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Friday, June 9 • 2:45pm - 4:15pm
“What if We Held Hands on the Google Doc?”: Intimacy and Self-Making Under Digital Capitalism

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Taking up Tung-Hui Hu’s (2021) call to explore the “rich set of states in between sociality and antisociality” (128) in digital capitalism, this interdisciplinary panel attends to the new and illegible (if only briefly) intimacies and socialities that emerge in this current moment. By focusing on the embodied user experience of diverse digital spaces, we explore the possibility of meaningful moments of intimacy and self-making on platforms that seek to profit from those very moments. Although such possibilities may necessarily already be co-opted, they nevertheless need to taken seriously when opportunities for intimacy and self-making seem increasingly scarce.

To this end, our conversation will fold an array of concepts such as Doulas Kearney’s practice of ekphrasis as synthesis (“Mess,” 2011), Wendy Chun’s “wonderful creepiness” (Updating To Remain the Same: Habitual New Media, 2016), Samuel Thulin’s “data resonance” (“Diabetes, Art, and Data Resonance,” 2021), and Jasbir Puar’s model of disability (The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability, 2017) into Hu’s generative framework of digital lethargy. Each panelist’s branch of dialogue will stretch through different digital spaces, critically analyzing intimacy and embodiment within those spaces on auditory, visual, and textual levels.

pruneah Kim (she/her) is a disabled, queer, first-generation Korean critical food scholar in her 2nd year in the American Culture doctoral program at the University of Michigan. In this panel, she will speak on new forms of intimacy in digital capitalism by looking to the genre of 먹방 (mukbang) in digital food cultures. By building on Hu’s framework of lethargic subjectivity and relationality, her research explores the question, what forms of intimacy, connection, and community are created through mukbang? By inviting participants in the panel to close read an exemplary video of 입짧은 햇님 (haetnim), one of South Korea’s most prolific “mukbanger” (mukbang content creator), she aims to facilitate a generative discussion on re-centering the embodied and affective responses of viewers/users in digital studies.

L. Cynthia Lao (she/they) is an autistic, trans, nonbinary, 2nd-generation Hong Konger in their 3rd year of a PhD in English Literature at the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on a particular kind of double bind that emerges from the imbrication of embodiment and intimacy in the virtual, with a particular focus on the social media platform of Tumblr. She focuses on the critical role that platforms play in facilitating social embodiment for queer, trans, neurodiverse, and disabled subjects, while simultaneously attending to how these platforms subject their users to algorithmic capture in order to exploit their data. When the only body that exists in the digital is the body that can be communicated, how can subjects be virtually embodied without making their bodies algorithmically legible? In this vein, Tumblr stands out from other social media not because it doesn’t practice capture, but because its attempts to exploit the data of its (largely queer, trans, disabled, and neurodiverse) userbase have been generally unsuccessful. To that end, Cynthia seeks to draw out practices of illegibility that can be used both to navigate existing virtual spaces and to design new ones.

Raquel Escobar (they/them) is a queer, nonbinary, disabled, neurodivergent, Latinx in their 2nd year of pursuing a PhD in English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Michigan. Their research focuses on the eating disorder treatment app, Recovery Record, as a site where people with eating disorders form identities and communicate embodied experiences. Drawing from Feminist Disability Studies, Raquel seeks to understand how the bodies, identities, and intimacies of people with eating disorders might be made legible within the normalizing framework of the digital health industry. They are particularly interested in artistic misuses of the biodata and diary entries collected by Recovery Record as critical self-making practice.

For this panel, we will present our respective research for 15 minutes each, then facilitate a discussion for the remainder of the session with interactive activities.


Raquel Escobar

PhD Student, University of Michigan

pruneah Kim

University of Michigan, United States of America

Lise Lao

University of Michigan

Friday June 9, 2023 2:45pm - 4:15pm EDT
Main 212