Questions on Media Refusal (for 10/9, with Laura Portwood-Stacer)

Just a reminder to start posting questions based on the readings from Laura Portwood-Stacer (links on the Resources page).

Since we’ve gotten comments to work, I’d like to suggest posting these questions as comments to this post below. Does that sound ok? I think it would make it easier to see our responses all on one page, and we could comment on each others’ questions more easily.

I’ll add a question or two to the thread once we get started. I’d like to start off my saying how I liked how Portwood-Stacer better addressed the issue of how privilege informs choice (as pointed out by Christopher, Stafford and others).


  1. Karen Miller says:

    I was immediately struck by Portwood-Stacer’s claim in her abstract that “refusal is a limited tactic of political engagement where media platforms are concerned.” That is quite resonant, as was the rest of her piece. Just recently, there was a somewhat mass interested in moving from Facebook to Ello, among lefty queers (my peeps) and then it fell apart after a few days. The problem was the Facebook wasn’t letting folks use aliases (for better marketing purposes, apparently), but Ello was ad-free. I feel liker her piece exactly captures how I understood that movement and the form of “distinction” its subscribers adopted. I like that she is analyzing the “the expectations about media, society, and power implicitly and explicitly expressed by practitioners of non-consumption” (1046). She captures well what Facebook does: “Facebook may be the epitomic site for the creation and discipline of the neoliberal consumer-producer-citizen” (1048). It’s funny because this critique lays at the heart of why the folks I know are abstainers, and it’s something that just doesn’t bother me. Fun article! Sorry I couldn’t be there for the talk.

  2. There have been a number of stories in the media recently revealing aspects of “media refusal” in action: from the non-profit ‘Ello Bethany mentions, to the pressures mounted against Facebook regarding the ability to use pseudonyms. In using Facebook as the medium, people have been able to voice opposition to Facebook’s practices in a variety of ways (not always effectively).

    ‘Ello doesn’t seem to have taken off as it intended, though this may be due to a number of factors including design and possible end-goal of selling out down the line, but as Bethany points out, Facebook was part of the method by which it was able to take off; users could use this as an opportunity to engage in media refusal with Facebook by advertising it through the same medium. With the pseudonym issue (especially with drag queens), the actions of individuals did, in fact, have tremendous impact, forcing Facebook to re-address their practices.

    Although these two instances are different in terms of their impact and motivations, they do illustrate the power the individual can have on social media practices, but that social media is somewhat needed to make the action work.

  3. I found Portwood-Stacer’s considerations of media refusal in the articles – including class, labor, gender, taste, and privilege, among others – quite insightful. Revisiting her article on Facebook refusal was especially timely. The recent appearance of Ello on the social media scene has reinvigorated some discussions about Facebook’s policies and, in turn, has provided another possible mode of political action that is not necessarily productive (I must admit that I, also, began an Ello account, and publicized it through my Facebook account). The performative nature of refusal and the question of efficacy was especially provocative, especially when contextualized within discourses about “authentic” human interactions (always problematic, as we pointed out during our last meeting).

  4. Though I don’t use facebook at all I don’t think of myself as active facebook abstainer. Thought this article made me think about it more I find my use/nonuse of facebook quite like my use/nonuse of sale circulars and/or coupons. If I clip them I have a tendency to buy what I don’t need or what I never intended to buy. What I usually do when shopping is make a list, if there happens to be a coupon that fits something on my list I use it. If not, I don’t. The same with facebook. If I felt a compelling need for it I think I would use it. I don’t so I won’t. When thinking about it previously, for my own life and what’s become important I think it could cause more problems than it’s worth – i.e, talking to and hearing from people that I don’t want to talk to or hear from, spending time that I don’t have online when I could be doing other things. etc. I thought that reading the article might present an opportunity to change my perspective but it just confirmed it.

  5. Before becoming a Facebook refusal (I had to read this article to be aware of it!) I was a “TV abstainer” for over 13 years when I was living in France. I was part of less than 2% of the population who had made a conscious choice of not having a TV set. Although I agree with the assertion that “TV refusal” had some elitist flavor back in the 80s and 90s and asserted to some extent a form of “cultural resistance,” it is not the case of Facebook refusal. Facebook is now more than just trivial posts. Being “technologically challenged,” I find myself not armed enough to respond adequately to my students’ request of having a class Facebook page. While reading this statement: “This study also offers a more general caveat about the tactic of individual refusal as a mode of political engagement” I thought immediately about a young Tunisian female activist (Amira Yahyaoui) who was and still is involved in social media and who decided to quit her personal Facebook page and combine it with her “public” page as an act of political engagement.

  6. Mara Grayson says:

    After reading Portwood-Stacer’s work but before reading this blog post, I found that I too was thinking about the way in which status and privilege provide some people with the means to refuse technology. For some reason, I also found myself thinking of the work of Sylvia Scribner, the sociocultural theorist. Like many other socioculturalists, she argues that societal value systems determine both the definition of literacy and how we use it. Additionally, in one of her more frequently anthologized articles – I think it was “Literacy in Three Metaphors” – she argues that technology is bound to soon be viewed as a language. She wrote this in the mid-eighties and obviously this was a precursor to much of what we now know of multiliteracies and media literacy, etc.

    … What is the connection, you might ask?

    Scribner claims that Western society values literacy and the trait of being well-read as markers of high culture, as status symbols, if you will. (I wonder if we might begin to trouble that a little, as we get deeper and deeper into the corporate model of education. But I digress.) The value of technological literacy seems to be challenged by those who want to hold fast to classical and European models. If technology represents functional literacy or, alternatively, multiliteracies, the refusal to partake seems a nostalgia for older models of knowledge, literacy, and education.

    Well-intentioned though some may be in the attempts to avoid the pervasive power of social media, that stance is indeed a privileged one that speaks not only to one’s current social status but also to one’s beliefs about communication, literacy, and the acquisition of knowledge.

  7. I found it interesting that media refusal, Facebook refusal in particular is a source of pride. While I do have a Facebook account I have not been on it for several month, but I do like the potential it offers. Should the need arise I might actually read or post something worthwhile. I am thinking in terms of the Arab Spring how apparently social media played an important role- and when the government shut down the Internet to prevent access to Facebook, activists resorted to Twitter as the phone lines were still open. Or in Japan as information from the government and official media channels during the nuclear disaster were and are not forthcoming, social media provided alternative sources of information by concerned scientists and citizens. I also know of people who are using it for here for their political activism for social and environmental justice sharing interesting pieces of information: some of it might include conspicuous non-consumption, which companies, organizations, products and services NOT to use. However, if it is just about trivial posts about how one has spend one’s day, it is probably not that hard to be an abstainer… And I do get freaked out by people who are overly active on social media.

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