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The Intersectional Internet

Race, Sex, Class, and Culture Online

by Safiya Umoja Noble (Volume editor) Brendesha M. Tynes (Volume editor)
Textbook VI, 278 Pages
Series: Digital Formations, Volume 105

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part One: Cultural Values in the Machine
  • Chapter One: Digital Intersectionality Theory and the #Blacklivesmatter Movement
  • Chapter Two: The Trouble With White Feminism: Whiteness, Digital Feminism, and the Intersectional Internet
  • Chapter Three: Asian/American Masculinity: The Politics of Virility, Virality, and Visibility
  • Chapter Four: Signifyin’, Bitching, and Blogging: Black Women and Resistance Discourse Online
  • Chapter Five: Video Stars: Marketing Queer Performance in Networked Television
  • Chapter Six: Black Women Exercisers, Asian Women Artists, White Women Daters, and Latina Lesbians: Cultural Constructions of Race and Gender Within Intersectionality-Based Facebook Groups
  • Chapter Seven: Grand Theft Auto V: Post-Racial Fantasies and Ferguson Realities
  • Part Two: Cultural Values as the Machine
  • Chapter Eight: Commercial Content Moderation: Digital Laborers’ Dirty Work
  • Chapter Nine: Love, Inc.: Toward Structural Intersectional Analysis of Online Dating Sites and Applications
  • Chapter Ten: The Nation-State in Intersectional Internet: Turkey’s Encounters With Facebook and Twitter
  • Chapter Eleven: The Invisible Information Worker: Latinas in Telecommunications
  • Chapter Twelve: The Intersectional Interface
  • Chapter Thirteen: The Epidemiology of Digital Infrastructure
  • Chapter Fourteen: Education, Representation, and Resistance: Black Girls in Popular Instagram Memes
  • Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

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Introduction

SAFIYA UMOJA NOBLE AND BRENDESHA M. TYNES


This book opens up new lines of inquiry using various intersectional frameworks. Whether we use Black feminism as a lens that allows us to ask questions and conduct new investigations, or other lenses such as political economy, cultural studies, and critical theory, what we need are theoretical and methodological approaches that allow us to intervene on the organization of social relations that are embedded in our digital technologies and that can foster a clearer understanding of how power relations are organized through technologies. In this book, we have engaged a number of leading scholars from the fields of information studies/library and information science, communications, digital media studies, education, sociology, and psychology, who are all researching how intersectional power relations function within the digital. The goal of this book is to provide a text that can inspire thinking about new methods, new theories, and, ultimately, new interventions in the study of the many global Internet(s).

This book was originally the brainchild of André Brock, Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Michigan, who first conceptualized and proposed the framework and scope of the volume to Steve Jones, the Digital Formations Series editor for Peter Lang and editor of New Media & Society. We became partners with André and ultimately brought the book forward, but this book would not exist without his intellectual contributions and friendship. In the first call for papers for this book, Brock encouraged intersectionality as a lens for interrogating the Internet this way: ← 1 | 2 →

We view race as an “instrument of social, geographic and economic control” (Guinier, 2004). We acknowledge the importance of individual agency, but also the “institutional and environmental forces that both shape and reflect that agency” (Guinier, 2004). As such, intersectionality in this collection may highlight how individuals experience intersecting oppressions in a given socio/historical/political context, but also how they may transcend and even thrive in the face of economic and social inequality and oppression (Collins, 2000).

After meeting at a National Council of Black Studies conference in Indianapolis in 2013, we discussed broadening the intersectional approach to thinking about the Internet from the social sciences, including library and information science, education, sociology, and psychology. With the wide-ranging number of scholars from various fields conducting research in these areas, we felt the book would be more innovative and interdisciplinary, with representation from multiple methods and approaches. Along the way, Safiya Noble took primary responsibility for shepherding the collection through, with support and editorial contributions from Brendesha Tynes. What has come forth in this volume is a way of thinking critically about the Internet as a system that reflects, and a site that structures, power and values.

INTERSECTIONALITY

There is now quite a robust literature on intersectionality, although not a lot in the broadest scope of Internet studies. Taking a long view of the origins of intersectionality, scholars point to the speeches of Maria Stewart (1831) and Sojourner Truth (1851), among others, who conceptualized power and oppression across multiple axes. Intersectionality has been articulated through varied terminology including “double jeopardy” (Beale, 1970), “simultaneity” (Combahee River Collective, 1986), “interlocking oppressions” (Hull et al., 1982), “race-gender-class” (Collins, 1991, 2000), and “intersectionality” (Crenshaw, 1989, 1991). Scholars such as Angela Y. Davis have long argued for the elimination of oppression of all kinds and a more complex analysis of power relations that cannot be understood studying individual variables such as race, class, gender, or sexuality (Davis, 1983). We now see intersectional frameworks in a wide range of theoretical traditions and fields, including queer theory, third wave feminism, and cultural studies. Crenshaw’s (1989) coining of the term intersectionality offered a single word to describe a long and complex discussion about Black women’s multiple forms of simultaneous oppression, best described in the following metaphor:

Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in an intersection, her injury could result from sex ← 2 | 3 → discrimination or race discrimination.… But it is not always easy to reconstruct an accident: Sometimes the skid marks and the injuries simply indicate that they occurred simultaneously, frustrating efforts to determine which driver caused the harm. (Crenshaw, 1989)

The field now enjoys broad popularity, with entire centers devoted to the scholarship of intersectionality. The Institute for Intersectionality, Research, and Policy was created at Simon Fraser University in 2005, and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies was created at Columbia University with Kimberlé Crenshaw at the helm in 2011. We also see the Consortium on Race, Gender, and Ethnicity at the University of Maryland, which houses the Intersectional Research Database, a collection of resources on intersectional scholarship. Collins (2015) also outlines a host of special issues including those in Journal of Sex Roles; Race, Ethnicity, and Education; Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media; Social Politics; Gender and Society; and Signs, along with a number of readers such as Race, Class and Gender, An Anthology (Andersen & Collins, 2012) and Intersectionality: A Foundations and Frontiers Reader (Grzanka, 2014) that point to the institutionalization of intersectionality.

In fact, the field of intersectionality has become so vast that Patricia Hill Collins (2015) suggests there are “definitional dilemmas,” where there is a risk of defining the field so narrowly or so broadly that it loses its meaning. She argues that its general contours include “the critical insight that race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nation, ability, and age operate not as unitary, mutually exclusive entities, but as reciprocally constructing phenomena that in turn shape complex social inequalities” (p. 32). She further argues that intersectionality is a “field of study that is situated within the power relations that it studies,” that it is an analytic approach as well as critical praxis that can inform social justice projects. Collins articulates intersectionality as both an overarching knowledge project and a constellation of knowledge projects, the latter of which involves a host of disagreements about its history, current organization, and future directions.

A CALL FOR INTERSECTIONAL CRITICAL RACE TECHNOLOGY STUDIES

Cultivating a theoretical frame such as Black feminist technology studies (Noble, 2012) and reframing it as intersectional critical race technology studies (ICRTS) is but one means of doing a closer reading of the politics of the Internet, from representation to infrastructure. It allows us to interrogate naturalized notions of the impartiality of hardware and software and what the Web means in differential ways that are imbued with power. It allows us to examine how information, records, and evidence can have greater consequences for those who are marginalized. Unequal ← 3 | 4 → and typically oppressive power relations map to offline social relations in ways that are often, if not mostly, predicated on racialized and gendered practices. ICRTS could be theorized as an epistemological approach to researching gendered and racialized identities in digital and information studies. It offers a lens, based on the past articulations of intersectional theory, for exploring power in digital technologies and the global Internet(s). More research on the politics, culture, and values embedded in, and on, the Internet and its many platforms, devices, interfaces, and representations can help continue to frame broader contexts of digital information and technology engagements on the Internet. Specifically in the context of an intersectional analysis, concerns are largely underexamined in the multiple fields that embrace the study of the Internet. In Noble’s (2013) research on the study of search engine results, her call for Black feminist technology studies was a way to articulate concerns about how Black women and girls are racially engaged through algorithmic imperatives that foreground profits over problematic narratives. In the future, she will continue to expand the theoretical and methodological imperatives of an intersectional critical race technology field of study that is situated at the interdisciplinary crossroads of information studies, African American studies, and gender studies.

Future research using critical, intersectional frameworks can surface counter- narratives in fields engaging questions about information and technology and marginalized or oppressed groups, which is the aim of this book. By looking at both the broader political and economic context and the many digital technology acculturation processes as they are differentiated intersectionally, a clearer picture emerges of how under-acknowledging culturally situated and gendered information technologies are affecting the possibilities of participation with (or purposeful abstinence from) the Internet. In essence, this book is attempting to engage with a series of concerns about how race, gender, and sexuality often preclude intersectional interrogations of the structure, activities, representations, and materiality of the Internet. These concerns are buttressed by state policies and economic forces, namely the interests of capital to expand its profits, in both local and global contexts.

This book could also be an incremental, modest response to Daniels’s (2013) call for theorization in the field of Internet studies that engages with social constructions of Whiteness and the material power and accumulation of wealth, resources, and privileges based on historical and contemporary discrimination against the “other.” We believe this is a research imperative, particularly as power is obscured by narratives of “post-raciality,” and ideological investments in color- blindness are adding to greater hostilities in society (Brown, 2003; Neville, Awad, Floress, & Bluemel, 2013; Tynes & Markoe, 2010). Tettegah (2015) found, for example, that an “empathy bias” exists among those who embrace color-blind ideologies, and this results in increased stereotyping and negative attitudes ← 4 | 5 → toward people of color. Noble discussed this lack of racial empathy in her examination of discourses about the death of Trayvon Martin, for example, and how profitable racist media narratives are, particularly as they circulate online (Noble, 2014). As an enduring narrative in technology fields, color-blindness makes it more difficult to intervene on how power operates on the Internet surface. Through this book we are introducing evidence that beckons a deeper look into the development of Intersectional Critical Race Technology Studies, which is a burgeoning articulation of intersectional theory in the digital and informational landscapes.

Certainly, there has been some important scholarly research on race and the Internet that predates this book by more than a decade. Daniels (2013) wrote an important and broad literature review covering the study of race and racism in the field of Internet studies, for those who want to quickly catch up on all of the former contributions. However, in her review, she offered a powerful critique of what was missing from the field: namely, a need to shift Whiteness away from serving as the primary, unnamed, lens for theorizing within the field. What she is naming are the ways that the field only nominally engages race, gender, and power simultaneously, set against a default backdrop of White normativity and investments (Lipsitz, 1998). Kendall (2002) and Brock (2011) have both studied the ways that Whiteness and maleness work as the default identities that define the culture of the Internet. These ways of thinking about the structure and practice of the Web are consistent with the way Harris (1995) theorizes Whiteness as a fundamental property right in the United States. Whiteness as a social construct (Daniels, 2009; Harris, 1995; Leonard, 2009; Noble, 2013, 2104; Roediger, 1991) has been the central organizing framework for the study of the Internet, which Daniels rightly critiques as underexamined in understanding the complexities of the activities, culture, and structure of the Web that substantively marginalize, without interrogation.

We, too, have been writing about how race and gender are implicated in intersectional ways on the Web. Noble researched the ways that the commercial search engine, Google, profits from hypersexualized misrepresentations of Black women and girls and cautions against the outsourcing of public information needs to private corporations (Noble, 2013). Tynes has published extensively about the racial landscape adolescents navigate online; the construction of racial identity, gender, and sexuality; and associations between racial discrimination online, mental health, and behavior (Subrahmanyam, Greenfield, & Tynes, 2004; Tynes, 2005, 2007; Tynes et al., 2014; Tynes, Giang, Williams, & Thompson, 2008; Tynes, Reynolds, & Greenfield, 2004). Tynes’s work has consistently shown that online experiences have implications for adolescent mental health and behavior offline. Together, our findings are consistent with the way Brock (2011) characterizes how technology design and practice are instantiated with racial ideologies: ← 5 | 6 →

I contend that the Western Internet, as a social structure, represents and maintains White, masculine, bourgeois, heterosexual and Christian culture through its content. These ideologies are translucently mediated by the browser’s design and concomitant information practices. English-speaking Internet users, content providers, policy makers, and designers bring their racial frames to their Internet experiences, interpreting racial dynamics through this electronic medium while simultaneously redistributing cultural resources along racial lines. These practices neatly recreate social dynamics online that mirror offline patterns of racial interaction by marginalizing women and people of color. (p. 1088)

The work of many important scholars, including Anna Everett, Oscar Gandy Jr., Jessie Daniels, André Brock, Rayvon Fouché, Christian Fuchs, and David Harvey, to name a few, has laid the groundwork for those in this edited collection to add to discussions about how power and policy are manifest in intersectional ways on the Web. Each of us is engaging how discourses of technology are explicitly linked to racial and gender identity, all of which normalize Whiteness and maleness in the domain of digital technology. Intersectionality and critical race theory help us think about these social, political, and economic racialized patterns of inequality.

THE INTERSECTIONAL INTERNET

This book engages a number of established and emerging scholars who are integrating intersectionality in their research. It represents a scholarly dialogue among critical media and information studies scholars as a means of foregrounding new questions, methods, and theories we can apply to digital media, platforms, and infrastructures. These inquires include how everything from representation to hardware, software, computer code, and infrastructures might be implicated in global economic, political, and social systems of control. We must keep a close eye on these practices, and this book gives voice to our mounting concerns that we expand the research that explicitly traces and intervenes on the types of uneven power relations that exist in technological spaces.

Part I: Cultural Values in the Machine

This section addresses the relative dearth of research on intersectionality and technology, which includes approaching techno-cultural beliefs from a structural perspective, examining institutional discourses about technology’s effects on perceptions of intellect, sociability, progress, or culture as they are mediated by technology. In Part I, we emphasize intersectionality within real-world cultural interactions with technology, as opposed to speculating about technology’s future with some yet-to-be-established sociopolitical reality. To frame this section, we contend that information and communication technologies (ICTs) create ← 6 | 7 → social worlds that retain ideologies born of physical, temporal, and social beliefs, although early cyberculture researchers worked hard to convince us that digital worlds would be free from those constraints. That ideological retention can be seen in technological beliefs that privilege governments over citizens, corporations over people, and the expansion of White privilege in cyberspace. Examples of chapters in this section include technology debates on identity formation in the media, online activism, and discourses about technology’s tensions between mainstream and minority cultures.

Brendesha Tynes, Joshua Schuschke, and Safiya Umoja Noble open the book by examining the dimensions and applications of what they call digital intersectionality theory. Using hashtag ethnography, they conduct a thematic analysis of text, images, and video from Twitter and Instagram focused on the Black Lives Matter movement. Keyword searches for #BlackLivesMatter, #HandsUpDontShoot, #icantbreathe, and #BaltimoreUprising were used. The authors find that previous theoretical approaches to race and social movements online inadequately describe the nature and critical praxis of participants in the movement. They note that cultural assets participants bring to online spaces inform their definitions of intersecting oppressions at the core of the movement as well as their agency.

Jessie Daniels, in “The Trouble With White Feminism: Whiteness, Digital Feminism, and the Intersectional Internet,” brings a clear analysis about how the lack of intersectionality in three highly visible online feminist movements perpetually buttresses feminist action with notions of White racial supremacy, to the detriment of any cohesive, anti-racist possibilities. Daniels examines three cases of White women’s activism online, including Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” and “Ban Bossy” campaigns stemming from her popular New York Times and Amazon.com bestselling book, Lean In. Daniels also explores Eve Ensler’s “One Billion Rising” campaign and how it appropriated and exploited Indigenous feminists of color while remaining incapable of introspection. She includes a third case study that offers a detailed critique of a report on online feminism authored by Vanessa Valenti and Courtney Martin for the #FemFuture project. Her chapter elucidates the difficulties of challenging White feminism on the Internet by using critical Whiteness frameworks that underscore the importance of anti-racist, intersectional theory and application to social justice work online.

Myra Washington has contributed important work on the representation and commodification of PSY and Gangnam Style’s popularity on YouTube in 2012–2013, as an example of the virility, visibility, and virality of Asian/American masculinity. Her work explores the “conditional visibility of Asian/Americans,” and how Asian bodies and images are consumed and rendered both visible and invisible in the dominant U.S. culture of Whiteness. Washington’s discussion of the seemingly positive embrace of Korean popular culture, as evidenced through Gangnam ← 7 | 8 → Style’s co-optation in social and traditional media, is nuanced. She reframes these embraces through a critical and close reading of key media articulations of the social, political, economic, and technological forces that have become part of the latest wave of yellow peril discourses, which she frames as Yellow Peril 2.0.

Catherine Knight Steele’s work is an important reflection of why this book matters; her statement that “much of the early research on the Internet, particularly the blogosphere, centralized the experiences of western White men” underscores why we need more Black feminist theory in critical technology studies. Her contribution details the ways in which marginalized groups are using blogs online to engage in re-conceptualizations of participation in the democratic processes in the United States. She argues that new understandings of the Internet as a “public sphere” require epistemologies that allow for diverse ways of understanding the production of knowledge- and meaning-making. Steele’s study looks at online gossip of Black women and its potential as a “discourse of resistance.” Using a typology she crafted from Patricia Collins’s “matrix of domination,” Steele looks at celebrity gossip blogs edited by Black bloggers and analyzes how Black bloggers “resist or tolerate oppression at three levels: the personal, the communal and the institutional.” Her work suggests that “Black women use these blogs to ‘talk back’ (hooks, 1988) to the systems and structures from which they are excluded or within which they are exploited.”

Aymar Jean Christian writes about how “networked” (digital, peer-to-peer) television creates new opportunities and challenges for queer performers historically excluded from traditional media such as network television. He traces how marginalized voices rely on “difference” to present themselves to mass audiences that come at a variety of costs in platforms such as YouTube. Christian conducted interviews with producers of viral content and analyzes the making and spreading of viral video content. He analyzes the work of YouTube celebrities who are thrust into mass public view without explicit consent. In this timely essay, he helps us understand how intersectionality functions across multiple identities performed in online publics that foreground the complexities of being Black, queer, and woman on the Internet.

Jenny Ungbha Korn studies racially underrepresented populations and their activities and articulations of identity in Facebook Groups. In her study, she analyzed Facebook Group members across a variety of social and political interests to see how they align with multiple intersectional identities and signal belonging. Korn explores racial stereotyping and how Facebook Group users articulate their racialized and gendered experiences online. Her chapter explicitly engages intersectional identity and highlights the cultural constructions of Asian, Black, Latina, and White women’s identities in Facebook Groups.

David J. Leonard has come back to writing about video games and brings us up to date on why we should care about the release of Grand Theft Auto V. ← 8 | 9 → He contextualizes racialized and gendered tropes of the game in the context of racial violence and police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri, as part of an ongoing assault on Black life in reality and in video games. Using critical Whiteness and interesectionality, Leonard argues against claims that racism is irrelevant in virtual games such as GTA:V. This chapter explores “the dialectics that exist between the narrative and representational discourse offered through Grand Theft Auto V and within the Ferguson rebellion.” Leonard argues that GTA:V signifies the hegemonic nature of contemporary racial discourse, and he concludes that both virtually and in everyday life, Black lives still don’t matter, as video game narratives “reflect the ideological and representational landscape of society as a whole.”

Part II: Cultural Values as the Machine

Summary

From race, sex, class, and culture, the multidisciplinary field of Internet studies needs theoretical and methodological approaches that allow us to question the organization of social relations that are embedded in digital technologies, and that foster a clearer understanding of how power relations are organized through technologies.
Representing a scholarly dialogue among established and emerging critical media and information studies scholars, this volume provides a means of foregrounding new questions, methods, and theories which can be applied to digital media, platforms, and infrastructures. These inquiries include, among others, how representation to hardware, software, computer code, and infrastructures might be implicated in global economic, political, and social systems of control.
Contributors argue that more research needs to explicitly trace the types of uneven power relations that exist in technological spaces. By looking at both the broader political and economic context and the many digital technology acculturation processes as they are differentiated intersectionally, a clearer picture emerges of how under-acknowledging culturally situated and gendered information technologies are impacting the possibility of participation with (or purposeful abstinence from) the Internet.
This book is ideal for undergraduate and graduate courses in Internet studies, library and information studies, communication, sociology, and psychology. It is also ideal for researchers with varying expertise and will help to advance theoretical and methodological approaches to Internet research.

Biographical notes

Safiya Umoja Noble (Volume editor) Brendesha M. Tynes (Volume editor)

Safiya Umoja Noble (PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is an assistant professor in the Department of Information Studies in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. She is co-editor of Emotions, Technology, and Design (2016) and an editorial board member of the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies. Brendesha M. Tynes (PhD, UCLA) is Associate Professor of Education and Psychology at the University of Southern California. She is the recipient of the American Educational Research Association Early Career Award and the Spencer Foundation Midcareer Award.

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Title: The Intersectional Internet