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Not Influencers, but Amplifiers: @aesthetic.resistance as Feminist IG Hack

Published onJul 09, 2021
Not Influencers, but Amplifiers: @aesthetic.resistance as Feminist IG Hack
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Team

Principal Investigator: Shana MacDonald, Associate Professor, University of Waterloo

Lead Co-Facilitator: Brianna I. Wiens (PhD candidate at York University, incoming Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Waterloo)

Moderators & Contributors:

  • Marisa Benjamin (Law student at the University of Toronto; MA graduate of the University of Waterloo; former Research Communications Officer at the Games Institute)

  • Kartiki Bhatnager (Undergraduate student at the University of Waterloo)

  • Riley Cooper (Undergraduate student at the University of Waterloo)

  • Sid Heeg (PhD student at the University of Waterloo)

  • Sabrina Low (BA graduate of the University of Waterloo)

  • Omi Rodney (Undergraduate student at the University of Waterloo)

  • Pamela Maria Schmidt (MA graduate of the University of Waterloo; Research Projects Facilitator at the Games Institute)

  • Melanie Sean Lim (MA student at the University of Waterloo)


Team members are both moderators and contributors to the research-creation and the design of the account. As a group of collaborators we hold brainstorming meetings on the themes we will explore and actively use a Slack channel to share, edit, and discuss future posts. Since the project’s inception in 2019, Shana and Brianna have co-lead and co-facilitated the team and our meetings, and our undergraduate and graduate research assistants act as project managers to oversee the management of our organizational documents and posting schedule. All team members have direct access to the account, including posting, DM, and story abilities.


Project URL

Website: https://www.instagram.com/aesthetic.resistance/


Project Abstract

@aesthetic.resistance is a research-creation based intervention into prevailing Instagram culture that amplifies work from 2SLGBTQIA+ and Black, Indigenous, and racialized activists, as well as work from other marginalized communities in an effort to resist the colonial, white supremacist, ableist, capitalist heteropatriarchal norms of the platform.

Situated as part of our work as co-directors of the qcollaborative, a feminist design lab, and building on a series of on-going grants that explore the trajectory of feminist media activism between the 1960s and the present, @aesthetic.resistance provides a database of feminist historical and contemporary media practices that advance ‘the personal is the political’ in aesthetic form.


@aesthetic.resistance profile page.


Our intent is to document and circulate examples of how feminist aesthetics operate as media tactics and how these aesthetics are often used to make political interventions. For us, politics and aesthetics cannot be separate. Across the history of feminist activisms, the relationship between the two has been instrumental for furthering feminist messaging to broader publics.

This project was designed with the intent of co-opting the functions of Instagram via a decidedly aesthetic mode of exploratory knowledge production that does not have a predetermined, tangible deliverable––what we call a feminist Instagram hack. Our group of account moderators work collaboratively developing thematic content in dialogue with one another in order to ensure a diversity of voices within the project. We work at our own pace and resist overproducing content simply as a means of follow trending hashtags. Instead, we use our collaborative dialogue to produce an archive of practices and our analysis of them for public audiences. In doing so we seek to go beyond influencer culture to amplify artistic activism within intersectional feminist frames.


@aesthetic.resistance first post on Instagram.


@aesthetic.resistance post on hashtag activism.


@aesthetic.resistance post about its mandate.


Time Needed

When did you begin this project? When did you complete this project?

Time Span: February 20, 2019 - present

Length: 2+ years


Outcomes

What is the outcome of the project?

We use this account as an ongoing knowledge mobilization platform for several nationally and internationally funded grants run by Dr. MacDonald. The account serves as an archive for our continued research in feminist media and hopes to build a community with audiences and social media participants to further the discussions taken up in the account’s posts and various themes. Future iterations of the account hope to expand to open access IGTV webinar content produced by the research team that expands on key terms, practices, and events in the history of feminist media activisms.


Resources

What tools, resources, programs, or equipment did you use for this project?

Any smart device(phone, tablet, computer), Instagram, Slack, Canva, Google Docs.


Funding

Please describe any costs incurred for this project, and (if relevant) how you secured funding for these costs.

This project was initially funded by a SSHRC (Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada) Insight Development Grant. The main cost is research and content production labour, as all collaborating students are paid as researcher-moderators for their content production as well as their participation in the collaborative discussions that we center our process around. The funding has been further secured by more recent grants to ensure the work continues until at least 2025.


Workflow

Please give an overview of the workflow or process you followed to execute this project, including time estimates where possible.

Team meetings occur on a weekly or bi-weekly basis where a group of researcher/moderators discuss potential areas of focus or themes and related hashtags. These are guided by both of us (Shana and Brianna), following the overall mandate of our grant funding to archive and disseminate a trajectory of feminist media practices both historical and contemporary. Once the whole team has agreed upon theme or focus we set out a google doc where individual moderators can sign up for days they are responsible for posting and what the specific focus or artist(s)/activist(s) will be highlighted that day. We aim for 3-4 posts a week.

Leading up to a moderator's assigned day they will share a draft of their post with the group on our shared Slack channel for feedback and editing. They will also upload whatever visual elements they will be sharing on Instagram as well. We often design any of our non-archival content via Canva, and the majority of the images we include on the account come from either the public domain or are reposted by artists already on Instagram with full credit. Sharing our drafts on Slack opens a discussion among moderators, which, notably, often lead to new ideas for future posts, and anything that reads unclear or does not fully reflect our mandate and commitments to intersectional feminism will be addressed in a collaborative dialogue. Once we have agreed to the final post it is shared on Instagram with the moderator's 'name' signed off at the end. We have chosen avatar names for ourselves so that:

1) we can distinguish our posts as often there is personal reflection involved and we are a diverse group of people with different sets of socio-cultural identities;

2) we wish to keep anonymous to a certain degree in order to protect ourselves from any cyber misogyny we may encounter in the future.

We aim for a new theme each month and have set out our schedule until April 2020 at this point. As PI, I am constantly applying for additional funding so that I am able to continue paying researcher/moderators for their content production.

The process and format for the project's workflow sees a purposefully feminist approach to content production, where we all make equal contributions to the intellectual and political mandates of the account. We seek to make it an equitable and generative working space that hinges upon different forms of relationality––between us as researchers, between us and the feminist media we seek to amplify, and between us and our audience.


Challenges & Opportunities

What, if anything, changed between beginning your project and its current/final form?

The intention of our initial funding application was to create a website to house our growing database of feminist media from the 1960s to the present. As we began researching and preparing for this work, a website began to feel like it would not engage the audiences we were hoping to share this research with––namely, fourth wave digital feminists. As a result, we sought a way to share a repertoire of past media work by feminists that could be used as both learning moments and inspiration for a younger generation of highly engaged and deeply visible young feminist activists. This brought us to shift our knowledge mobilization plan to exist exclusively on Instagram. Our turn to Instagram allowed for the development of a research process that takes the form of what we call a “feminist hack” or critical cultural intervention into Instagram’s white neoliberal popular feminist culture as a dominant media platform. In doing so, our group of intergenerational, feminist researchers was come together and find ways to enact our intersectional politics within both academic and technological spaces.

Is there anything specific you wish you had known when beginning your project that might help other people to know?

Feminist content production is a lot of work and requires a fairly large team, as there needs to be time spent on (a) idea generation, research, creation, and then formatting and framing for a public audience; and (b) resting and taking care of each other and ourselves. These acts of self-care, done both individually and in community, are key for this team and take precedence over content production.


Next Steps

Do you have any plans to follow up on this project or work on something similar in the future?

This project has set the research team on a follow-up project that will archive feminist meme culture, which is, by its very nature, ephemeral and time-specific. Our next step is to develop feminist small data methods for collecting and curating feminist meme production between 2020 and 2025, which will be funded by a SSHRC Insight Grant and an Archives Unleashed Cohort 2021 grant.


Publications & Presentations

Publications

MacDonald, S. and Wiens, B. Forthcoming. Small Data Approaches to Multi-Platform Digital Media. Sage Research Methods: Doing Research Online.

MacDonald, S. and Wiens, B. In Press. “Feminist Memes: Digital Community, Identity, and Resistance from the Shadows.” In Materializing Digital Futures: Touch, Movement, Sound, and Vision, edited by Toija Clinque and Jordan Beth Vincent. Bloomsbury.

Wiens, B. and MacDonald, S. 2021. Living Whose Best Life? An Intersectional Feminist Interrogation of Postfeminist #Solidarity in #SelfCare. NECSUS European Journal of Media Studies. Amsterdam University Press. https://necsus-ejms.org/living-whose-best-life-an-intersectional-feminist-interrogation-of-postfeminist-solidarity-in-selfcare/

Wiens, B., Ruecker, S., Roberts-Smith, J., Radzikowska, M. and MacDonald, S., 2020. Materializing Data: New Research Methods for Feminist Digital Humanities. Digital Studies/Le champ numérique, 10(1), p.None. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/dscn.373

Presentations

“Feminist memes as media events and sites of community formations.” Digital Feminisms Panel at the Digital Americas Conference, Online, October 2021. Accepted June 2021.

“Amplifying active influence: @aesthetic.resistance as feminist IG hack.” Methods, Theories, and Taking Action Through Gender and Feminisms in HCI workshop, Hanover, Germany, September 2021. Accepted December 2019.

“Coming together while staying apart: Feminist memes as a means of community formation during COVID.” Feminisms in the Age of Covid-19 and Beyond Conference, Online, September 2021. Accepted May 2021.

“Contemporary and Historical Feminisms: Continuities, Comparisons, and Contradictions.” Society of Cinema and Media Studies, Online: March 2021.

“Digital feminist research hacks: Undermining platform capitalism on the ‘gram.” Chesapeake Digital Humanities Consortium 2021 Conference: Social Justice and Online Activism, Online, February 2021.

“Fostering feminist and queer futures: ‘Hacking for the resistance.” Futures of Feminist & Queer Solidarities: Connectivity, Materiality, and Mobility in a Digital World. International Online Conference, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, September–October 2020.

“Remixing technocultures: Feminist interventions into platform conformity.” International Conference on Communication and Media Studies, Online, October 2020.

“Feminist Technologies.” Panel: The qcollaborative: A critical feminist design research approach to exploring performance and technology in public practice.” Mediating Performance Experiences: Cultures and Technologies in Conversation Conference, Ottawa, ON, April 2019.

“From Influencer to amplifier: @aesthetic.resistance as Feminist IG Hack,” ACM_DIS2019, San Diego, CA, June 2019.


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