Virtual Communities as Safe Spaces Created by Young Feminists: Identity, Mobility and Sense of Belonging

Part of the Studies in Childhood and Youth book series (SCY)


Young people often use online social networks to extend their social relationships beyond geographical limits and to explore their interests with people that are not part of their local community. In some cases, young people feel that belonging to online communities may serve as a refuge, a safe and stable place, in a modern society where everything else is moving. In this chapter we analyze how a sense of belonging develops for young members of virtual communities, as well as what mechanisms of regulation and self-regulation are adopted by young people actively constructing their identities in online spaces. We draw on the results of an ethnographic case study of Feminismes, a Facebook group with high participation of Spanish youth, aged between 15 and 29 years old. We aim to contribute to the intersection between sociology, education and technology, from the theoretical perspective of belonging, and by drawing upon social theories that approach the changing nature of the late modernity, and new ways of social participation. The results of our study indicate that a shared sense of belonging to a community that encourages personal expression in the face of oppression may make social bonds stronger. Nevertheless, creating safe spaces online also raises some contradictions between feeling free and establishing boundaries, or between promoting social inclusion as well as social fragmentation.


  1. Alonso, C., et al. (2016). Comunidades Virtuales de Jóvenes. Hacer visibles sus aprendizajes y saberes. Madrid: Centro Reina Sofía sobre Adolescencia y Juventud, FAD. Retrieved July 20, 2017, from
  2. Antonsich, M. (2010). Searching for belonging: An analytical framework. Geography Compass, 4(6), 644–659.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bell, D. (2001). An introduction to cybercultures. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101. Retrieved June 6, 2018, from Scholar
  5. Bulger, M., Bright, J., & Cobo, C. (2015). The real component of virtual learning: Motivations for face-to-face MOOC meetings in developing and industrialised countries. Information, Communication & Society, 18(10), 1200–1216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Butler, J. (2011). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dixon, K. (2014). Feminist online identity: Analyzing the presence of hashtag feminism. Journal of Arts and Humanities, 3(7), 34–40.Google Scholar
  8. Donath, J. (1999). Identity and deception in the virtual community. In M. A. Smith & P. Kollock (Eds.), Communities in cyberspace (pp. 29–59). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Favell, A. (1999). To belong or not to belong: The post national question. In A. Geddes & A. Favell (Eds.), The politics of belonging: Migrants and minorities in contemporary Europe (pp. 209–227). Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  10. Figallo, C. (1998). Hosting Web communities: Building relationships, increasing customer loyalty, and maintaining a competitive edge. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  11. Fu, J. (2017). Online spaces of belonging in China. In H. Cuervo, J. Wyn, J. Fu, B. Dadvand, & J. C. Bilinzozi (Eds.), Global youth and spaces of belonging in China, Australia and Tanzania. Melbourne: Youth Research Centre.Google Scholar
  12. Gomez, M. V. (2006). Contemporary spheres for the teaching education: Freire’s principles. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 7(2), 52–65.Google Scholar
  13. Herring, S., Job-Sluder, K., Scheckler, R., & Barab, S. (2002). Searching for safety online: Managing trolling in a feminist forum. The Information Society, 18(5), 371–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hine, C. (2005). Virtual methods: Issues in social research on the Internet. Oxford and New York: Berg.Google Scholar
  15. Hobsbawm, E. (1996). The cult of identity politics. New Left Review, 217, 38–47.Google Scholar
  16. Ito, M., Horst, H., Bittanti, M., Boyd, D., Herr-Stephenson, B., Lange, P. G., et al. (2008). Living and learning with new media: Summary of findings from the digital youth project. Retrieved March 4, 2017, from
  17. Jenkins, H., Ito, M., & Boyd, D. (2015). Participatory culture in a networked era. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  18. Keller, J. M. (2012). Virtual feminisms: Girls’ blogging communities, feminist activism, and participatory politics. Information, Communication & Society, 15(3), 429–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kilsheimer, J. (1997, April 7). Virtual communities; Cyberpals keep in touch online. The Arizona Republic, p. E3.Google Scholar
  20. Lewis, R., Sharp, E., Remnant, J., & Redpath, R. (2015). ‘Safe spaces’: Experiences of feminist women-only space. Sociological Research Online, 20(4). Retrieved November 20, 2016, from Scholar
  21. Loader, B. D., & Mercea, D. (2011). Networking democracy? Social media innovations and participatory politics. Information, Communication & Society, 14(6), 757–769.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Manrique, J. C. (2014). Incidencia del ideal de mujer durante el franquismo en el ámbito de la familia y la actividad física. Feminismo/s, 23, 47–68.Google Scholar
  23. Massey, D. (1994). Space, place and gender. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  24. Miño, R., Rivera-Vargas, P., & Salazar, C. (2017). Jóvenes y comunidades virtuales: Generando espacios y redes de participación social. In P. Rivera-Vargas, E. Sánchez, R. Morales-Olivares, I. Sáez-Rosenkranz, C. Yévenes, & S. Butendieck (coord). Conocimiento para la equidad social: Pensando Chile globalmente (pp. 153–157). Santiago de Chile: Colección Políticas Públicas—USACH.Google Scholar
  25. Ottone, E., & Sojo, A. (2007). Cohesión social: inclusión y sentido de pertenencia en América Latina y el Caribe. Retrieved November 20, 2016, from
  26. Palmer, D. E. (1998). On refusing who we are: Foucault’s critique of the epistemic subject. Philosophy Today, 42(4), 402–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Rheingold, H. (1993). The virtual community: Finding connection in a computerized world. Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley Longman.Google Scholar
  28. Rheingold, H. (2000). Rethinking virtual communities. Retrieved September 5, 2017, from
  29. Rivera-Vargas, P., & Miño-Puigcercós, R. (2018). Young people and virtual communities: New ways of learning and of social participation in the digital society. Páginas de Educación, 11(1), 67–82. Scholar
  30. Stahl, G., & Habib, S. (2017). Moving beyond the confines of the local. Working-class students’ conceptualizations of belonging and respectability. Young, 25(3), 268–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Touraine, A., & Rivera-Vargas, P. (2017). Actores, conflictos y reformas en sociedades de comunicación global. In P. Rivera-Vargas, E. Sánchez, R. Morales-Olivares, I. Sáez-Rosenkranz, C. Yévenes, & S. Butendieck (coords). Conocimiento para la equidad social: Pensando Chile globalmente (pp. 153–157). Santiago de Chile: Colección Políticas Públicas—USACH.Google Scholar
  32. Wyn, J. (2014). A critical perspective on young people and belonging. In Handbuch Kindheits-und Jugendsoziologie (pp. 1–14). Springer, Wiesbaden.Google Scholar
  33. Youkhana, E. (2014). A conceptual shift in studies of belonging and the politics of belonging. Social Inclusion, 3(4), 10–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Yuval-Davis, N. (2011). Power intersectionality and the politics of belong. FREIA Working Paper Series, 75. Retrieved July 20, 2017, from

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.University of OxfordOxfordUK
  3. 3.Ceibal FoundationMontevideoUruguay

Personalised recommendations