Molly Wilson (CSSD) - 2022-23 Students

Disrupting Digital Girlhood: exploring the performativity of female identity in digital space through autobiographical performance as a socially engaged practice

Developed in partnership with Little Fish Theatre, this CDA will examine how adolescent girls engage with modes of performative self-narration through social media platforms such as Tik Tok, Instagram and Snap Chat. Drawing on practice research methods rooted in applied, digital theatre strategies and arts for social change, the research will develop its analysis through the development of a critical framework rooted in discourse analysis that will advance proposals for alternative models of engagement with online self-authorship and the formulation of practical, interventional strategies that encourage adolescent girls to become more critical of the representations they create, consume and endorse. Through an engagement with theorisation developed in feminist digital media and digital activism, the research will argue that rather than being understood as passive re-iterations of gender norms, these forms of online enactments might better be recognised as radical forms of autobiographical performance and will explore how young women can be repositioned as digital creators without falling into the powerlessness of post-feminist, neoliberal rhetoric (Olufemi 2020). Drawing on critiques of the prevalence of societal reinforcements of compulsory heterosexuality in public space and online (Butler 19900), the research will examine how social media platforms ultimately contribute and affirm hyper-feminine performances of adolescent female identity online.  

The inquiry will also consider how intersectional identities are performed by adolescent girls across social media platforms, examining in what ways self-narrated online performances might be understood as challenging the prejudices and forms of bias that are interwoven into the populist culture of social media.  Specifically, this research will examine how social media platforms such as Tik Tok and Instagram contribute to the exploitation of young people who identify as working class, queer, trans and/or non-binary, racially diverse or who identify with other marginalized female identities and practices online. This CDA will address the critical need for a better, more nuanced understanding of how adolescent girls represent themselves online and the value systems by which they endorse social media representations of other girls and women. By positioning young women as co-researchers within this project, the CDA will interrogate the role social media plays in self-authoring narratives about adolescent girls and their life experiences and will consider how social and applied theatre interventions can initiate new modes of self-authoring to be interrogated (Spence, Frohlich, and Andrews 2013 and Georgakopoulou on selfies 2016).There is an urgency to this research. The COVID-19 pandemic elicited an increased reliance on digital media, highlighting how ubiquitous digital forms of communication are, and how intimately social media is sewn into our sense of identity and social selves. Yet in an age of digital dependency, the online performative presentations of girlhood and the ways these suppress autobiographical performances of self are under-theorised and ripe for further interrogation. 

Primary academic supervisor: Amanda Stuart-Fisher
Secondary academic supervisor: Marilena Zaroulia
Collaborative Partner lead contact: Alex Cooke

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