The Classificatory Reader: Relating to Others Through Digital Texts

  • Akane Kanai


This chapter explores the formation of a digital intimate public via the actions of readers in relating to texts. Drawing on the work of Michael Warner (Public Culture 14:49–50, 2002), I resituate reading and the digital literacy required as central to social participation in digital publics. Following the insights of Louise Rosenblatt (The Reader, the Text, the Poem, Southern Illinois, London, 1978), I suggest that reading in the WSWCM public is an imaginative social act, in which readers co-construct texts through ‘girlfriend’ knowledges derived from mediated and social cultures of femininity. I explain how Tumblr’s architectures blur the distinctions between reading and blogging, inviting a sameness based on shared imaginaries, knowledges and literacies that are conducive to public formation. Particularly due to the GIF and caption format of the texts, a high degree of reader involvement and knowledge is required. At the same time, competencies in classification are required as part of this digital literacy. Reading involves a ‘database logic’ (Manovich in The Language of New Media. MIT Press, Cambridge, 2001) in making meaning out of GIFs, sorting, distilling and instrumentalising situations, bodies and meanings in ways that often assume a disconnection from social and historical contexts. This classificatory competency departs from a presumed location of whiteness and middle class membership, in this public, meaning that not all readers can belong in the same way.


Reading Digital literacy Public formation Tumblr Girlfriendship Whiteness GIFs 


  1. Ahmed, Sara. 2004. The Cultural Politics of Emotion. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Andrejevic, Mark, Alison Hearn, and Helen Kennedy. 2015. “Cultural Studies of Data Mining: Introduction.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 18 (4–5): 379–394. Scholar
  3. Ang, Ien. 1985. Watching Dallas: Soap Opera and the Melodramatic Imagination. Translated by Della Couling. London and New York: Methuen & Co.Google Scholar
  4. Ash, James. 2015. “Sensation, Networks and the GIF: Toward an Allotropic Account of Affect.” In Networked Affect, edited by Ken Hillis, Susanna Paasonen, and Michael Petit, 119–133. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  5. Banet-Weiser, Sarah. 2012. Authentic TM: The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Beech, Jennifer. 2017. “Facebook and Absent-Present Rhetorics of Whiteness.” In Rhetorics of Whiteness: Postracial Hauntings in Popular Culture, Social Media, and Education, edited by Tammie M. Kennedy, Joyce Irene Middleton, and Krista Ratcliffe, 132–144. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Beer, David. 2014. Popular Culture and New Media: The Politics of Circulation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  8. Benioff, David, and D.B. Weiss. 2011. Game of Thrones. United States: HBO Enterprises.Google Scholar
  9. Berlant, Lauren. 2008. The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Billig, Michael. 2005. Laughter and Ridicule: Towards a Social Critique of Humour. London and Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  11. Bruns, Axel. 2008. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage. New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  12. Burgess, Jean. 2011. “User-Created Content and Everyday Cultural Practice: Lessons from YouTube.” In Television as Digital Media, edited by James Bennett and Niki Strange, 311–331. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Burgess, Jean, and Joshua Green. 2009. YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture, Digital Media and Society. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  14. Casserly, Meghan. 2012. “#WhatShouldWeCallMe Revealed: The 24-Year Old Law Students Behind the New Tumblr Darling.” Last Modified March 29. Accessed March 25.
  15. Cho, Alexander. 2011. “Queer Tumblrs, Networked Counterpublics.” Conference Papers—International Communication Association, 1–37.Google Scholar
  16. Cho, Alexander. 2015. “Queer Reverb: Tumblr, Affect, Time.” In Networked Affect, edited by Ken Hillis, Susanna Paasonen, and Michael Petit, 43–58. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  17. Choi, Grace Y., and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz. 2017. “Giving a New Makeover to STEAM: Establishing YouTube Beauty Gurus as Digital Literacy Educators Through Messages and Effects on Viewers.” Computers in Human Behavior 73: 80–91. Scholar
  18. Collins, James, and Richard K. Blot. 2003. Literacy and Literacies: Texts, Power and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Davies, Margaret, and Ngaire Naffine. 2001. Are Persons Property? Legal Debates About Property and Personality. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  20. Dobson, Amy Shields. 2011. “Hetero-Sexy Representation by Young Women on MySpace: The Politics of Performing an ‘Objectified’ Self.” Outskirts: Feminisms Along the Edge 25. Accessed June 18, 2013.Google Scholar
  21. Fink, Marty, and Quinn Miller. 2014. “Trans Media Moments: Tumblr, 2011–2013.” Television & New Media 15 (7): 611–626. Scholar
  22. Fuchs, Christian. 2015. Culture and Economy in the Age of Social Media. New York and Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Gee, James Paul. 1996. Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses, 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge Falmer.Google Scholar
  24. Gill, Rosalind. 2007. Gender and the Media. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  25. Hammer, Jessica. 2007. “Agency and Authority in Role-Playing ‘Texts’.” In A New Literacies Sampler, edited by Michelle Knobel and Colin Lankshear, 67–94. New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  26. Hart, Matt. 2015. “Youth Intimacy on Tumblr: A Pilot Study.” Young 23 (3): 193–208. Scholar
  27. Isin, Engin, and Evelyn Ruppert. 2015. Being Digital Citizens. London and New York: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  28. Karolides, Nicholas J. 1991. Reader Response in the Classroom: Evoking and Interpreting Meaning in Literature. New York: Longman.Google Scholar
  29. Kennedy, Tammie M., Joyce Irene Middleton, and Krista Ratcliffe. 2005. “The Matter of Whiteness: Or, Why Whiteness Studies Is Important to Rhetoric and Composition Studies.” Rhetoric Review 24 (4): 359–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lentin, Alana, and Justine Humphry. 2016. “Antiracism Apps: Framing Understandings and Approaches to Antiracism Education and Intervention.” Information, Communication & Society. Scholar
  31. Lessig, Lawrence. 2008. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: The Penguin Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Livingstone, Sonia. 2008. “Engaging With Media—A Matter of Literacy?” Communication, Culture & Critique 1 (1): 51–62. Scholar
  33. Locke, Terry. 2005. “Louise Rosenblatt: Thanks for the Memory.” The English Journal 94 (5): 17–18. Scholar
  34. Mailloux, Steven. 2005. “In Memoriam: Louise M. Rosenblatt, 1904–2005.” PMLA 120 (3): 886–887.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Manovich, Lev. 2001. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  36. Marwick, Alice E., and danah boyd. 2011. “I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience.” New Media & Society 13 (1): 114–133.
  37. McRobbie, Angela. 2009. The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  38. Miller, Vincent. 2008. “New Media, Networking and Phatic Culture.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 14 (4): 387–400.
  39. Miltner, Kate, and Tim Highfield. 2017. “Never Gonna GIF You Up: Analyzing the Cultural Significance of the Animated GIF.” Social Media + Society 3 (3): 1–11. Scholar
  40. Nakamura, Lisa. 2008. Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  41. Nakamura, Lisa. 2014. “‘I WILL DO EVERYthing That Am Asked’: Scambaiting, Digital Show-Space, and the Racial Violence of Social Media.” Journal of Visual Culture 13 (3): 257–274. Scholar
  42. Ortega, Mariana. 2006. “Being Lovingly, Knowingly Ignorant: White Feminism and Women of Color.” Hypatia 21 (3): 56–74. Scholar
  43. Pantaleo, Sylvia. 2013. “Revisiting Rosenblatt’s Aesthetic Response Through The Arrival.” Australian Journal of Language and Literacy 36: 125–134.Google Scholar
  44. Papacharissi, Zizi. 2014. Affective Publics: Sentiment, Technology and Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Radway, Janice. 1984. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  46. Rambukkana, Nathan. 2016. “From #RaceFail to #Ferguson: The Digital Intimacies of Race- Activist Hashtag Publics.” In Hashtag Publics: The Power and Politics of Discursive Networks, edited by Nathan Rambukkana, 29–46. New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  47. Rault, Jasmine. 2017. “White Noise, White Affects: Filtering the Sameness of Queer Suffering.” Feminist Media Studies 17 (4): 585–599. Scholar
  48. Renninger, Bryce. 2015. “Where I can be Myself … Where I can Speak my Mind”: Networked Counterpublics in a Polymedia Environment. New Media & Society 17 (9): 1513–1529.
  49. Rheingold, Howard. 2012. Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  50. Ritzer, George, and Nathan Jurgenson. 2010. “Production, Consumption, Prosumption: The Nature of Capitalism in the Age of the Digital ‘Prosumer’.” Journal of Consumer Culture 10 (1): 13–36. Scholar
  51. Rosenblatt, Louise M. 1978. The Reader, the Text, the Poem. London: Southern Illinois University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Ross, Thomas. 1997. “Innocence and Affirmative Action.” In Critical White Studies, 27–32. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Sanders, April. 2012. “Rosenblatt’s Presence in the New Literacies Research.” Talking Points 24 (1): 2–6.Google Scholar
  54. Shifman, Limor. 2014. Memes in Digital Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  55. Siles, Ignacio. 2012. “Web Technologies of the Self: The Arising of the ‘Blogger’ Identity.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 17 (4): 408–421. Scholar
  56. Skeggs, Beverley. 2004. Class, Self, Culture. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  57. Skeggs, Beverley, and Helen Wood. 2013. Reacting to Reality Television: Performance, Audience and Value. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  58. Stacey, Jackie. 1994. Star Gazing: Hollywood Cinema and Female Spectatorship. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  59. Street, Brian V. 1984. Literacy in Theory and in Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Strle, Danielle. 2013. “In Conversation with Danielle Strle of Tumblr.” Last Modified September 20. Accessed August 10.
  61. Sundén, Jenny. 2003. Material Virtualities. New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  62. Tiidenberg, Katrin, and Edgar Gómez Cruz. 2015. “Selfies, Image and the Re-making of the Body.” Body and Society 21(4): 77–102. Scholar
  63. van Dijck, José. 2015. “After Connectivity: The Era of Connectication.” Social Media + Society 1 (1).
  64. van Doorn, Niels, Liesbet van Zoonen, and Sally Wyatt. 2007. “Writing from Experience: Presentations of Gender Identity on Weblogs.” European Journal of Women’s Studies 14 (2): 143–158. Scholar
  65. van Zoonen, Liesbet. 1994. Feminist Media Studies, the Media, Culture & Society Series. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  66. Warner, Michael. 2002. “Publics and Counterpublics.” Public Culture 14 (1): 49–90. Scholar
  67. White, Michele. 2006. The Body and the Screen: Theories of Internet Spectatorship. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  68. Williams, Raymond. 1961. The Long Revolution. London: Chatto & Windus.Google Scholar
  69. Winch, Alison. 2013. Girlfriends and Postfeminist Sisterhood. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Akane Kanai
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Media, Film and JournalismMonash UniversityCaulfieldAustralia

Personalised recommendations