Broadly, my work is driven by my interest in how people organize online, particularly social movements. So, how do we meet each other and connect? How do we define boundaries and establish group membership? And how do we resolve disputes when they arise? Beyond user discourse and interaction, I also analyse how platform affordances and constraints influence user discourse—limiting users to certain modes of interaction, forcing certain users to interact, altering itself based on users’ interaction with them, or structurally contradicting users’ arguments.
So, in other words, I study why arguments on Facebook happen differently (or not so differently) from arguments on Twitter or Tumblr, and what role users, the discourse, and the platform each play in making them different. My methodological background is interdisciplinary, primarily centered in discourse analysis and ethnographic methods, as well as interactional sociolinguistics.
My current research project, Talk Amongst Yourselves: Community Formation in Transgender Counterpublic Discourse Online, 1990-2014, studies English-language transgender counterpublic discourse from the 1990s to the present in order to explore the relationship between discourse and platform design, via users’ shifting conceptions of “transgender community.” The techno-utopian implications of “community” in platform design, when placed in conversation with the use of “transgender” as an umbrella term, have particular implications for political discourse and organizing online.
While often publicly lauded as potentially democratizing, my research analyses how digital platforms’ emphasis on establishing feelings of belonging, a “sense of community,” over diverse discourse—facilitated through platform affordances—limits the possibilities for counterpublic discourse to challenge existing social inequities. Furthermore, I argue online discourse and platform affordances must be taken seriously as important, often essential aspects of contemporary political life for marginalized groups. My research aims not to reify existing ideological structures but instead consider the imaginative possibilities for different and more equitable models of social interaction online.