This past year, I’ve had trouble referring to my program as ‘Internet studies’ even though it provides a quick alternative to the mouthful that is Social Science of the Internet. Sure, we had to learn about Internet architecture, the actual tubes and wires connecting everything, but really we study people, politics, economics, networks, and interactions on or relating to the Internet. My thesis is about LGBTQ people using Facebook to shape their identities, not about Facebook itself. This is why I’m not worried about being branded a Facebook researcher and it’s also the reason I believe it’s important to analyze things relating to the Internet by drawing on the strong theoretical and knowledge foundations already established by so many disciplines.
With high-speed connectivity and ubiquitous access in so many parts of the world, the structures of society are reflected and sometimes transformed online. Systems of power, such as patriarchy, transfer to online spaces but may also be circumventable through the use of digital tools. Facebook can be used to organize and consolidate individuals with feminist perspectives, a topic which Keren Darmon is investigating through analysis of how well the messages of SlutWalk protesters transfer from self-produced online content to mainstream media. YouTube can be a site of strange and sometimes cruel celebrity but it can also be a way to learn more about online culture. Affordances, such as the viral nature of the Internet, can help content that challenges taboos to be encountered widely while the archiving qualities of Facebook can begin to build contemporary queer histories, as explored by Sam McBean.
These were just some of the topics discussed at the Queer, Feminist and Social Media Praxis workshop at the University of Sussex. With delegates from the digital humanities, social sciences, and the arts, it once again reminded me that all these perspectives are essential when thinking about the Internet. Here are some additional highlights from the weekend, which included two fascinating film screenings and a variety of panels on the intersection between queer and feminist topics and the use of social media:
Screening of The Owls on Thursday night.
Alex Juhasz speaking about YouTube.
Roni Guetta talking about Traumfrau Brighton.