Selfie surveillance: Exploring postfeminist-neoliberal visibility in young women’s selfie-practices
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This doctoral thesis explores how young women negotiate postfeminist-neoliberal visibility through selfie-practices. It is based on a discourse analysis of twenty interviews with female college students aged 18 to 30 which took place from April 2017 to January 2018. Using feminist methods of analysis, it explores how young women relate to and ‘make sense’ of selfie-practices in the context of everyday life. In doing so, it explores the gendered implications of the rising surveillance enabled by new technological practices and the types of subjectivities they cultivate. Thus, this study builds on feminist media scholarship which explores women’s engagement with cultural products and practices while incorporating and contributing to the emerging field of feminist surveillance studies. Specifically, this thesis explores the interplay between discourses of postfeminist and neoliberalism, and their relation to the entrepreneurial ethos and architecture of social media, within which selfie-practices are enmeshed. Although selfie-practices are often sold to young women as ‘empowering’ and as a means to ‘control’ their image, this assertion becomes complicated by the perspectives this study analyses. Rather, the discourses which characterise selfie-use and the surveillant environment in which these practices occur are shown to attempt to structure visibility along highly normative lines which produce punitively dissonant effects. Critical to this is how such practices direct the gaze, both in terms of self-gazing and gazing at others, in which watching and being watched produce a return to femininity, placing significant prohibitions on visibilities and subjectivities which land outside the normative. This thesis finds that discourses of postfeminist-neoliberalism seek to ‘normalise’ the increased demand for visibility and intensification of surveillance which selfie-practices represent, thereby supporting the introduction of new, ever more intimate modes of gender discipline and scrutiny, enabled by technology.