Social Media, Marginalised Identity and Liminal Publics

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Social media platforms have emerged as powerful arenas for marginalised groups to rally discourses of resistance against entrenched social, cultural and institutional norms. Current engagement by marginalised groups with digital spaces, however, is far from a simple dichotomy of positive and negative outcomes, emphasising the need for nuanced approaches (Glatt 2021; Brown and Phifer 2018). This thesis examines projects initiated by women from very different contexts, all of whom have sought the ‘liminal’ spaces of social media platforms to circumvent or negotiate repression or exclusion of marginalised identities, expression and representation. Case study examples address civil disobedience, cultural institutions and personal realms, including: (1) Iranian women challenging mandatory hijab laws in My Stealthy Freedom, (2) networked art collective Black Contemporary Art and @museummammy Instagram by Kimberly Drew and (3) Botswanan women’s engagement with the Marok music subculture. Bridging a contemporary lens on strategies of digital self-performance and claim-making, this thesis explores identity production in what I term visual counterpublics. It also explores how identity performances are complicated by contextual and affordance-based dynamics (Boyd 2012); Papacharissi 2015). Through a non-binarising analytic of liminality emerges an understanding of liminal publics, including both productive and unproductive instabilities and key obstacles to ethical allyship.
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