15 Oct

Feminist Media Studies

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By Alison Harvey

Writing a text accounting for the changes in the media landscape since Liesbet van Zoonen set out her compelling and detailed overview of feminist media studies in 1994 was an inspiring and challenging task. New media forms, technologies, and culture are just the tip of the iceberg; the shifts and transformations in media and communication we have witnessed over the last twenty-five years are massive even if we focus only on questions of gender. The top journal of the same name and the many excellent international conferences focused on feminist approaches to media studies are testament to this active and fruitful area of scholarship – one that in our current political and social climate is likely to only increase in relevance.

While it was impossible to capture all of these distinctive components of our contemporary media in a single text, Feminist Media Studies provides the conceptual and methodological grounds for those interested in further exploration, whether it is a student new to the field or an experienced scholar seeking new approaches. The book is structured around core areas of feminist media critique – representation, transnational media cultures, digital media, and labour. These interdisciplinary discussions are anchored by a discussion of the methods deployed by feminist media scholars as well as introductions to some of the wide-ranging actions and interventions aimed at shifting inequalities undertaken by media activists and scholars around the world.

There are a few features of this book that made it even more exciting to write, and that I hope readers will find generative for their own research and teaching. Throughout the chapters, I argue for the necessity of engaging in intersectional feminist media studies that accounts for its historical antecedents while looking to more inclusive and equitable futures. I also showcase efforts to decolonize the field by troubling established methods, perspectives, concepts, and areas of study, and encourage readers to engage with this aim. None of these priorities are easy to enact – we might think of them as ongoing processes in our work rather than measurable end goals, especially given the shape of knowledge production many of us operate in.

In this book’s writing and production, I sought to ‘walk the talk’, through my citational practices. Rather than limiting my discussions to include the most cited and prolific researchers in this field (many coming from the UK, the US, and Australia), I chose to foreground research, theories, arguments, and examples from the Global South and critiques voiced from within marginalized communities, both emerging and historical. I also link the field’s critical aims to those from a diverse range of interdisciplinary fields, including postcolonial thought, critical race studies, and queer theory, to name a few.

Conscious of my position as a White researcher born in a settler-colonial nation and living in the United Kingdom, every day that I worked on this book I thought about how to trouble the dynamic between my authorship and the values I was espousing through the examples I outlined and the voices I cited. If this sounds messy and incomplete, that’s exactly the point. Feminist media studies, I argue throughout this book, is a vital area of critique that must constantly struggle with its own role in epistemic violence, a task that only becomes challenging in a world riven by inequality. It is through this difficult work that we can make our most important contributions to the creation of more sustainable, equal, and just worlds.

Alison Harvey is Lecturer in Media and Communication at the University of Leicester. Her new book, Feminist Media Studies, is now available from Polity.