Digital Feminisms and Feminist Futures

Digital media has brought renewed visibility to feminism and has transformed the meaning and impact of feminist politics. What do such transformations mean for the future of feminist activism, creativity, and collaboration on and offline?

As a concept, movement, and political identification, feminism has undergone a radical shift over the past decade, even as it has increasingly occupied a central place in popular culture. Events in Europe and North America since 2015 have pushed feminism visibly to the forefront of public conversations around migration, religious freedom and identity, and economic justice. At the same time, the mobilization of digital tools—including social media platforms and blogs, but also the web presence of mass media organs and user-defined apps—for political activism has triggered heated debates about the effectiveness of digital campaigns for the progress of feminist causes and political change. The public face of feminism on digital media has further complicated the increasingly contested definition of feminism, including what individual feminists looks like, say, and represent. Intersectionality, a concept at the core of contemporary feminist thought, is a given feature of digital circulations; ideas, bodies, sexualities, experiences, realities, spaces, and times intersect in the virtual realm in collaborative and contested ways, including voice and appropriation, materiality and virality, patriarchy and complicity, race and religion, and populist appropriations of feminism and right-wing populism. These interconnected webs produce politically disruptive moments and create openings for new forms feminist activisms. These moments produce questions that ask after the future of feminism and feminist activism in the digital sphere and the meaning (and limits) of global feminist solidarity, community-building, and transnational collaboration. 

“Digital Feminisms and Feminist Futures” investigates how the digital fundamentally restructures cultures of feminism. Digital tools forge and transform methods of thinking in multiple and confusing ways. Digital presences change how we relate to our surroundings; in turn, change is always anticipated in the digital realm. “Awkwardness,” as we theorize in Awkward Politics: Technologies of Popfeminist Activism (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2016) only describes one aspect of this transformation. Other digital strategies include techniques of deferrals, delay, and disappearances, slowing down, withdrawing, and speeding up. Our project has a series of focal points: the complex entanglement of antiracism with feminism under the neoliberal flows of globalization, the changing material culture of digital feminist work and protest as well as its aesthetics and affects, and the consequences of digital feminism for antiracist, feminist, and queer academic work, including our theories and methodologies, teaching and mentoring practices, and the institutional structures and administration of the academy. The project will develop new tools and methodologies for capturing and analyzing these entanglements and for creating political strategies for feminist futures. By thinking through digital practices also as material practices, digital feminism is seen as creative, collaborative, and aesthetic engagement that asks us to conceive of different political work across a variety of spheres, on and offline. Digital feminisms offer strategies for political work also in the non-digital world and in analog spaces by opening up different ways of developing connections, communities, and discourses, and by transforming our political reading habits. 

This project builds on previous research funded by an Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2013–2016), entitled “Technologies of Popfeminist Activism,” which looked at the reconfiguration of feminist activism in the 21st Century through digital technologies, including the circulation of bodies, protest actions, and creative products through digital spaces. It used an analysis of specifically German popfeminist protest performance art activism as a case study by looking at the way in which transnational movements were reconfigured in the German national context. In the resulting coauthored book Awkward Politics we develop awkwardness as a means of engaging with feminist activism as it accounts for the uncertainty of popfeminist moments and movements, its slipperiness and uncertainty. Through discussion of social media platforms, hashtags, performance art, film, and literature, among other creative feminist works, we develop awkwardness into a theoretical tool for intervention that has a broad range of applicability, from social movements to the academy.