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Special Issue of Social Media + Society – Call for Papers

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Special Issue of Social Media and Society:

Making Digital Cultures of Gender and Sexuality with Social Media

Jean Burgess, Elija Cassidy, Stefanie Duguay, and Ben Light

Digital Media Research Centre – Queensland University of Technology

Sociocultural Internet research has, for most of its history, engaged with questions of gender and sexuality. Early work exploring  the emancipatory potential of the Internet, for example, pointed optimistically towards the possibilities for gender fluidity, but more critically towards the problems of gender tourism and the reinforcement of biologically deterministic conceptions of gender roles. Either way, digital cultures are sites of gender construction. Similarly, sexualities have been digitally mediated and re-mediated as people with diverse sexual identities have found support via networked media, experienced the entanglement  of physical and digitally mediated embodiments of sexuality, and digital media have been  used for both challenging and preserving heteronormativity.

This special issue aims to bring together new research and scholarship on onn how digital cultures of gender and sexuality are made, focusing on social media as a particular sociotechnical and cultural site of these processes. Everyday social media activities are comprised not just of exchanges between users but also involve the influence of platform owners, designers, and other stakeholders, such as marketers and data miners. For example, although Facebook’s decision to allow users to display a custom gender identity (outside the male/female binary) appears to be empowering to users, even this additional element of self-presentation is influenced by programmed specifications, datafiable for profit, and dependent on Facebook’s corporate policy-makers.

The importance of considering digital cultures of gender and sexuality further, and a key reason for this issue, is due to a number of developments. First, more people than ever are participating with digital cultures due to social media. However, the nature of this participation is complicated, mutable and in no way uniform. Second, the sophistication of the devices, infrastructures, functions and interfaces presented by social media to users is, without welcoming in technological determinism, arguably becoming greater.  Moreover, this sophistication is at the same time both visible and invisible depending upon a range of considerations – such as levels of digital literacy, commercial interests, algorithmic programming, politics and power.

This special issue seeks to further interrogate questions of the contemporary making of digital cultures of gender and sexuality with social media.  Whilst difference-based approaches to understanding the gendered make up of social media users and audiences have been addressed, this issue focuses upon the ways in which gender and sexuality are constructed and circulated with and by this media. Possible topics might include:

  • Identity
  • Harassment, discrimination, and cyberbullying
  • Activism, resistance, and reappropriation
  • Cultures and communities
  • Commodification and political economies
  • Inscription and regulation of gender and sexuality by software
  • Circulation of gender and sexuality based controversies
  • Pornography
  • Digitally mediated dating and personal relationships
  • Sexual health and wellbeing
  • Intersections of gender and sexuality with age, ethnicity, (dis)ability, etc.

Abstracts of 250 words should be submitted to Ben Light (ben.light@qut.edu.au) by 1 June  2015. Where appropriate, please nominate an author for correspondence. On the basis of these short abstracts, invitations to submit full papers (of no more than 8000 words) will then be sent out by 14 June 2015. Full papers will be due by 31 August 2015, and will undergo the usual Social Media and Society review procedure. Please note that an invitation to submit a full paper for review does not guarantee paper acceptance.

About the Author

- Stefanie Duguay is a PhD student in Digital Media Studies in the Creative Industries Faculty at the Queensland University of Technology. A recent graduate of the Oxford Internet Institute, her research focuses on the formation of publics and counterpublics through social media with particular attention to its implications for sexual identity disclosure and queer visibility. Some of her other thoughts can be found at stefanieduguay.com and @DugStef on Twitter.

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