Category Archives: commentary

Toxic Waste and “Absolute Subsumption”

This post is really a series of questions that arise when I tried to think about my earlier post on the production of WOC/black feminists as “toxic” in light of Jodi Dean’s new post “What comes after real subsumption?” I’m hoping maybe that we can think through these questions together.


Hooray, Facebook thinks I’m a real person

oh no no no

oh no no no

Turns out that my very first post here was about Facebook (and DeviantArt) and gender identification.

This is obviously something to which we Cyborgologists are again paying close attention, what with Facebook now allowing a plethora of new choices by which someone might identify their gender. There have already been a couple of great posts on the subject – the new ways in which Facebook is making it possible to self-identify and the ways in which gender is performed – by Jenny Davis and Robin James. But this is also something that’s very personal for me, and not just in terms of my Cyborgtastic journey of the last couple of years.


Augmented (Im)mortality

antigone-july2013There’s a song from the musical Avenue Q that famously proclaims, “The Internet is For Porn”—but really, anyone who’s been paying attention to the post-“Web 2.0” era knows that isn’t true.

These days, the Internet is for cats.

Furthermore, I propose this corollary: Smartphones are for documenting cats. Whether through T. gondii or through their unrivaled documentability, cats actually rule the world. Cat people know this, and anyone who’s ever spent time with cats knows that cats know this. Rewrite the song: The Internet is For Cats.

My cat, however, is not a fan of the Internet. (more…)

Facebook and Gender Performance

As Jenny’s post last week discussed, Facebook lets us identify our gender in very specific ways. But this blog post suggests that Facebook may also be a medium for performing gender. The post’s title suggests that “suspension” from Facebook is a “status symbol”–but I wonder if it’s not a gendered, nationalist/racialized status symbol, a symbol of a specific type of Indian masculinity?


Panopticon For whom?

Sometimes it feels that to be a good surveillance theorist you are also required to be a good storyteller. Understanding surveillance seems to uniquely rely on metaphor and fiction, like we need to first see another possible world to best grasp how watching is happening here. Perhaps the appeal to metaphor is evidence of how quickly watching and being watched is changing – as a feature of modernity itself in general and our current technological moment in particular. The history of surveillance is one of radical change, and, as ever, it is fluctuating and rearranging itself with the new, digital, technologies of information production and consumption. Here, I’d like to offer a brief comment not so much on these new forms of self, interpersonal, cultural, corporate, and governmental surveillance as much as on the metaphors we use to understand them.


#review: Facebook’s Archival Subject


#review features links to, summaries of, and discussions around academic journal articles and books.

Today, guest contributor Rob Horning reviews: Life on automatic: Facebook’s archival subject by Liam Mitchell. First Monday, Volume 19, Number 2 – 3 February 2014 doi:

If, like me, you are skeptical of research on social media and subjectivity that takes the form of polling some users about their feelings, as if self-reporting didn’t raise any epistemological issues, this paper, steeped in Baudrillard, Derrida, and Heidegger, will come as a welcome change. It’s far closer to taking the opposite position, that whatever people say about their feelings should probably be discounted out of hand, given that what is more significant is the forces that condition the consciousness of such feelings. That approach is sometimes dismissed as failing to take into account individual agency; it’s implicitly treated as an affront to human dignity to presume that people’s use of technology might not be governed by full autonomy and voluntarism, that it’s tinfoil-hat silly to believe that something as consumer-friendly and popular as Facebook could be coercive, that the company could be working behind users’ backs to warp their experience of the world for the sake of Facebook’s bottom line.

Mitchell is not so overtly conspiratorial in this paper; (more…)

Toxic: on race, gender, and resilient labor on social media

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Concepts like “the male gaze” and “controlling images” are Gender Studies 101 material: they’re the basic terms in which many feminists understand the media’s oppression of white women (in the case of the male gaze) and black women (in the case of controlling images). The gaze and controlling images are how white supremacist patriarchy subject women to its control.

But I think contemporary social media and big-data political economies are using different devices to control women, especially black women. Social media and big data facilitate a specific form of sexist racism, one that controls women through racialized discourses of toxicity and unhealthy behavior patterns. Instead of turning women into objects and/or erasing their agency, social media and big data let non-white women do and say whatever they want, because their so-called “aggressive bullying” produces the damage against which white women demonstrate their resilience. A similar claim has been (in)famously leveled against “feminism,” especially “intersectional feminism”: it vampirically drains the lifeblood of the progressive, radical left.

What’s specific to the construction of WOC, particularly black women, as “toxic”? Or feminism itself (often represented by ‘intersectional’/WOC feminism) as ‘vampiric’? What about social media, and perhaps even to Twitter, makes the unruliness/threat posed by WOC to white women/white feminist culture industry function in a very particular way, i.e., as toxicity and vampirism? How is the construction of women on social media as toxic/vampiric related to economies of viral upworthiness?


Expanded Gender Categories and the New Privacy Discourse

Playing with my own gender options

Playing with my own gender identity

The Internet is officially abuzz about Facebook Inc.’s newly expanded gender categories.  Here’s the story in brief: Facebook now allows users to select from over 50 gender identifications, such as genderqueer, cisgender, agender etc. (here is a glossary of the options). The move has drawn the expected responses from all of the usual suspects. The deep conservatives are annoyed, the liberals are elated, and the critical progressives appreciate the gesture, realize its significance, but remain dissatisfied with any form of identification confined to a box. I’m of the critical progressive camp, and happy to defer you readers to all of the smart things written by other people.

Meanwhile, I want to focus on another piece of the gender-identity expansion, a piece of great significance which has nonetheless snuck by in light of the jubilation, fighting, and intellectualism surrounding our new opportunity to bend the gender binary.  Namely, I want to talk about privacy, and Facebook’s shifting discourse about identity and power. (more…)

Gravitational Lensing: Death and Twitter and (not) making sense of it all


In preparing to write this post, I found myself going back over Whitney Erin Boesel’s post a couple of months back on death and digital/social media mediation, and I found myself running into a lot of the same issues she discusses. She suffered from massive uncertainty regarding how to talk about what she had experienced, or whether to talk about it at all. I’m going through the same. I’m not sure I should even be writing this, or what it will mean when I have. At the same time, I’m not sure how not to write about it, and that in itself is part of what I want to talk about.

Note: this is not going to be particularly organized, or particularly intellectual. It’s in part personal Livejournal-esque navel-gazing, part working through some disparate observations regarding how we deal with traumatic life events on social media, part general flailing around. Please bear with me. Or, you know, don’t.


The Real Victims of Journal Paywalls


As a professional sociologist, I maintain membership in several listservs and social networking site groups centered around my areas of study. Every now and then, someone will post a request for a particular academic article to which they do not have access at their home university. Quickly, another member of the group provides the article, and we all go about our business.

Not having access to one article, for a connected professional, is no big deal. But imagine if that same professional never had access to academic articles unless they were willing to pay—exorbitantly—to get beyond publishers’ paywalls. Were that the case, it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for that professional to conduct research. (more…)