Managing the self-social tension: digital feminine self-production in an intimate public
thesisposted on 22.08.2019, 00:40 by Kanai, Akane
This doctoral thesis examines youthful femininities in an intimate public on the blogging platform Tumblr, interrogating how the self is produced through identity work negotiating the postfeminist tension between the individual and the social. The public is built around a set of self-representative blogs narrating moments of everyday youthful feminine experience through GIFs and captions. My study analyses the circulation and readership of the blog, WhatShouldWeCallMe (‘WSWCM’) and five of its adaptations, in order to explore how young women negotiate the tension between the self and the social in this context of everyday, mediated sociality (the ‘WSWCM public’). Motivated by the question of how highly individualistic, seemingly impossible and contradictory postfeminist subjectivities may be lived and enacted, I analyse how femininities are relationally produced in this blog-based public. The thesis is principally divided into four data chapters. I first theorise the affective relational framework of the public and how it structures the way young women relate to others in the public. Young women are required to demonstrate awareness of normative postfeminist rules in managing their lives, in order to enact a (girl)friendly relationality of commonality with others. They must articulate this awareness without excessive disgruntlement, using humour and an upbeat register to portray emotionally resilient, appealing selves. In the next chapter, I outline how youthful feminine knowledges, classifications and modes of meaning making, together with Tumblr’s infrastructures and the forms of the texts circulated in this public, shape how readers may participate and belong. In the following chapters, I highlight the entrepreneurialism of the blogs in extracting value from personal experience in ways compatible with postfeminist terms of successful femininity. Relational figures such as the best friend, boyfriend and Other girl are used to enact postfeminist individuality, signalling the self as independent but fun, desiring yet desirable. Personal experience is simplified, made consistent, and generic, in order to facilitate recognition and circulation by indefinite, unknown readers. My findings indicate that postfeminism must be reconceptualised beyond a mediated sensibility to a highly personal set of governmental rules, knowledges, and cultures of sociality shaping the relationship of the self to the social. Far from indicating a solipsistic individuality, knowledge, labour and skill are invested to produce selves that generate a sense of commonality with readers through the premise of shared engagement with postfeminist knowledges and culture. As such, while young women individually adopt branded practices to enhance their social value, the self is reduced into bite-sized moments of relatable experience, reinstating postfeminist normativity as a central part of youthful, Western femininity.