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Friday, May 29 • 9:00am - 10:15am
The Self, The Other, & The Gaze in Online Spaces

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A panel of two papers:

A Hole 'Nother Story: A Digital Humanities Approach to Porn Studies
Allegra Smith

Pornography has been increasingly theorized by gender and cultural scholars over the past two decades, with the publication of such collections as Linda Williams' Porn Studies (2004) and The Feminist Porn Book (2013), as well as Routledge's recent interdisciplinary Porn Studies journal. While porn studies provides ample opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration, there is a stark methodological divide between humanistic and social science scholarship on pornography—namely, that the majority of the empirical work in the field is published by social scientists. Humanities scholarship within porn studies is largely theoretical or historiographic in nature, and the few empirical studies that do exist (Moorman 2010; Paasonen 2011) offer very little insight into the authors' research praxis. These studies are always qualitative in nature, never quantitative, and typically employ "close reading" or "close looking" techniques, rarely engaging in self-reflexive descriptions of research methods or units of analysis (McKee 2014).

For these reasons, the speaker has conducted a pilot study utilizing an empirical, rhetorical approach to analyze the content of both mainstream and woman-friendly pornography. The speaker will articulate the results of this study, which examines the differences between pornographic videos posted in two communities on the social network reddit, r/PornVids and r/Chickflixxx. Both subreddits provide links to free, open-access porn videos that have been both sourced and ranked by reddit users, but Chickflixxx describes itself as a board "for women, by women." Using multi-modal coding methods (Blythe 2007), the speaker has compiled both quantitative and qualitative data on the visual (Who is pictured, and what do their bodies look like? What sex acts are taking place, and for how long?) and aural (What is being said by performers? What words are being used?) content of the videos of both these communities. In addition, the speaker has coded for latent content, such as how a constructed male gaze is either reinforced or subverted by the erotic interactions within the videos. By grounding this data in existing feminist and cultural rhetorical theory, the speaker seeks to delineate and quantify the differences between mainstream and "woman-friendly" porn, entering the porn studies conversation using a distinct digital humanities methodological approach.

Reframing Selfies: The Art and Science of Social Media Studies within the Digital Humanities
Kimberley Hall

In a recent op-ed for The New York Times, media scholar Sherry Turkle denounces the rise of what she calls “the documented life,” the insistence on producing evidence of one’s lived experience through the use of media technologies such as smartphone cameras and social media platforms. Her claim is that “Social media doesn’t just do things for us. It does things to us, changing not just what we do but who we are.” Implicit in such critiques is the suggestion that an accelerating entanglement of individual subjectivity and network technologies in information cultures will increasingly displace interpersonal relationships, resulting in an intimate bond between the individual and the media object that will displace other forms of sociality. Turkle was responding to the rise of the selfie, a self-portrait taken with your smartphone camera and then circulated through social media, and she is not alone in her concern. Journalist Stephen Marche claims that the low cultural status of the selfie is a result of the ease with which they can be taken and disseminated. Marche implies that because of their ubiquity and repetition, these photographs require no effort and lack artistic value. Such arguments attack selfies on both scientific and aesthetic grounds. What role then, does the study of selfies have to teach us about the field of digital humanities?

This presentation moves beyond such anxious rhetoric and suggests that selfies represent a site of important overlap between the twin poles of art and science within the digital humanities. First, I will provide a walk-through of Selfiecity, the collaborative project out of CUNY led by Lev Manovich that utilizes Mechanical Turk and quantitative methods to scan over 3,000 selfies from around the world. I discuss this project’s methodological approach as well as their findings that women take significantly more selfies than men, and display more expressive poses. I will then present my own Scalar project-in-progress, Reframing Selfies: The Visual Tropes of Women’s Self Portraiture, which builds an aesthetic archive of female photographic self-portraiture. Offering a qualitative approach to the subject, this project utilizes Scalar’s unique scholarly affordances to develop a project that highlights three key aesthetic tropes of female selfies: mirroring, posing, and camera as object. This digital archive connects such tropes to historical photography by Frances Benjamin Johnston and Julia Margaret Cameron in the nineteenth century; the avant-garde photography of Claude Cahun and Vivian Maier in the first half of the twentieth century; and the well-known work of Cindy Sherman and Nikki Lee in the late twentieth century.  

avatar for Trent Kays

Trent Kays

Assistant Professor, Hampton University
Writer, rhetorician, & internet researcher. HBCU Prof. Intellectual nomad. Polemicist. Buddhist. Queer. Volunteer. Uncle. I aim to misbehave. Don't panic.

avatar for Allegra Smith

Allegra Smith

Graduate Student, Michigan State University
Technofeminist rhetorician. Professional writing, porn studies, digital literacies, gerontechnology.

Designated Tweeters
avatar for Leslie Fedorchuk

Leslie Fedorchuk

Professor, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design
@lesliefedorchuk ARTS, EDUCATION, FEMINISM, all around GEEKINESS

Friday May 29, 2015 9:00am - 10:15am EDT
Room 103 Kellogg Center

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