[-empyre-] Welcome to April on -empyre: Digital Media and the Interstices of Identity.

Soraya Murray semurray at ucsc.edu
Sat Apr 4 02:30:47 AEDT 2015

Thank you to all for your inspiring first thoughts on the topic for this week. There are so many resonances between these ideas, perhaps more obviously between the scholarship of Laila and Dalia. I want to pick up this concept of the virtual body politic and discuss it in relation to both of their work— but also consider it in relation to Derek’s selfie research— which is indeed profoundly connected, in terms of what he characterizes as an intervention into erasure and misrepresentation.

From Laila’s writing: “My point on the virtual body politic is that actual material bodies are writing the information patterns we read on social media. And with social media, for the first time, we are seeing media being circumscribed by millions and millions of users rather than one state-run apparatus like a newspaper or television network. These authors have become a plethora of different bodies—big ones, black ones, brown ones, Muslim ones, Atheist ones, queer ones, and all the variations. It is this largeness[i] in daily political movement and operations that is defining the social media production of knowledge. It is revolutionary.””

Laila's research frames the authorship as revolutionary, but the notion of public sharing is constructed as double-edged in mass culture. On the one hand is the idea of a collective public sharing and witnessing of culture, usually framed in terms of democratic inclusion and here well-articulated by Laila through the notion of a “virtual body politic”. On the other hand is the persisting fear of online oversharing, the criticism of which ranges from accusations of narcissism, to anxieties around the complete erosion of privacy and the sense that compulsive self-imaging feeds surveillance culture.

Undergirding this is the very pertinent question of who can constitute a legitimate witness, and this is where I think Derek’s research into selfies as a “politically oppositional and aesthetic form of resistance” begins to reverberate with the Dalia and Laila’s work a great deal. 

It strikes me that all three of you are concerned with the political act of creating forums that “produce counter-images that resist erasure and misrepresentation” (Murray). And, there is also a sense that these are working toward this objective of “choosing to 'shed' their anonymous identities and signal their political stance and/or religious ideologies” (Othman). These are my initial questions: Can you each speak more on the variegated forms of “witnessing” that occurs in relation to the particularities of the constituencies your research focuses upon? What are some of the most unexpected findings of your research? And how do gender/sexuality intersect with this? 

Thank you! And of course, I encourage and welcome -empyreans to join in the conversation.

Soraya Murray, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor 
Film + Digital Media Department
University of California, Santa Cruz

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