Enduring Affective Rhetorics: Transnational Feminist Action in Digital Spaces

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University of Massachusetts Press


Digital Humanities, Feminist Gender and Sexuality Studies, Other Film and Media Studies, Rhetoric and Composition


This dissertation raises questions about the possible efficacy of digital spaces as sites for transnational feminist action and engagement. Using a qualitative approach, I analyze a case study involving the digital circulation of texts that arose from activist Amina Tyler’s decision to post a nude photo with controversial, provocative language sprawled across her chest. The circulation of this image by feminist groups such as FEMEN and Muslim Women Against Femen, as well as the mass media, led to global conversations about women’s roles and rights, definitions of feminism, and statements about the body. In employing a transnational feminist rhetorical analysis of these texts, I investigate how certain claims and arguments, undergirded by emotional and embodied charges, get repurposed through the process of circulation, and how these moments of “repurposing” operate as forms of rhetorical action in their reinforcement of and/or resistance to discourses of globalization and geopolitics. For example, Tyler’s original image, as it circulated, launched a collective movement when FEMEN encouraged their members to post a similar image in support of a “Topless Jihad Day”; FEMEN’s circulation of these texts then prompted Muslim Women Against Femen (MWAF) to recirculate FEMEN’s images as an attack on women’s rights, race, and religion; the mass media then circulated Tyler, FEMEN, and MWAF’s texts in order to repurpose Tyler and MWAF as globalized images of oppressed women, invoking images of Muslim nations as oppressors, and thus furthering terrorist fear-mongering. My findings indicate that the web’s ability to provide texts with enhanced amplification, velocity and endurance such that certain rhetorics become privileged over others points to the need for a new theory of rhetorical production. The implications of this study, that is, emphasize the ways in which digital circulation involves an affective element that necessarily determines the boundaries of rhetorical action—what is possible and what is foreclosed. I argue that scholars in both rhetorical studies and feminist studies need to look at affective circulation in the digital from a transnational feminist perspective so that we can, (1) better understand how feminist rhetorical action, or any kind of rhetorical action for that matter, works within a globalized system such as the web, and (2) learn how to leverage affective circulation toward a more productive rhetorical efficacy.