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Mediated Interfaces: The Body on Social Media

Images of faces, bodies, selves and digital subjectivities abound on new media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, and others-these images represent our new way of being online and of becoming socially mediated. Although researchers are examining digital embodiment, digital representations, and visual vernaculars as a mode of identity performance and management online, there exists no cohesive collection that compiles all these contemporary philosophies into one reader for use in graduate level classrooms or for scholars studying the field. The rationale for this book is to produce a scholarly fulcrum that pulls together scholars from disparate fields of inquiry in the humanities doing work on the common theme of the socially mediated body.

The chapters in Mediated Interfaces: The Body on Social Media represent a diverse list of contributors in terms of author representation, inclusivity of theoretical frameworks of analysis, and geographic reach of empirical work. Divided into three sections representing three dominant paradigms on the socially mediated body: representation, presentation, and embodiment, the book provides classic, creative, and contemporary reworkings of these paradigms.

Published 14 May 2020 in hardback and e-book.
Bloomsbury Academic | Google Books
ISBN: 9781501356186 / 9781501356193

Preview | Flyer | Acknowledgements



“This book brings together powerful essays by both established and emerging researchers of digital media, corporeality and embodiment. International and interdisciplinary in scope, Mediated Interfaces works through the political, cultural and social ways we can begin to understand how bodies are represented online, how our sense of embodiment is now shaped in conjunction with our digital experiences and how digital media intersects with the politicisation of gendered, raced, sexualised and aged bodies. From naked bodies online to the body of the child as a gaming influencer, this collection covers the broadest range of approaches to thinking through our new digital corporealities. Warfield, Cambre and Abidin have provided us with a thoughtful arrangement of original work that will help us navigate the growing scholarship on bodies and social media. For scholars, students and the public who wish to make sense of new ways in which we can think about bodies and media in the 2020s, this should be the first stop and will provide the best possible roadmap for an increasingly complex scholarly terrain.”
–Rob Cover, Professor of Digital Communication, RMIT University, Australia

“Mediated Interfaces presents key concepts from some of the most innovative social media researchers working today. With its truly international, interdisciplinary, and multi-platform scope, this curated collection reaffirms the importance of the body as a site of analysis for understanding digital practices. In clear and accessible prose, this volume’s contributors recognize the complexities of embodied technological performances on sites that run the gamut from BaiduBBS to YouTube. As they curate a wide variety of scholarly voices, the editors have created a rich interpretive apparatus with which to question naïve assumptions about how bodies are constituted as essential entities, metaphysical beings, tool users, or media interfaces. Anyone interested in the politics, material conditions, or affective investments of social media should consider this book required reading.”
–Elizabeth Losh, Gale and Steve Kohlhagen Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies, College of William & Mary, USA

“This edited collection presents a wealth of insights into diverse social histories and digitally-mediated practices. The chapters draw a bow of emerging social practices across different ways of reading the body becoming in social media. The book is at times feisty, conceptual and diverse, offering crunchy nuggets for the contemplative reader. You will not be left empty-handed.”
–Alexia Maddox, Lecturer in Communications, Deakin University, Australia

“Combining the theoretical with the ethnographic, the serious and the playful, the multi-disciplinary and the multi-sited, Mediated Interfaces takes us on an exciting journey into digital lives and affective relations with social media technologies, which are as embodied as they are political.”
–Adi Kuntsman, Lecturer in Digital Media, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

“Accessibly written with a playful yet serious tone that allows the thinking through of the multiple kinds of “inter”faces that we encounter in contemporary daily life. This book is a must for anyone researching online social media or contemporary youth and media or most anything to do with media. Kudos to the authors!”
–Radhika Gajjala, Professor of American Culture Studies, Bowling Green State University, USA


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Introduction to Mediated Interfaces: The Body on Social Media
by Katie Warfield, Carolina Cambre, Crystal Abidin


The Body Mediated Introduction

The first section of this book is termed “The Body Mediated”. In fact, all the chapters in this book are about mediated bodies but there is something particularly curious and creative about the manner in which the body is mediated in these chapters. Rather than focusing on what happens to the material body when it is mediated—something we will explore later in the book—this section looks at what happens when our conception of the classic fleshy and material body is made to be something other than simply flesh by the force of mediation.

‘Find love in Canada’: Distributed Selves, Abstraction, and the Problem of Privacy and Autonomy
by Vince Miller

This chapter complicates issues of privacy and autonomy in digital culture through an examination of the ethical challenge related to the abstraction of presence online. The ethics of an absent presence resulting from the abstraction of information generated from persons leads to a lack of ‘ethical weight’ of personal data and thus reduces any prospect of privacy and autonomy. With this issue in mind, I will describe contemporary digital culture through five modes of abstraction: informatization, commodification, depersonalization, decontextualization, and dematerialization. When personal information is treated as abstract ‘data’, it can be easily divorced from the person and consequently from ethical obligations associated with personhood, effectively allowing the removal of such information from the social sphere of ethics and morals.

Embodied Verification: Linking Identities and Bodies on NSFW Reddit
by Emily van der Nagel

This chapter brings together threads from literature on identification documents, social media identities, capitalist platforms, embodiment, and posthumanism to make two main arguments. First, that by linking a social media account with identity information that has been socioculturally constructed as valid, platforms reassert the importance of materiality. But in doing so, platforms are also making the explicit claim that unverified accounts are less trustworthy and legitimate. Thus, verification sets up a dichotomy between virtual and material, and regards the virtual as, if not inferior, then certainly limited in some important ways. It speaks to the Cartesian dualism that the mind and body are fundamentally separate entities. Platforms cast the asynchronous, geographically dispersed, virtual kind of communication they offer as a limitation when they present verification as a way to overcome that limitation by reconnecting the virtual with the material. My second argument involves making a distinction between official verification and embodied verification to suggest that the latter productively pushes back against the dominance of the official identity. Instead, seeking to connect a social media account with only the information required to confirm the consent of the person in the image illustrates a posthuman understanding of fluid, contextual, multifaceted online identities.

#ILYSM: Instagram as Fan Practice

by Hattie Liew

Contemporary fandom and digital media technology, in particular internet platforms, have a close relationship, given that digital media facilitate grassroots cultural production and participatory cultures. This chapter focuses on Instagram fan accounts of teen YouTuber Jojo Siwa (@itsjojosiwa). Findings of this ethnographic study show that fan-owners of these accounts engage in a variety of presentation and interaction practices on Instagram to manage visitors’ impressions of their account, with the purpose of achieving specific goals that are valuable to the fan- owner. Specifically, fans strategise the look and information provided on their profile to establish their fan identity and status within the fandom, which in turn confers legitimacy to their account. Fan-owners also make use of basic Instagram functions to interact with visitors in non-competitive games. These games communicate pro- social behaviour within the fandom, which serve to draw boundaries around their fandom. Lastly, Instagram fan accounts serve as user-centric fan archives, which aims not for comprehensiveness, but to document individual fan-owners’ own fan experience and their curated version of Siwa. This case study highlights the evolving forms of fan communities and object of fandoms in the context of social media platforms where fan cultures are characterised by loose networks, rather than by dedicated, bounded fan spaces.

Ethan’s Golden YouTube Play Button: The evolution of a child influencer

by Carolina Cambre and Maha Abdul Ghani

Using sociologist Norbert Elias’s figuration theory to analyzse the video content from Ethan Gamer and Ethan channels reveals how children’s identity and self-presentation are influenced by current capitalist consumer culture. Our analysis indicates that through the interactivity of Ethan Channels, children are triggered to participate in spaces suffused with consumerist norms and values. YouTube, as a pedagogical infrastructure for online sociality, disciplines child vloggers into conforming to YouTube vlogger norms in order to produce the so-called creative performers of implicit advertising.


The Body Politicized Introduction 

The second section of this book is called The Body Politicized. In it we move our attention to flows of power that move through socially mediated entanglements of bodies. When we discuss power we are focusing particularly, here, on intersections of gender, race, religion, colonization, and age. We focus not only on how power flows through discourses—although this is central in many pieces—but like the first section—we tease out the ways in which power threads in and through the materiality of technologies, interfaces, platforms, geographical spaces, and pedagogical spaces like schools. Important too is the way that power flows through affective forces in the form of humor, pain, satire, rage, surprise, and apathy.

Performing Visibility: Representing the Palestinian Freedom Riders through Non-violent Protest and Visual Activism
by Gary Bratchford

Focusing on how visual activists (activists who employ visual strategies as a key dynamic to the function and dissemination of their action) try to unsettle the visual relations of power, this chapter will seek to further unpack some of these militarized practices. By looking at the Palestinian Freedom Riders (2011), the chapter will examine the relationships between visibility, nonviolent resistance, the potential of circulatory networks to help reframe, or bring into focus, the way Israeli authorities territorialize space whilst managing Palestinian movement and visibility.

#WhoNeedsFeminism? Mapping Leaky, Networked Affective Feminist Resistance

by Jessica Ringrose & Kaitlynn Mendes

In this chapter we contribute to both of these dimensions by exploring and mapping how digital space is occupied by women and girls online through photographing and uploading experiences of sexism and sexual violence to digital platforms like Tumblr. We argue this can be a form of loitering, where participants simultaneously take up space and speak out – actions which should be interpreted as forms of resistance. Furthermore, we map the affective tendrils of using these note cards on Tumblr showing how these affective spaces of resistance unfold showing the performative, agentic relations between the social media user, content, audience, and responses (Warfield, 2018).

‘Smart is the Nü (boshi) Sexy’: How China’s PhD Women are Fighting Stereotypes Using Social Media

by Jing Zeng

In China there is a famous saying: ‘There are three types of people: men, women, and nü boshi (women with PhDs)’. As this maxim suggests, highly educated women in China can be perceived as ‘non-feminine’, ‘non-sexual’, and ‘undateable’. Alongside the impacts of traditional gender stereotypes, news and popular media play an important role in propagating and reinforcing the negative image of highly educated women in China. However, as China’s nü boshi become more visible and vocal, especially on social media, they are collectively countering prevailing stereotypes. This chapter discusses the contestation around the image of nü boshi on social media in China. It begins with an introduction of the cultural and socio- political background of the widely existing bias against nü boshi. The second part of the chapter looks into how nü boshi challenge negative stereotypes of themselves on social media, through case studies on microblog-based campaigns and the use of live streaming platforms.

Online Ajumma: Self-presentations of Contemporary Elderly Women via Digital Media in Korea

by Jungyoun Moon & Crystal Abidin

The ajummas are one of the most misunderstood cultural groups in Korean culture. Roughly translated as women who are married and middle-aged, the ajummas are a stigmatized demographic in Korea. This paper examines the economic and socio-cultural history of ajummas, how they are represented in the Korean media and culture, and how they subsequently self-present via new media technologies to create their own forms of expression and creativity. In the media, ajummas used to be represented as objects. However, they have become subjects of the media, specifically social media, and now actively participate in creating their own media cultures and communities through the usage of smartphones in their everyday practices. This research examines how the visual self-presentation of online ajummas is created on social media such as YouTube.


The Body Felt Introduction

The final section of this book is The Body Felt. The body felt offers case studies that attend to the emotional, felt, sensory and affective forces entangled through the socially mediated body. AS with the other section, discourses of power and the important of technological materiality are important, but these chapters foreground affect and feeling in novel ways to show that the socially mediated body is deeply connected to offline material bodies, to feeling and emotion for individuals as well as in the formation of collective practices and experiences.

Naked and Unafraid: Nudity in Reclaiming Witchcraft Rituals
by Emma Quilty

This chapter addresses the topic of nudity in the context of Reclaiming witchcraft, with specific attention paid to how it manifests in ritual and online contexts. This chapter draws on a study of young people’s perspectives of witches in Australia, with a focus on young women in the contemporary Pagan movement of Reclaiming. It rests on insights gathered through participant observation in Reclaiming events, online networks and interviews. Reclaiming is a significant tradition amidst feminist-inspired witchcraft and Pagan movements. This anthropological study of its young participants in Australia and of how Reclaiming ideas are being translated into the Australian context is illuminating for understanding how spirituality connect to the complexities of gender and sexuality. This chapter examines young people’s experiences of remaking meanings and exploring practices around sexuality, bodies, gender and the salience of these issues in the lives of young witches.

“It’s like a rush of ‘man’ feeling”: Analyzing Sexuality and Felt-sense in Men’s Digital Media Communications

by Kaye Hare

For this contribution, I seek to trace the dynamics that shape collective meaning-making, by exploring men’s digital communications about their felt-sense experiences of sexuality and arousal. I first outline key touchpoints from theory and literature: phenemenological embodied knowing (Merleau-Ponty, 1962), sociality of sense (Howes (2013), and media literacies (Poyntz & Hoeschmann 2012). My empirical examination then focuses on parallel digital Q&A threads that ask men to explain the bodily experience of arousal: ‘Guys: can you please describe what sexual arousal feels like?’. The threads, which are found on three different open access websites, provide a unique opportunity for comparison because they were all initiated by the same user, on the same date, using identical language, but have presumably different respondents. I draw upon McAvoy (2014) to analyse the felt-sense expressions within and across the threads. I focus the analysis on the multiplicity of ways that sociality textures communication about the sensory in the forums’ texts through storytelling, gendered language, paralanguage, GIFs, SMS language (text language), and metaphors.

Agential Hysterias: A Practice Approach to Embodiment on Social Media

by Katrin Tiidenberg, Ane Kathrine Gammelby, and Lea Muldtofte Olsen

Katrin Tiidenberg, Ane Kathrine Gammelby, and Lea Muldtofte Olsen This is an experimental piece that braids an analytical plait out of stories of three bodies -– a body locked into a stalemate with a damning diagnosis, a body struggling to see itself as enchanting, and a body in constantly ignored and delegitimized pain. We ask how we are, do or in a context saturated with networked communication technologies and mediated interactions. How does social media get worked into the ever-changing palimpsests of our bodies? We suggest that embodiment is a practice, and show, through three illustrative vignettes, that this practice takes place across a variety of contexts, and modalities.

Picture Me Naked: Embodying Images On Screen and Off

by Tobias Boll

In this chapter, I explore the relations between bodies and ‘their’ images in media practices that involve and unfold around images of the naked body. Specifically, I am concerned with my own naked body. For the research I am drawing on, I became a member of the online erotic webcamming community for about a year and engaged in what I call ‘autopornography’ (Boll 2019). Using original autoethnographic research on mediated sexual interactions among gay men, I aim to show how physical, lived bodies and their images co-emerge and are visually, sensorially, semiotically, and materially entangled in these erotic media practices. I want to argue that different imaging practices bring about different kinds of embodiment.

This page was last updated on 19 June 2020.