This is part of a series of posts highlighting the Theorizing the Web conference, April 14th, 2012 at the University of Maryland (inside the D.C. beltway). It was originally posted on 4.11.12 and was updated to include video on 6.5.12. See the conference website for additional information.
I am very happy to have the opportunity to preside over the panel on technologies of identity. Internet is intimately related to people’s identities; a point that is almost self-evident. People express, reinforce and even sometimes construct new identities via the Internet. But how exactly does this happen? through what mechanisms? How, for example, do people who date online maintain or challenge their identities concerning their sexual preference, class, race, etc. in ways similarly and differently than those who date exclusively offline? Or, how do second-generation immigrants take advantage of the Internet to reshape society’s perceptions of them? How, for instance, do people’s conception of consumption change when faced with the new possibility of shopping online? How does our desire for power and pleasure manifest itself through online social networks? …the questions are endless…
Internet meet identity are both fascinating topics: we expect expect analyses that are both interesting and insightful. And that is the promise our presenters try to fulfill with their intriguing papers.
*Note: Due to an unforeseen scheduling conflict, Nicholas Boston will not be able to attend the conference.
[Paper titles and abstracts after the jump.]
Matthew Morrison - ”Queering Intimacy: Class, Coupling, and the Internet in Gay Life”
The vast majority of sociological literature demonstrates that social inequality is maintained through relationship formation, as most heterosexual people in the U.S. today partner with someone who has a similar education and occupation. Scholarly work from sexuality studies, however, demonstrates that gay men in particular defy this trend and are more likely to partner across social class and race. Moreover, many contemporary relationships now begin online – including over 61 percent of contemporary same-sex relationships. As media studies’ scholars urgently debate whether the Internet is challenging, preserving, or amplifying social inequality, a study of gay men’s online romantic practices promises to fruitfully push this debate forward. Weaving together these insights, my dissertation asks several questions: First, what are the contours of gay online intimacy, and what are its consequences for cross-class relationships and social inequality in general? Second, how do cross-class couples who have met online navigate their offline relationships? And third, are there “unanticipated gains” – or possible losses – in cultural and social capital for cross-class couples? To ground these questions empirically, my study relies on in-depth interviews about gay men’s experiences with online and offline intimacy; participant observation of men doing online and offline intimacy; and content analysis of websites or “apps” that enable online intimacy. By examining gay men’s relationships as they begin online, my dissertation seeks to uncover the cultural mechanisms that underlie the relationship between romantic encounters and social inequality.
Alice Marwick (@alicetiara) – “Pinning Down Identity: Consumer Goods and Digital Consumption”
In the neoliberal era of “identity as project” (Giddens 1991), consumer goods are used as identity markers. People signal personality, individuality and affiliation through the clothes they buy, the car they drive, and the music they listen to (Hebdige 1979; Bourdieu 1993; Featherstone 1991). Online, these identity markers do not have to be purchased; they can be displayed through bookmarking sites like Polyvore and Pinterest, reviewed and discussed on blogs and online fora, and broadcast automatically to audiences using tools like foursquare, Facebook and Twitter. Digital marketers have seized upon social media as a way for consumers to affiliate themselves with global brands and influence others with “word of mouth” marketing, regardless of whether the person actually buys the brand in question (Kozinets et al. 2010). If we accept that consumption is a broad social process that includes many activities besides buying and selling (Chin 2001), this paper asks what this digital broadening means for theories of consumption. Using case studies of fashion bloggers and Pinterest users, I argue that except for extremely high-end luxury goods, purchasing of items is secondary to the cultivation and display of “authentic personal style,” which becomes a primary status marker in fashion-related social media. “Authenticity” is a construct rather than a given, and comes into being through social interaction and status signals by user groups within a particular online environment. On Pinterest, for instance, “fitspo” (fitness inspiration), Christian mommy bloggers, and DIY wedding planners co-exist; all value authenticity, but what signals authenticity is widely variable. While sites like Pinterest encourage interacting with consumer goods, this interaction is removed from the acts of buying or selling and becomes a signifier of identity that is both deeply commercial and disembodied from goods themselves. Thus, the postmodern project of “brand identities” that embody emotions and beliefs is a skill that users themselves learn to apply to their online images through interaction with consumer communities.
Nicholas Boston - “Tell yuh friend dem dat Ramchan deh pon YouChoob!” [Note: Due to an unforeseen scheduling conflict, Nicholas Boston will not be able to attend the conference]
This paper explores the adaptation of the YouTube video meme, “Shit [X] Say” by young adults of Caribbean descent born and resident in the United States or Canada to parody their parents’ technologies of the self: the parents’ accented English diction, domestic practices, cultural attitudes, and peculiar orientations to ICTs in the home, such as cell phones, television remotes and personal computers. After Kyle Humphrey and Graydon Sheppard shot and uploaded to YouTube their parodic drag performance, “Shit Girls Say” in December 2011 and the one minute, nineteen second video went viral, a vast array of parodies snowcloning the original have appeared on YouTube. The fundamental stylistic convention of the genre is drag, whether sartorial (e.g. a man dressed as a woman) or identitarian (e.g. a “black” woman speaking in the voice of, and behaving as, a “white” woman). The presumption is that this kind of embodiment and performativity will draw attention to, or help negotiate, through the humor its banal familiarity evokes, taken-for-granted gaps in perception between social groups. This paper focuses on four video performances in this genre, all produced by North American born and raised children of Caribbean immigrants, specifically Barbadian, Guyanese, Jamaican and Trinidadian, all of whom have very active channels on YouTube. The paper gives diegetic readings of the videos, pointing out recurrent representations and statements across the pieces, as well as draws on interviews conducted with the videos’ creator-actors to discuss how and why these videos satirize cross-generational tensions experienced by the Caribbean diasporic subject. Drawing on Nakamura and Chow-White’s collected conceptualizations in the volume, Race After the Internet (2011), I explore the overlap of the digital divide between the global north and south with the generation gap between immigrant parent and native offspring.
Kelsey Brannan - “Grindr – Browsing and Geolocating Sexiness”
The quest for actualization and interconnection within socially mediated realities, such as Facebook, Linkedin, OkCupid, and Grindr, is linked with an individual’s desire for pleasure and power. Drawing from Sigmund Freud’s book Civilization and Its Discontents and Michel Foucault’s concept of space and power, this paper examines how Grindr, an all gay male location-based social network application for mobile phones, is altering the space and time of sexual relationships and the way users signify or survey their sexuality. Grindr, as a heterotopic space of otherness, is able to surpass the limits of Victorian ideology by liberating sex from the confines of the home. However, it also controls and represses the individual’s desire for physical sex through the censorship imposed by the culture’s super-ego (governmentality) and the guilt produced by the ego (self-surveillance). In other words, Grindr lets gay males “grind” or “digitally cruise” to find each other via mapping technologies that were originally designed by the state to track and monitor people for the sake of national security. The concept of governmentality, a monitoring process that creates a hegemonic regime based on self-normalization, becomes immediately intertwined with sexual desire. What are the implications of this? How does desire change when it is linked to surveillance?