Digital cultures of resistance: LGBTQ social media popular culture strategies and activism

Olu Jenzen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNConference contribution with ISSN or ISBNpeer-review


Social networking sites (SNS) have become an important arena for sexual politics. They are used for campaigning on particular issues, for the circulation and finding of information and political news, for debate, for connecting with like-minded people who share similar interests or concerns, for awareness-raising activities as well as a publishing platform for a range of vernacular creative outputs ranging from political satire to the celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) subcultures. Sonia Livingstone (2004: 11) argues that attention to content creation as a key area of digital literacy is ‘crucial to the democratic agenda’, positioning digital and social media users ‘not merely as consumers but also as citizens’ and a recent study by the Pew Research Centre purports that SNS users are ‘much more politically engaged than most people’ (Brenner 2013). LGBTQ persons were among the earliest adopters of SNS (Hammack and Cohler 2011). Yet at the same time we need to be aware that SNS, such as Facebook for example, are carefully managed and surveilled spaces of civility and users are increasingly up against restricting limitations that make them seek out alternative SNS. Hence social media use is currently diversifying. These factors combined present us with a rather complex picture in terms of the type, depth, conditions and extent of use. Against this background my paper investigates the nature of LGBT political discourse and activism as it occurs in social media. It aims to understand the political applications of social media from the point of view of LGBTQ young communities. In addition, my research aims to understand the congruence between the aesthetics of digital and social media forms of LGBTQ activism and the resonance of these ideas amongst the public. The aesthetics of protest are at once the medium and the message of collective action because they communicate the ideas and demands of activists whilst simultaneously attempting to ensure that such ideas resonate with the public and the state. Traditionally activism has deployed banners, placards, flyers, stickers, badges, clothes, visual and performance art, but how does this aesthetic language translate into the digital realm? In contrast to the technological deterministic view that access to computers in itself will increase democracy and equality (Marwick 2013), I argue that we need to look at how users negotiate – and sometimes subvert – the values and norms that technologies incorporate in order to make pragmatic use of mainstream platforms and technologies in working towards agendas of increased sexual democracy and gender equality. This paper comes out of my project which explores everyday digital cultural and amateur media production within LGBTQ communities with the aim to: a) gain an up to date insight into the exploitation of digital and social media for political advocacy by younger generations of LGBTQ identified people; b) to conceptualize the digital cultural strategies that non-heteronormative people adopt in order to cope and thrive; and c) to situate these digital cultures in relation to a particular social change ‘legacy’, that of the late 20th century sexual rights movement, by consider their textual and visual precursors through different eras and activist events, in terms of form, address and framing.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCreative Citizens: the conference
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2014
EventCreative Citizens: the conference - Royal College of Art, 18-19 September 2014
Duration: 18 Oct 2014 → …


ConferenceCreative Citizens: the conference
Period18/10/14 → …


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