Dissertation Project

My dissertation employs a meta-analysis of the intellectual work that contemporary Black thinkers who are women and gender non-conforming are doing or publicizing on social media as a means of challenging normative beliefs about where and by whom knowledge is created. My primary data includes interviews, a vast library of tweets now and connecting it with past work. I am using my analysis to make predictions about where such work might take us in the future.

Here is what my dissertation is not:

This dissertation is not public opinion research. It exists because engaging with the large body of critical Black feminist thought on social media has the potential to generate knowledge about race, gender, class, and family to name a few preoccupations of the social sciences. It is an analysis of fully-formed theoretical frameworks that are publicly accessible through social media platforms, not an aggregation of ideas or interests across Black women social media users as a population. Nor is it written as an attempt to adjudicate the legitimacy of Black feminist thought as a field or intellectual orientation. To do so would be to concede that the academy possesses the authority to legitimate knowledge produced by the oppressed. Black women scholars like Patricia Hill Collins, Kimberl‌é Crenshaw, Mia Bay, and Barbara D. Savage have already presented historical genealogies that attest to the generative potential of Black feminist thought. Instead, my work attempts to bridge the theoretical gap between academic and extra-academic Black feminist thought that occurs due to a failure of academicians to recognize social media as a space where legitimate intellectual labor is being performed.

Often, when I first describe my project, academics paraphrase it back to me this way: So you're interested in what lay intellectuals have to say about race?

The answer is categorically no. The assumption underlying this question is that people who are not affiliated with an institution putatively devoted to knowledge production (e.g. a university or a publication) do not specialize in the discourses in which they participate on social media. This assumption is accompanied by an expectation that I am synthesizing ideas that otherwise lack the cogency or explanatory power of theoretical constructs originating in the academy. To the contrary, this dissertation is an examination of patterns and disjunctures between complex intellectual arguments by and among black feminist theorists on social media.

The immediate consequence of framing my research this way is that it anchors the legitimacy of the intellectual work I am examining in the legitimacy of sociology as a field of inquiry. It reduces a rich theoretical discourse to a single sociological framework. Rather, I assert that the ideas that Black women are generating on public social media are themselves important and necessary contributions to the sociology of inequality, race, gender, family, class, and intersectionality to name a few fields.

This dissertation attempts to connect Black feminist thought from within and from without academia without essentializing academia as the authority. It identifies threads of consensus and points of disagreement amongst intellectuals in applying principles of Black feminist thought to the study of oppression. By publicly attesting to the intellectual labor of Black women intellectuals and its products, I intend to subvert the systemic erasure of Black women as theorists and thought leaders both in academia and in the non-academic institutions that shape society.