A1: [Dis]Embodied Kairotic Composing: Snapchat, Indigenous Networks, and Queer Digital Migratory Analysis



Kristin Arola, Washington State University
Lucy Johnson, Washington State University
Zarah Moeggenberg, Washington State University


In A1: [Dis]Embodied Kairotic Composing: Snapchat, Indigenous Networks, and Queer Digital Migratory Analysis, presenters shared ideas from their ongoing research projects around social media practices and identity. Individually, each panelist contextualized an interest in their respective social media projects through their own identities. Collectively, this panel explored embodiment as a site of knowledge in digital spaces.

In the first presentation, Lucy Johnson (@Mqtjuiced) shared results from a small study on the use of emoji in Snapchat. Invoking the work of Lisa Lebduska on emojis as visual language, Danielle DeVoss and Jim Ridolfo’s rhetorical velocity, and N. Katherine Hayles’ ideas on the posthuman, Johnson triangulates the [dis]embodied use of emoji in the time-critical digital space of Snapchat, seeking to understand “the ways our bodies are revoked or silenced in digital spaces.”

In her study, Johnson prompted participants to send her a Snapchat using emoji in any form. She then sorted the 80+ Snaps she received into four categories: embodiment, object-oriented, mixed, and anecdotal/hybrid. Fully acknowledging the slipperiness of these categories, Johnson found that most uses of emoji in Snapchat summoned the body in some way. However, she also pointed out that there are limits to this embodiment in her study, noting that most uses of the yellow face emojis remained yellow, meaning users did not change the skin color when available (as Johnson stated, not all “body” emojis have this “feature”).

I see the beginning of a larger research study emerging from this presentation. I particularly appreciate the pedagogical implications, specifically in considering Snapchat as a site for composing that can engage students in a digital space and multimodal practice in which they are already familiar. Johnson concluded her presentation with questions about Snapchat’s limit of cultural representation through embodiment, leading me to wonder about Snapchat’s demographics, target audience, multimodal limitations and affordances; in other words, Johnson is on to something here and I’m eager to see where she takes this work.

Kristin Arola (@kristinarola) presented next with interview data from a larger project with a Native community she is connected to. In this presentation, Arola surveyed responses to the question, “What would Facebook look like if it were designed by and for American Indians?” She situated this work in conversations on “being vs. doing Indian” (Cushman; Lyons), rhetorical sovereignty (Lyons), and relationality (A. Arola). Responses were presented in three loose categories: visual design, capacity for “doing Indian,” and the ways in which Indigenous peoples already use Facebook.

Responses that focused on the visual elements of Facebook called for revision using the four colors often associated with Indigenous identities – yellow, red, black, and white. Arola pointed out the default blue and white visual design of many social network interfaces (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, to name a few), arguing, “Blue and white interfaces function as the white privilege of online design.” Arola then presented responses focused on what Facebook might allow American Indians to do. These responses focused on “how users compose themselves and their relations,” from the communal activities around frybread, to the use of native languages on Facebook.

The last category of responses Arola presented focused on the ways in which American Indians already use Facebook, best summed up with this interview response, “Natives are pretty good at taking existing technologies and using them to their advantage.” She concluded her presentation with a screenshot of her own Facebook page as acknowledgement of “the network she sustains and is sustained by.” Arola’s presentation led me to wonder about the ways in which Facebook amplifies, sustains, and/or limits relationality.

The final presenter in this session was Zarah Moeggenberg (@ZMoeg), who presented findings from her research study on “Digital Queer Performativity” that seeks to understand how queer people move in, out, across, and between social media platforms. Moeggerberg situated her study in Mary Gray’s “queer realness,” Lisa Nakamura’s “cybertypes,” Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes “queer (im)possibility,” and Judith Butler’s notion of performativity. Two questions guiding her work are: How do queer individuals mediate their identities online? And, how do queer people migrate online?

From her study, Moeggenberg presented the experiences of queer social media users, each negotiating and navigating their queerness in the semi-public spaces of social media. The lens or measurement she uses in her study is “safety,” specifically as a way to challenge the notion of safe spaces online. For example, one of the users Moeggenberg speaks about is Martha, who, in the wake of trans- and homophobic HB2 in North Carolina, has changed her profile picture to partially conceal her face as a way to protect herself in a state hostile to queer bodies.

What stands out in Moeggenberg’s study is the cultivation of queer lives across social media platforms, leading to questions about the ways in which queer users queer these sites in relation, or perhaps resistance, to a user experience designed for a default user. I’m also curious about the tension between digital spaces and geographical places (like North Carolina).

Across these three presentations I’m struck by the panelists’ willingness to identify their own relations to the work, which serves as a starting point for each research study. It’s clear to me that there is much work to be done in the consideration of embodiment in social media sites, and these three presentations are an indication of the value this work has in considerations in computers and writing of social media as sites for research, composing, and teaching.

About Author

Casey Miles

Casey received her PhD in Rhetoric & Writing from Michigan State. She studies queer, digital, and cultural rhetorics, specifically queer videomaking.

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