A cultural analysis of the ‘3D selfie’

Image credit: 3D Printed Heroes – photograph by Maurizio Pesce. Available under a CC BY 2.0 license. Image available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pestoverde/16863356645

Image credit: 3D Printed Heroes – photograph by Maurizio Pesce. Available under a CC BY 2.0 license. Image available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pestoverde/16863356645

I recently completed a book chapter on what has been termed ‘3D selfies’: replicas of people that have been fabricated using computer assisted design files and 3D printing machines. Here is the abstract (the full chapter can be accessed as a preprint here):

A new form of representing selfhood and embodiment has emerged in the wake of the development of 3D printing technologies. This is the 3D printed self replica, a fabrication using digital 3D body scans of people that produces a material artefact of a person’s entire body or parts thereof. The technologies to generate these artefacts are rapidly moving into a range of leisure domains, including sporting events, shopping centres, airports, concerts and amusement parks as well as fan cultures and marketing programs. 3D printed self replicas can even be fabricated at home using a software package developed for the Xbox Kinect game box and a home 3D printer. As I argue in this chapter, there are deeper implications of these artefacts for the ways in which we understand not only the body, selfhood and social relations and the engagement of people in leisure cultures but also people’s entanglements with personal digital data. The 3D self replica as a case study offers an opportunity to think through some of these intersections. As personal digital data ‘made solid’, these artefacts offer new ways of thinking about the ways in which digital data can be employed to represent bodies/selves and become biographical objects, mementos and signifiers of important or intimate events in people’s lives. Their use provides insights into data practices, or how people interact with and make sense of digital data in an era in which such ‘lively’ data are ceaselessly collected about them.

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