Abstract: The digital aesthetics of activism

My research will be focused on the digital aestheticizing of activism in the 21st century and how activist groups are strategizing and capitalizing on the 24/7 news cycle to promote their causes. Activism movements in the past have often exploited the media to publicize their beliefs during a time when social media and self-promotion was much less common. The Black Panthers relied on theatrical self-presentation, creating an image of strength and intimidation in order to be seen as worthy of coverage. AIDS activists carefully calculated what types of protests and demonstrations would garner media attention and used their knowledge to draw crowds of reporters. All the movements took place during a time when a reliance on formal news institutions was necessary. In this digital age, with tools like Twitter and Instagram, activists can create their own images and promote their causes on their own terms. How do activists use the digital realm to spread their messages and through which routes do they do so?

I will do historical research, to help contextualize activism today, and speak with activists and activism groups to discover ways in which they are using digital media. I will also monitor mainstream coverage of activist movements to discover themes and trends, along with social media of activists themselves.