Date of Award

May 2018

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication and Rhetorical Studies

Advisor(s)

Rachel Hall

Keywords

digital activism, digital culture, fat activism, fatphobia, networked counterpublics, tumblr

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences

Abstract

Grounded in public sphere and platform theory, this thesis explores networked fat activism on Tumblr. The platform is often described as an enclave space: it is a welcoming and secluded site where marginalized youths can interact. Yet fatphobic antagonism frequently disrupts Tumblr’s fat activist network. I argue that the presence of fatphobia on a site described in such utopian terms as Tumblr is unsurprising when considering two factors: platform affordances that de-incentivize trolling from “outsiders,” but do not prevent active Tumblr users from interacting with fat activists; and historical conditions that mark fatness as an ideological “threat” that needs to be contained. Rather than do away with the concept of enclaving, which accounts for how marginalized groups distance themselves from dominant publics, this thesis forwards the concept of “enclave ambivalence” to unsettle the neat and clean boundaries of digital activist engagement.

I contextualize networked fat activism through an historical account of pre-digital iterations of the movement. It is by evaluating fat activist counterpublic and enclave practices over time that I arrive at the concept of enclave ambivalence. Enclaving in physical spaces provided fat activists the distance from fatphobia that is missing on Tumblr. Still, firm boundaries on group membership and the erasure of difference flattened the complexity of fat embodiment. On Tumblr, there is no stable, singular meaning of “fat activism,” but a set of belief systems that are overlapping yet contradictory. Through a negotiation of the movement’s ambivalence, Tumblr’s fat activists work to improve it. However, the presence of fatphobic antagonism simultaneously strengthens and destabilizes these efforts. By introducing the concept of enclave ambivalence, this thesis maintains that fat activism on Tumblr is neither utterly utopian nor outright toxic—rather, it is messy, fleeting, dynamic, and complex.

Access

Open Access

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