Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Constructing Digital 'Safe' Space: Navigating Tensions in Transnational Feminist Organizing Online
by Linabary, Jasmine R., Ph.D., Purdue University, 2017, 438; 10608601
Abstract (Summary)

Despite decades of advocacy, women still struggle to gain access to public spaces, in particular to spaces of power such as formal governance and decision-making processes, economic sites, and media institutions. Globalization has enabled the emergence of transnational feminist organizing in response to these exclusions, yet scholars have largely not attended to the spaces within which transnational feminist organizing takes place and the implications of those spaces. These spaces matter as they have the potential to both disrupt and reproduce existing power relations and exclusions. This study identified digital space as a site of transnational feminist organizing and explored how digital ‘safe’ counter-spaces are communicatively constructed and their potentials and limitations for organizing across difference. As an engaged feminist project, this study also had an action goal of creating safer and more inclusive counter-spaces for women to gain a voice and organize collectively. Specifically, this project aimed to contribute to the transformation of such spaces to further enable women’s mobilizing and organizing for social change. In this study, I adopted a critical transnational feminist lens and drew on scholarship in the areas of transnational feminist organizing, space, and tension. In line with this study’s engaged feminist approach, I conducted what I termed a digital feminist participatory action research (D+FPAR) project involving a collaborative partnership with the digitally based transnational feminist network, World Pulse. Data collection involved multiple qualitative and participatory online methods.

Findings from this study illuminated the ways digital counter-space is discursively and materially constructed as ‘safe’ and ‘inclusive’, how these constructions produce contradictions, and how both community and staff members respond to these contradictions. First, the digital space was communicatively constituted as safe and inclusive through particular material-discursive practices, through members’ talk and interaction enabled by the affordances of the digital space, and through interrelations with overlapping digital and physical spaces. Second, contradictions were produced when these material-discursive practices took on different meanings or made difference visible for members based on their identities, locations, or experiences, leaving members feeling simultaneously safe/unsafe and included/excluded. Third, community and staff members enacted a variety of strategies in response to these contradictions that limited and/or enhanced the potentials for organizing across difference and contributed to the ongoing construction of the digital space.

This study advances scholarship on space, transnational feminist organizing, and tension. In defining and interrogating digital space, this project contributes to theorizing the communicative construction of space, how it interrelates and is embedded with the material, and the ways digital spaces (re)produce and challenge power relations. More specifically, this project contributes to understandings of how materiality intra-acts with discourse in the construction of space to shape possibilities for organizing and produce contradictions, revealing the ways ‘safe’ counter-spaces are in a constant state of becoming (un)safe. Methodologically, this project contributes to scholarship by introducing D+FPAR, providing tools for collaborative analysis, and expanding reflexive praxis. Additionally, this study also provides practical strategies, co-constructed with participants, for individuals and organizations seeking to design ‘safe’ digital spaces for voice, participation, and collective action.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Connaughton, Stacey L.
Commitee: Buzzanell, Patrice M., David, Marlo, Lee, Seungyoon, Roberts, Felicia
School: Purdue University
Department: Communication
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 79/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Womens studies, Communication, Information Technology
Keywords: Engaged communication scholarship, Organizing for social change, Participatory research, Space, Tension, Transnational feminism
Publication Number: 10608601
ISBN: 978-0-355-25835-6
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