I posted a query about this on the Air-L email list, but I’m putting it up here too, as a bookmark for myself and so I can share the query on twitter.
I assigned Rob Horning‘s “Facebook in the Age of Facebook” in my Media and Cultural Analysis class at NYU this semester. Having spent a lot of time in the previous weeks talking about postfeminism (that link goes to Wikipedia, but I’m thinking more specifically of Rosalind Gill’s account [paywall, free preprint]), I was struck by the similarities reading Horning’s account of Facebook. In particular issues like self-branding, self-commodification, the public performance of private/intimate experience, and a critique of empowerment-through-consumption seem to come up regularly in regard to both social networking sites and postfeminism.
But I haven’t seen that link made directly (and a few quick Google Scholar searches don’t turn up anything in particular), so this post is a request for more information. Anyone know of scholarship linking social networking sites and postfeminism? Or better, arguing that certain phenomena of social media reflect a postfeminist sensibility?
So, for example, Horning frames his critique of Facebook as a symptom of neoliberalism, but it seems to me like some of the phenomena he’s pointing to are also characteristic of postfeminism, and I wonder if there’s a gender critique here? I’ve seen arguments that the growth of the service sector under neoliberalism reflects a sort of “feminization” of labor (though I’d like to disavow that phrase a bit). Or also the converse, Arlie Hochschild’s arguments about the “commercialization of intimate life.” Both perspectives seems relevant to social networking sites, where the immaterial labor that users produce is perhaps also gendered in similar ways? That is, rather than gendered practices within Facebook, I’m wondering about Facebook etc as a potentially gendered practice. (And then maybe Horning and others’ desperation about inauthenticity can be seen as at least homologous with anxious narratives about labor precarity and male decline in the “new economy”?)
So postfeminism and neoliberalism have been linked, and neoliberalism and social media have been linked, but I wonder if the link between the two has to be made by transitivity through neoliberalism, or if anyone has directly linked social media practices to the postfeminist sensibility?
By way of comparison:
the reformulization of subjectivity is key. Facebook must naturalize what amounts to a post-authentic sense of self that won’t recoil at the self-branding, lateral surveillance, opportunism and self-promotion that comes with network organization.
What emerges from this pressure is social media’s tendency to both instantiate and discredit authenticity. They validate the quest for it while dismissing the possibility that you’ll ever arrive at it. The self-directed consumers who shop to express intrinsic inner being is supplanted by the well-connected, autoconfessional self who never pauses in disclosing information and thus runs ahead of any need to self-impose consistency.
In exchange for the old sanctities of independence, uniqueness, security, and integrity we gain the pleasures of influence, access, and limitless self-possibility. We get to consume more than ever, free of the supposed guilt that comes from consuming the wrong stuff or selling out.
The data self coalesces in social media’s mircoaffirmations: we are matched with people who can affirm us, we see a reflection of ourselves in the data that makes us feel recognized, we are told what to want in a way that assures us we will be doing what is right and normal.
Is this omnipresent reflexivity a problem? It may be that such self-documentation doesn’t alienate us from some alternate “genuine” experience.
Notions of choice, of ‘being oneself’, and ‘pleasing oneself’ are central to the postfeminist sensibility that suffuses contemporary Western media culture. They resonate powerfully with the emphasis upon empowerment and taking control that can be seen in talk shows, advertising and makeover shows.
The notion that all our practices are freely chosen is central to postfeminist discourses which present women as autonomous agents no longer constrained by any inequalities or power imbalances whatsoever.
Intimately related to the stress upon personal choice is the new emphasis on self surveillance, self-monitoring and self-discipline in postfeminist media culture. Arguably monitoring and surveilling the self have long been requirements of the performance of successful femininity — with instruction in grooming, attire, posture, elocution and ‘manners’ being ‘offered’ to women to allow them to more closely emulate the upper-class white ideal.
From the sending of a brief text message to the ordering of the drink, no area of a woman’s life is immune from the requirement to self surveill and work on the self. And more and more aspects of the body come under surveillance: you thought you were comfortable with your body? Well think again!
But it is not only the surface of the body that needs ongoing vigilance – there is also the self: what kind of friend/lover/daughter/colleague are you? Do you laugh enough? How well do you communicate? Have you got emotional intelligence? In a culture saturated by individualistic self-help discourses, the self has become a project to be evaluated, advised, disciplined and improved or brought ‘into recovery’.
Social networking sites as a phenomenon of (maybe a sublimation of) an increasingly hegemonic postfeminism?