Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Annotated Bib #3: Race and the Digital World


Nakamura, L. (2008). Cyberrace. Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, 123, 1673-1682.

I have been exploring theory behind my profile picture project, and Dr. Romberger directed me to theory of subjectivity. I have read a primer on subjectivity by Mansfield (2000) that offers a good definition of subjectivity as "theorising the subject, … asking how the idea of a self has been thought and represented" (p. v). I turn in this post to Nakamura (2008) for an application of subjectivity in digital spaces. 

Nakamura’s question is, “[I]f life online is real, are race and racism online real too?" (p. 1675). She explores this question through a literature review of cyberspace, her intentionally chosen term drawing on the nineties’ vocabulary. What she finds running through all of the literature is an empty idealism about the Internet solving the social problem of race.  For example, in its pre-graphic days, the Internet was seen as non-racial because the body could not be seen. However, researchers found that any racism that arose was therefore blamed on the target of the racism for having brought up race (p. 1676).

The shift to graphics is where this research starts to apply to our class. The Internet, now Web 2.0 versus cyberspace, is seen as a place where all can participate equally and therefore as a post-racial space (p. 1679). However, researchers have found systematic racialization, from digital games presenting migrant farm workers as Asian (p. 1678) to “digital fame accru[ing] to racialized performances” (1680).  Since Web 2.0 “incessantly recruits its users to generate content in the form of profiles, avatars, favorites, comments, pictures, wiki postings, and blog entries" (p. 1680), the draw of racialized performances to be noticed is strong.

Nakamura ultimately concludes that race and racism are very much alive in the utopic Internet where everyone can purportedly be whomever they wish to be. This article links to our discussions of the gaze, as Nakamura found race showing up most as driven by the gazers.  Game-players manipulate the farm workers; viewers give more likes and comments to racialized performances.  This links to my project, as I want to study whether people recognize the power of this gaze. That is, are they choosing profile pictures for different venues because they know that gazers are judging?  Nakamura encapsulates digital life as "the grueling immaterial labor of 'making yourself'" (1680). Making yourself for whom? Yourself or the gaze?

Reference
Mansfield, N. (2000). Subjectivity: Theories of the Self from Freud to Haraway. Washington Square, NY: New York University Press.

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