A dog, a praying mantis and literary prestige: Instagram as role player in the Afrikaans literary system 

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Authors’ continuing prestige can be seen in various ways, for example by whether they are still being studied, whether their works are included in anthologies, whether they are discussed in literary histories, whether their works are still prescribed, or whether intertextual references are still made to them. A variety of studies have already been undertaken in the study of Afrikaans literature that examine such mentions of and references to authors with the aim of determining whether they still function within the literary system or whether they have been forgotten. However, previous studies within Afrikaans literary studies have only investigated mentions of authors in literary histories, academic publications and in the mainstream media, their inclusion in anthologies, and where authors have entered into discussions with their predecessors; mentions of authors on social media have, however, not been investigated.

Over the past decade and a half, social media have begun to play an increasingly significant role in the human world. Also with regard to Afrikaans literature social media have begun to play an important role, with much of the discussion surrounding Afrikaans literature currently taking place on social media platforms, which means that these platforms have also become part of the Afrikaans literary system, in addition to the established platforms such as websites, newspapers, journals, books, dissertations and theses. In South Africa, WhatsApp is currently the most popular social media platform, followed by YouTube, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and Twitter. 

Instagram was founded in 2010 and is a fast-growing platform, worldwide as well as in South Africa. It is a photo-based platform used mainly by young people – statistics, worldwide as well as in South Africa, indicate that around two thirds of Instagram users are under the age of 34. This young demographic creates new opportunities to explore what is important to young people and how they interact with social media. The current article investigates the posts around a number of canonised Afrikaans authors on Instagram.

A list of authors about whom profiles have been included in the latest edition of the Afrikaans literary history Perspektief en profiel (Perspective and profile) was compiled, and posts marked with hashtags referring to them were collected, along with metadata such as the date of posting, captions, likes and other hashtags associated with the posts. These posts are analysed within network theory – an approach within systems theory – and there is a particular focus on degree centrality and modularity. The study identified the authors most often referred to in posts and found that many of the older authors remain important on this platform, although authors that have been translated seem to be more popular. In addition, the hashtag network was also extracted and analysed as a network. Using an algorithm that identifies communities, it is indicated which authors are often mentioned together, and examples of posts are also provided.

The article highlights, among other things, the important role that poetry plays in posts about Afrikaans literature on this platform, as well as the role of Afrikaans music, drama and arts festivals. Finally, the article indicates that writers’ names survive not only on this platform, which is used especially by young people, but also in surprising ways through things named after writers and the places that social media users visit. It is shown that canonised Afrikaans writers are often placed in an everyday context, for example by posting photos where a user is reading a book on the beach, or photos of landscapes that remind the user of a poem, or by naming a pet after a writer. Otherwise, Instagram is also used as a marketing platform. As this study is exploratory in its nature, suggestions are also made for further research that could focus on individual authors.

Keywords: Afrikaans literary canon; Instagram; literary system; Perspektief en profiel; social media


Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans

’n Hond, ’n hottentotsgot en literêre prestige: Instagram as rolspeler in die Afrikaanse literêre sisteem

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