Social movements often embrace the philosophy, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” But in my ethnographic research with anarchist activists, I found that personal commitments to living one’s politics—through consumption, dress, language, and even sexuality—sometimes led to hierarchies of authenticity and fractured bonds of solidarity over the correct ways to “be the change.” While subcultural lifestyles can be useful to radical movements in some contexts, they can also be limiting. This book therefore suggests that lifestyle politics is most effective when wielded strategically and intentionally, rather than as a blanket tactic of radical activism.
Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism is a study of how anarchists in the contemporary United States enact their political ideals in their everyday lives. In it, I explain the cultural work that goes into the production of resistant lifestyles and probe the limitations associated with this mode of activism. Individual chapters cover a range of lifestyle practices from consumption habits, to expressions of personal style and identity, to sexuality and romantic relationships. The book also delves into ongoing controversies around the figure of the “lifestyle anarchist,” bringing theories of communication, identity, and power to bear on the critiques of subcultural lifestylism that emerge both within and outside of the anarchist movement. The insights drawn from the experiences of contemporary anarchists are widely applicable, aiding in our understanding of cultural resistance in the context of neoliberalism.
"More than a mere account of 'lifestyle activism' in the current US anarchist movement, Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism is a meditation on the possibilities and limitations of a politics of individual choice and expression. In this grounded study, Portwood-Stacer deftly explores the largely unmapped territory between intent and effect, identity and agency, and the personal and the political. The result is an essential guide for anyone who wants to understand activism in a time of neoliberalism." -- Stephen Duncombe
"Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism provides a lucid, concise, and thoughtful depiction and analysis of a widely misrepresented segment of contemporary anarchism, and also offers important insights on culture politics more generally. Useful for scholars, students, and activists alike." --T.V. Reed
An essay that explains the treatment of individual practices in anarchist political philosophy and action.
“While the concept of micropolitics is often associated with poststructuralist thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Michel de Certeau, Gilles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari (more on them in a moment), it’s clear from the much earlier writings of Goldman and others that anarchism has always been concerned with the individual’s resistant relationship to power and domination. Most anarchists set their revolutionary sights not only on the macro-level institutions that re-inscribe domination in all its forms, but also on the more micro-level sites where ideologies of domination actually materialize in the immediate experiences of individuals. This means bringing the struggle against domination into each and every sphere of life, no matter how intimate. Anarchist ideology is not just for smashing the state; it’s for building liberation within small organizations, households, interpersonal relationships, and even the minds and bodies of individuals themselves.”
“Anti-Consumption as Tactical Resistance: Anarchists, Subculture, and Activist Strategy”
Journal of Consumer Culture (2012)
This article examines practices of anti-consumption deployed by anarchist activists as tactical actions within their overall projects of political and subcultural resistance. Drawing on existing literature on anti-consumers, my own interviews with anti-consumers, and analysis of materials that circulate in support of anti-consumption, I explore both the material and discursive effects of anti-consumption within a specific political subculture. I offer a typology of motivations for anti-consumption among activists, as well as a discussion of how overlaps and conflicts between various motivations complicate assessments of lifestyle-based resistance. I ultimately argue that the analysis I offer can prove helpful to political projects that utilize consumption-based tactics, in the construction and evaluation of effective activist strategies.
This article explores the articulation of queer sexuality with anarchist identity. Drawing on interviews and participant observation in the contemporary North American anarchist movement, I show that queer critique is typical among self-identified anarchists. Anarchist movement culture serves as a medium for the circulation of discourses around sexuality and anarchist identity, as well as supports individuals in their own queer practices of resistance against dominant sexual norms. However, subcultural investments in notions of authenticity may serve to detract from the political potential to be found within anarchist culture. This article ultimately concludes that the strong movement culture and its investment in authentic identity can prove useful for anarchist political projects, but that ‘anarchonormativity’ must be wielded strategically, taking into account its many potential effects.
A reflection on the mass protests and boycott efforts following the 2016 US presidential election.
“As my social media feeds have filled with images of marches, I’ve seen a few naysayers. Some are Trump supporters, but many are not. I’m most interested in the presumably sympathetic liberals who criticize the protestors, saying that these protests are “not productive.” Do these critics mean that the protests will not achieve the ousting of Trump from the presidency? In that they are probably correct, but this is far too narrow an interpretation of “productivity.” Let’s ask instead, what are these protests productive of?”
This paper is a study of consumer resistance among active abstainers of the Facebook social network site. I analyze the discourses invoked by individuals who consciously choose to abstain from participation on the ubiquitous Facebook platform. This discourse analysis draws from approximately 100 web and print publications from 2006 to early 2012, as well as personal interviews conducted with twenty Facebook abstainers. I conceptualize Facebook abstention as a performative mode of resistance, which must be understood within the context of a neoliberal consumer culture, in which subjects are empowered to act through consumption choices—or in this case non-consumption choices—and through the public display of those choices. I argue that such public displays are always at risk of misinterpretation due to the dominant discursive frameworks through which abstention is given meaning. This paper gives particular attention to the ways in which connotations of taste and distinction are invoked by refusers through their conspicuous displays of non-consumption. This has the effect of framing refusal as a performance of elitism, which may work against observers interpreting conscientious refusal as a persuasive and emulable practice of critique. The implication of this is that refusal is a limited tactic of political engagement where media platforms are concerned.
A feminist perspective on “opting out” of online social networking.
Abstract: Media refusal is the voluntary non-use of a media technology or non-consumption of media content, entailing an encompassing, resistant attitude toward the media in question. Historically, all forms of mass communication have had their detractors; practices of media refusal are present wherever media is. Research often focuses on individual motivations for refusal; popular discourse often discusses non-use as a remedy for pathological patterns of use of new media (e.g. committing “Facebook suicide” in response to a perceived Facebook addiction).
This short essay examines the trope of addiction in popular discourse about media refusal, arguing that this frame imagines individual—not collective—responses to dissatisfaction with media platforms.
This short essay examines the trope of asceticism in popular discourse about media refusal, arguing that digital detoxes, diets, cleanses, fasts, and sabbaths promote moral judgments on media use and signify individualized attempts to deal with cultural, social, and political problems.
This short essay examines aesthetic justifications for media refusal, arguing that they function as expressions of taste and distinction.
“Using Rubin’s formulation of the traffic in women as a lens, we see the contemporary moment as one in which an additional kind of traffic is also present: a traffic in feminism. Just as capitalism depends upon the commodification of women as a class to reproduce itself, and in the process regenerates the ideology of the sex/gender system that justifies women’s commodification in the first place, today capitalism too is fueled by the conditions under which feminism makes sense as a politics. That is, conditions of pervasive structural inequality along lines of race, class, gender, and sexuality—the conditions feminism exists to critique and transform—combine with a hegemonic neoliberal individualism that prizes equal visibility in the marketplace as the apotheosis of empowerment. This combination provides the impetus and justification for a popular feminism that sees the latter (market visibility) as the solution to the former (structural inequality).”
“Hashtags, shared terms used to make social media posts searchable and collectible (and denoted by the # symbol that precedes them) have made an indelible mark on the popular vernacular and mainstream discourse. Hashtags specifically related to feminist causes, like #YesAllWomen, #BringBackOurGirls, and #Direnkahkaha, are invoked by social media users worldwide in response to contemporary events and discussions. At their most visible, these terms and their spread are taken up by newspapers, television, and other media outlets as stories of collective public opinion and, sometimes, further action.
“The 12 brief essays collected here catalog a diverse swath of feminist hashtags from the past year. The collection also offers commentary about the potential and limitations associated with feminist hashtags in general. The essays are by turns hopeful and cautionary; as readers we are reminded that the visibility, community, and access that are often touted as the boons of social media are by no means uniform nor do they hold the same meaning or value for everyone. We intend for this edition of Commentary & Criticism to look both back over the year to date and toward the future of feminist hashtag activism. We think the insights offered by the writers here will help readers bring their critical attention to the feminist hashtags that will rise to prominence after this issue goes to print.”
`“‘I Just Want to Be Me Again!’: Beauty Pageants, Reality Television, and Post-feminism”
Feminist Theory (2006)
Co-authored with Sarah Banet-Weiser
This essay examines the connections between the Miss America pageant and reality makeover television shows. We argue that televised performances of gender have shifted focus from the intensely scripted, out-of-touch Miss America to reality makeover shows that normalize cosmetic surgery as a means to become the ‘ideal’ woman. While both spectacles offer their viewers performances of femininity, these performances need to be understood as emerging from the cultural and political conditions in which they are produced. This difference in presentation of the subjects of beauty pageants and makeover programmes speaks respectively to the changing role of media in the normalization of performances of femininity, as well as to the affiliation of many young women with post-feminist politics in the United States.
"Feminism and Participation: A Complicated Relationship"
Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies (2014)
Part of a Forum on Critical Feminist Interventions in New Media Studies, published in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies. Based on a panel organized by Amy Adele Hasinoff at the 2013 National Communication Association conference.
“To approach the world through a feminist lens is to question and challenge the terms on which we participate in systems that both compel us to join, through the temptations of community, pleasure, and convenience, and repel us, through the pains of discrimination, exploitation, and alienation. This about sums up the relationship between feminists and any system you could care to mention, from gender to capitalism to the family to the state. But the insights and ambivalences of feminist analysis are particularly applicable to the media systems in which we find ourselves today.”
"One Does Not Simply: An Introduction to the Special Issue on Internet Memes"
Journal of Visual Culture (2014)
Co-authored with Laine Nooney
“While any specific meme might carry profound meaning within a specific community at a specific moment, we ultimately made the editorial decision that this issue should play the critical long game, by interrogating the mediatic mechanisms of memes along with their content. The share, the reblog, the tag, the retweet – these recursive and reciprocating processes are made visible by the traceable paths of memetic objects. In meme culture, flow takes primacy over origin, as the creator of an object and even the conditions in which it was made often remain unknown to the legions of users who remix it and pass it on. Setting aside our affective attachments to any particular internet memes (and our own attachments are numerous and strong) we remain attracted to memes as scholarly objects because, as heterogeneous and divergent bundles of communicative and aesthetic practices, they have produced forms of digitally mediated interaction, the outcomes of which cannot yet be measured. This is a journal issue compiled and edited as much for tomorrow as for today. For better or worse, consider this issue a time capsule, an attempt to capture, as imperfectly as possible, something of present technological, social, and aesthetic conditions.”