image, and audio formats as social media has evolved globally, Influencers have since become increasingly commercialised in their transactions, professional in aesthetics, and spectacular in content through their self- presentation formats. At the height of the industry’s Instagram culture in the early 2010s, Influencers flocked towards producing pretty images for self-curation. However, given the speed and saturation of social media attention economies, users soon grew fatigued with luxurious artifice and returned to networked intimacies of “self-deprecating relatability”. At the same time, early histories of amateur blogshop culture from the 2000s, in which young women were selling used clothes and small-batch manufactured goods on blog platforms, quickly instigated shadow economies and networked knowledges around the production and purchase of “authentic replicas” of luxury items. Influencers who were role-modelling these knock-off “luxury alternatives” then became arbiters of taste, and tastemakers for working and lower-middle class youth seeking social mobility through consumption. In this talk, I draw from an in-depth anthropological study of Influencers in Singapore and East Asia since the mid-2000s to interrogate notions of belonging and community, agency and resistance in relation to visual displays of class. Specifically, I ethnographically examine how some Influencers have initiated a hierarchy of knock-off consumption and display through grammars and practices that create and curate circuits of aspirational knowledge in which watered-down luxury fashion procures accretive value, while everyday products attain inflated monetary values by virtue of being imbued with the socio-cultural capital of Influencers. In closing, I consider how Influencer cultures create ambivalent models for social mobility and inclusion, by examining the bodies who are excluded from participation in these spaces.


For the keynote: Abidin, Crystal. 2018. “How To Look Expensive (but not too much): Cultures of class and youth in the Influencer industry.” Youth Futures: Belonging and Connections, Alfred Deakin Institute, Deakin University, Melbourne. November 22-23, 2018.