Advancing the Value of Ethnography

The Sociality of #shoetweet: On Latour-ing Sandals and Webinar Boots


by [contrib_author post_id=’3114′ name=’Donna Lanclos’] (Univ. of North Carolina Charlotte)

Come on, people—show us the shoes: #shoetweet @epicpeople_org

You can think I’m irrationally obsessed with shoes if you want, but if you’ve never thought about the profound sociality of the #shoetweet, you’re missing out. I’m not the only #shoetweeter out there. Ask yourself: Why do so many people share photos of their shoes? It’s not just some strange footwear obsessive disorder.

The open web is a location, a source of tools, a network, and a place where we meet, converse with, and maintain relationships with people. The web is a Place, a cultural construction. The disembodied practices of the web are a challenge to people who use a variety of practices to inject their embodied experiences into digital places.

An excellent example of this is the #shoetweet on Twitter.

A #shoetweet is, well, a picture of shoes shared on Twitter. Basic. And yet, there are complexities.

The basic #shoetweet is a performance of presence: I am here, I am wearing shoes:

#shoetweet Thursday sandals

"#shoetweet #spring #notinlondonanymore" author's leopardskin sandals

In the second tweet the individual indicates she is somewhere different than she used to be—the summery sandal contrasts with what we know she would have been likely to wear in London. She shares her change of location with her Twitter followers, who know where she has been. She uses pictures of her feet to signify that she is a whole person, not just text in digital space:

"#shoetweet Ready to talk about Qual software on a #Friday" author's sandals

The individual is inviting her Twitterfeed along for more than one day, including them in the rhythm of her everyday life. In this one she contrasts her platform sandals with the work she has to do (running a workshop on qualitative software). The cognitive dissonance of the fabulous shoes with the prosaic workday is part of the appeal of this #shoetweet and builds an embodied identity and personality around an otherwise esoteric and unadorned professional topic.

Sometimes the shoes really do fit the occasion:

"#shoetweet #TGIF" author wearing flashy sandals

#Shoetweets can indicate activity as well as location. This individual tweets footwear before digital events to communicate her physical presence even in virtual spaces. Webinar? Virtual chat? Metaphysics? There are shoes for that:

"Forgot to #shoetweet my Lathering sandals @kshjensen @LibGoddess @NomadWarMachine" author's feet on her desk

"Webinar boots. #shoetweet" author's feet up on her desk in front of her computer

#Shoetweets are exchanged, elicited; social exchange and chatter emerge in the form of pictures of shoes; context is given in hashtags and snippets:

#shoeweet! MT @mauraweb: Pausing during this breakneck-scheduled day to prove that I'm wearing my new shoes

Commentary on shoes without pictures also qualifies as a #shoetweet

#epiconference Jackie Wallace is wearing amazing red boots #Iapprove #shoetweet

Of course, there are precedents to #shoetweets; some scrapbooks from the 1940s, such as this one in the UNC Greensboro special collections, contain pictures of shoes (thanks to Erin Lawrimore for the discovery):

yearbook 2 yearbook 1

Shoes for sun, for tennis, boots, saddle shoes, shoes for rain, slippers. Pictures focusing on shoes that nonetheless communicate place and occasion, give clues of status and culture to people who were not there, or who are there no longer.

A #shoetweet can even be a communication with the self, an invocation of memory.

So tweets like these:

"Aspirational #shoetweet. I visited @flylondonshoes in Seven Dials and may never be the same." Shoes on display in store.

are not just about the shoe, but about allowing the person tweeting to pin a memory into the twitterfeed, to revisit that time in London spent lusting after red patent leather shoes, just before she went to dinner with a friend.

These tweets are windows into moments in time; invocations of connection; enactments of relationships.

Group #shoetweets perform these connections, these relationships, not just for those who were not there, but for the people who were present, reinforcing social ties using pictures of shoes to prove that they were in each others’ physical presence, not just sharing digital presence with each other.

"MT @PriestLib: So it's a #shoetweet. Obvs. also with @mattjborg #fryebootsFTW" friends' shoes on a couch"#shoeteet #epiconference @npseaver @ndpeterson @gsvoss" EPIC2014 attendees show off their shoes

#Shoetweets can mark the moment when people, hitherto only known to each other via digital connections, became embodied to each other, became holistic people, and the pictures of their shoes together proves that physical co-presence to themselves and to others.

Shoes are the objects around which #shoetweets forge connections, mark relationships, allow individuals on Twitter to engage in play, to be more than text on a screen, to be embodied spirits who enjoy material pleasures.

"#shoetweet #NYC" author in green heels

This is the high season for #shoetweets—the post-holiday slump, this dark of winter, when people crave connections with each other but don’t always have the time or energy to make them physically. Dressed-up #shoetweets and #boottweets, can punctuate the experiences of those who have networks distributed across digital and physical places, synchronous and asynchronous encounters alike.

So. Show us your shoes. Tweet to #shoetweet @epicpeople_org

[Not on twitter? Send shoe pics to]

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Donna Lanclos, University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Donna Lanclos has a nascent collection of fabulous shoes, and aspires to have more, as well as to hear about your own footwear. She’s also an anthropologist and folklorist who found herself working in academic libraries in 2009. She writes about academia, information seeking, information systems, digital and physical learning spaces, and anthropology at, among other places. She is Associate Professor for Anthropological Research at J. Murrey Atkins Library, University of North Carolina, Charlotte.