Performing the Discourse of Sexuality Online: Foucault, Butler and Video-sharing on Sexual Social Networking sites

aisDavid presented a paper at AMCIS 2009, in San Francisco, California, USA, entitled, ‘Performing the Discourse of Sexuality Online: Foucault, Butler, and Video-sharing on Sexual Social Networking Sites’, in June 2009.

Abstract: This paper looks at home-made videos – often shot with a mobile phone – as digital texts, in the specific context of the use and prevalence of video-sharing technologies on sexual social networking websites used by gay men. It focuses on notions of sexual identity in the phenomenon of internet dating, and sets this discussion against the background of theorising around the performance of discourse.
Though sometimes pitted against one another and at times contradictory, the ideas of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler on the nature and expression of our sexuality and our gender identities help us to gain a deeper and more rounded picture of the impact and import of the burgeoning phenomenon of internet dating websites.
This paper begins with the notion of performance – in particular the performance of sexuality, and most specifically, the performance of the discourse of sexuality. It posits that the proliferation of sexual discourse and sexualities over the last two centuries outlined by Foucault (1990; 1992; 1998) continues apace in the Information Age, if anything accelerated and broadened to a wider public by the phenomenon of internet dating, digital text, and the ‘video-clip’ as a performative digital text. It also posits that the performativity of gender identities outlined by Butler (1990; 1993) continues, with online categorization in internet dating sites in fact prescribing ever more specific and ‘niche’ roles.
This paper contends, moreover, that the practice of video sharing on internet dating (perhaps better described as sexual social networking) sites, is illustrative of why Butler’s criticisms of Foucault in fact fail. Finally, this paper introduces the sociology of masculinity, in the voice of Stephen Whitehead, and his Foucauldian understanding of the discursive masculine subject (Whitehead 2000).
This is a very large topic to which a paper such as this cannot do true justice, so the objectives of this paper, more narrowly, are to introduce the relevant ideas of the three theorists just mentioned, applying them briefly to some thoughts about two websites, one global the other specifically for the UK, aimed at the gay male community, and to examine the impact of video-sharing on these websites upon these Foucauldian and Butlerian notions of the self, and upon Whitehead’s ideas concerning the discursive masculine subject. Some ideas concerning the nature of the digital text as performed and performative actor in the development of sexual identities are then outlined.
The author, a gay man, has undertaken an ethnographic study of these two websites, having been a member and participant in Gaydar since April 2000, soon after it was launched, and of Fitlads since a year after its launch in April 2003.


Kreps, D (2009) ‘Performing the Discourse of Sexuality Online: Foucault, Butler, and Video-sharing on Sexual Social Networking Sites’ Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS) San Francisco Aug 09

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