Research Output per year
Olu Jenzen lectures in media studies with research interests across critical theory, contemporary media and popular culture, notably in the fields of feminist and queer theory.
Her research work focuses on the politics of aesthetic form, and the aethetics of protest and digital activism; the representation of gender and sexuality in film, literature and popular culture; and social aspects of non-normative epistemologies.
Dr Olu Jenzen is Principal Lecturer in Media Studies and Director for the Centre for Transforming Sexuality & Gender. Her research ranges over different contemporary themes in Media Studies and Critical Theory with a particular interest in the politics of aesthetic form and the aesthetics of protest. A key theme in her research is popular culture as it intersects with debates of gender and sexualities, activism, marginalised communities, heritage, and social media. Dr Jenzen has an interdisciplinary background in Cultural Studies, Contemporary Literature and Film Studies. She has published on themes such as LGBTQ digital activism, queer methodology; otherness and visual culture; the aesthetics of protest; social aspects of non-normative epistemologies (the uncanny, the paranormal etc); and popular culture heritage.
Currently she is leading on a HEFCE (SLNCOP) funded project on LGBTQ youth and access to Higher Education. In the autumn 2018 she will be a visiting researcher at The Centre on Social Movement Studies in Italy. Recent projects include an AHRC funded project on the Aesthetics of Protest, a University funded social engagement award - Digital cultures of resistance: LGBTQ Social Media Popular Culture Strategies and Activism, about the activist lives of young people, and two further AHRC funded Early Career projects: The People’s Pier and a multi disciplinary project exploring the connections between young people and sporting celebrity. Her previous empirical work addresses social media outreach work with socially excluded and hard to reach LGBT youth (Jenzen and Karl 2014).
She is the co-editor of the forthcoming collection The Aesthetics of Protest: Global Visual Culture and Communication (Amsterdam University Press) and a special issue of the Humanities journal on Media Feminisms.
Dr Jenzen was awarded a BA honours in Comparative Literature and Film Studies (1st class) in 1998 from the University of Lund, Sweden and an MA in Comparative Literature (Distinction with Prize) in 2001, also from Lund. Dr Jenzen has been very successful in obtaining competitive scholarships and in 2000 she won a visiting student scholarship to the University of California Los Angeles. She received her PhD in English Literature from Sussex in 2009 and joined The University of Brighton in December 2010, having taught Media and Cultural Studies, English Literature and Gender Studies at the University of Sussex since 2007.
Dr Jenzen is currently supervising PhD students working on topics such as queer visual activism in South Africa; social media and LGBT mental health support; LGBTQ kinship practices and collaborative art practices; and the representation of learning disability in visual culture in the context of non-normative gender and sexuality. She welcomes students undertaking postgraduate research projects that are interested in aspects and politics of aesthetic form, issues of gender and sexuality, dissident sexualities, or situate their project within feminist and/or queer theoretical methodologies, but also projects that, in a wider sense, relate to other aspects of ‘margins’, sub cultures and popular culture.
Approach to teaching
Dr Jenzen teaches critical theories of media and culture, media and popular culture and media research methods. She has previously led the the Media Studies BA degree and the Creative Media MA. In 2013 she was awarded the Excellence in Facilitating and Empowering Learning Award.
LGBTQ youth cultures and social media
Central to this research is Jenzen’s collaboration with the Brighton based LGBTQU youth organisation Allsorts. Through a combination of participatory research methods, discourse and visual analysis the research brings together two fields of inquiry: the study of LGBTQ popular culture (Jenzen 2010, 2012, 2013) and the field of digital media studies.
A recent article 'Trans youth and social media: moving between counterpublics and the wider web' (Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, 2017) focuses on conceptualising the digital cultural strategies that trans and gender questioning youth adopt both as social media users and producers in order to cope and thrive. Drawing on ethnographic data detailing a group of trans youth’s engagements with LGBTQ social media counterpublics and the wider web, and their movement between these spheres, in combination with close readings of online material identified as salient by the participants, the article argues that in the face of rampant transphobia and cis coded online paradigms, trans youth respond both critically and creatively. More specifically, it highlights how they resist prescribed user protocols of mainstream social networking sites as well as employ pragmatic strategies for navigating a binary gendered online world, staking out their own methods and aesthetics for self expression and community formation.
In a previous piece 'Make, share, care: social media and LGBTQ youth engagement' (with Irmi Karl, Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, 2014) we look specifically at how grassroots organisations like Allsorts can develop their strategies for using social media in outreach work supporting isolated LGBTQU youth. Together we seek to influence technological innovation, education and policy from young people’s perspective. Reaching the hard to reach requires strategies that go beyond creating a social media presence. By working closely with both young service users and youth volunteers we aim to not only understand their social media use, but also how digital and social media link to things like identity and well being. For example, findings from our research to date indicate that the most marginalised group – transgender and gender queer young people – actively seek out alternative social media platforms with a more open ended structure than what you would get on SNSs like Facebook. We have also found that LGBTQ young people do not rate anonymity as a benefit of using online communication as high. Rather, they welcome the fact that staff and volunteers with whom they are interacting are visible as ‘out’ lesbian, gay, bi or transgender people. To be able to communicate openly and safely is a significant benefit to the young people at Allsorts.The project has also yielded a number of paper presentations and a round table plenary ‘Mediating Trans* Youth: Sexual cultures, youth engagement work and education in/through social media making’ at the Academia Meets Activism conference at the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies, University of Sunderland, 8-10 April 2015, co-presented with youth work practitioners and co-researchers from Allsorts. Another co-produced publication from this research strand is the Social Media @ Allsorts case study in the Creative Citizens’ Variety Pack: Inspiring digital ideas from community projects (2014), which Jenzen jointly authored with youth volunteers at the organisation.
Pop culture and connected communities
It is important to gain an updated understanding of 21st century pier culture. This includes more in-depth knowledge about how seaside piers as popular culture and leisure spaces converge with new usages such as those introduced with the concept of the community pier. 'The People's Pier' is a research project that investigates community piers as an emerging form of community hubs. It focuses on two related aspects of the pier and community connectivity; first how communities of place may be strengthened in their confidence by taking collective action to safeguard a local heritage asset like the pier and second how the community pier and its popular culture heritage can be utilised to build positive relationships across different groups and empower the community. However, regeneration processes are complex and not always inclusive; they can be both divisive and inequitable. The project therefore also explores processes of disconnection and conflict around the pier as a community space.
Community ownership enterprises are often regarded as an outcome of an existing community's collective effort and ability to rally around a common interest. This project takes a different view by considering how communities connect and emerge through community ownership and related processes such as collective action to 'save' and develop the pier. Such processes involve both connections and disassociation and may be understood as a community making processes in themselves.
Further, the project seeks to explore how the rich popular culture heritage of seaside leisure piers can be used as a resource for the benefit of the community. It places popular culture at the heart of community building and it affirms popular culture as part of a community's cultural heritage, thus challenging traditional perspectives on heritage.
This research is conducted in collaboration with two community partners who are at different stages of realising their goal of restoring, developing and sustainably running a community enterprise pier: The Hastings Pier Charity and The Clevedon Pier and Heritage Foundation and bings together researchers from four UK universities. The project is cross disciplinary and has a stake in debates across Cultural Studies and the study of popular culture, Economies of regeneration and community participation, Cultural Geography, Music studies and Screen and Film studies.
Otherness, Sexuality and Trauma
In her article ‘Revolting Doubles: Radical Narcissism and the Trope of Lesbian Doppelgangers’ (Lesbian Studies 2013) Jenzen looks at the relationship between sexuality and the politics of form. Focusing in particular on films such as Black Swan and Mulholland Drive that have been labelled as homophobic and misogynist, this article asks whether by focusing on form, rather than plot, we can open up a critical space in which to engage with these texts and whether this can lead to a better understanding of why these works have been dismissed from queer sexuality studies.
Developing the theoretical approach taken in her earlier work on the queer uncanny (2007), this article brings together discourses on aesthetics, psychoanalysis and dissident sexualities with visual art, cultural and film studies to examine the trope of the lesbian doppelgänger in both popular culture and contemporary art. Underpinned by a series of interviews with UK-based artists and through a combination of textual and visual analysis, Jenzen shows how the trope of the lesbian doppelganger is prevalent in both film and contemporary art and, moreover, has a historical lineage that can be traced back to the early twentieth century.
Extending the work of critical theorists Edelman (2004) and Love (2007) and by interrogating the stability of contemporary social and political order through discourses of sexuality, Jenzen’s article departs from the majority of the work in this field through her direct engagement with texts deemed to be misogynistic and homophobic. By recontextualising the qualities of radical narcissism associated with the doppelgänger and by locating this trope within cultural and historical understandings of sexuality, this article makes a critical intervention into neoliberal agendas of sexual politics, and offers a deconstruction of the tenets of positivism that lie at the heart of identity politics and at heart of previous LGBT studies of these works.
Queer teeth: exploring traumatic health legacies
‘Queer teeth: exploring traumatic health legacies’ (2014) is a book chapter in Queering health: Critical Challenges to Normative Health and Healthcare (Zeeman, Aranda and Grant (eds)) that brings the methodologies of queer trauma studies (cf. Brown, 2003; Cvetkovich, 2003) and the work coming out of the affective turn within queer theory (Ahmed, 2010; Love, 2007; Munt, 2007; Sedgwick, 2003 et.al.) to the debates of a particular section of medical history: the dental research experiments at the Vipeholm Mental Hospital in Sweden (1945-55). In these experiments patients were fed large amounts of sugar to provoke dental decay in order to generate empirical data. The nature of trauma in this instance manifested through bodily pain – toothache and tooth loss – and the severely compromised wellbeing of the patients, but is also a factor in terms of their loss of individual dignity and autonomy. Drawing on hospital archives, news media reporting from the time and the research into the significance of the sugar experiments for the dentist profession by Bommenel (2006) the chapter aims to draw out the dynamics of desire and trauma complexly bound up in the desire for (and pleasure of) the sweet candy patients were given contrasted by the trauma of the pain (toothache) and invasive oral examinations. In other words, to highlight the ‘messy’ nature of trauma and discuss the potential of queer responses to a medical archive as an archive of feelings. This move builds on queer theoretical work that mobilises affect as a mode of doing history (cf. Cvetkovich 2003, Freeman 2010, Love 2007) to discursively open up new aspects of the embodiment of trauma through queer models of thinking and a non-pathologising ethos.
In addition, this chapter also attempts to illuminate what it means to connect with a traumatic public past, particularly when any registering of its lived experiences is distinctly ephemeral. This particular feature of the archive material is one widely experienced in queer culture and is also in a sense the modus operandi for queer historiography. It also emphasises the need to politicise trauma. This involves moving away from individualising perspectives, insisting instead on the correlation between structural social injustice, discrimination, violence and the individual’s lived experience as well as advocating a resistance to the amnesic powers of mainstream culture.
The article ‘Haunting poetry: Trauma, otherness and textuality in Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days’ (2010)examines the difficulty of writing about trauma and asks how authors approach writing and representing what is often through to be un-representable. Bringing into dialogue the hitherto principally discrete fields of trauma studies and literary criticism, this article examines the idea of the Otherness of trauma and its vexed relationship to representation and language. Developing from her previous investigations into the politics of form and her more recent work on the literary fantastic (2009), this article extends previous scholarship on public cultures of feeling (Anne Cvetkovich, 2003; and Heather Love, 2007) to investigate the relationship between theorisations of public cultures of trauma and how they intersect with the personal in the novel. Focusing in particular on Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days (2005), Jenzen shows, through a close and critical analysis of Cunningham’s use of syntax, silence, and his radical juxtaposition of register and genre conventions, how Cunningham uses stylistic devices, rather than a representational approach, to represent the traumatic events in his novel.
Published in the inaugural volume of the academic journal Otherness: Essays and Studies by The Centre for studies in Otherness (University of Aarhus, Denmark), this article forms part of a larger international and multidisciplinary project within the arts and humanities to develop a hub for generating discussion and collaboration across disciplines such as cultural theory, continental philosophy, postcolonial studies, psychoanalysis, gender studies, Gothic studies, postmodernism and poststructuralist theory.
Master, Lund University
Bachelor, Lund University
PhD, University of Sussex
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article
Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceeding › Chapter
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article
Research output: Contribution to conference › Other