Desire Lines : Towards a Queer Digital Media Phenomenology

Abstract: This dissertation explores ways in which “queer digital media use” co-produces senses of space, time, and queer being in contemporary Russia. Considering the particular implications of (in)visibility for queer living, and the importance of compartmentalizing conflicting spheres, the study provides a grounded account of queer life lived with and through digital media in a context currently characterized by “anti-gay” sentiments. Empirically, it draws on fieldwork and in-depth interviews with queer male informants in Saint Petersburg from 2013–2015 in accordance with a “non-digital-centric” digital ethnography. Taking a distinct phenomenological perspective, the study asks how digital media is implicated within the informants’ queer orientation towards the world. How does digital media affect perceptions of the here and now, the proximate and the distant, and spaces of belonging? In what way is it entwined with the directions they take and how they perceive of the future? And how do the different mobilities of flesh and code relate to one another? Aiming to answer such questions, the study outlines a “queer digital media phenomenology”, combining Sara Ahmed’s queer phenomenology and Shaun Moores’s media phenomenology. While Ahmed provides a deep understanding of queer habituation, Moores adds a consideration of the multiply positioned digital media user, as a fundamental pre-requisite for contemporary social experience. Rather than echoing commonly accepted ideas of speedup and instantaneousness within digital culture, the results show that digital media is often used among the informants to help produce slowness and to postpone further action. By producing spaces understood as “safe” and private, digital media provides sites where the work of generating a queer orientation can be done, and where the larger geography of everyday living may be negotiated. The study thus explores how the informants travel across multiple sites, particularly articulating the dynamics between online and offline spaces, and the discontinuities of queer digital media use. Challenging the idea of constant connectivity and an online/offline collapse, the dissertation follows recent studies in suggesting that digital media use exposes unorthodox ways of imagining relationality, why we need to critically consider inbuilt normative assumptions about the embodied subjects anticipated to live “seamless medialives”.