Subverted agency: The dilemmas of disempowerment in digital practices

Arul Chib*, Ming Wei Ang, Yingqin Zheng, Sarah Hoan Nguyen

*Corresponding author for this work

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5 Citations (Scopus)
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A common view is that marginalized groups benefit substantially from strategic use of digital technologies. An intersectionality perspective, however, suggests that these outcomes may vary depending on individuals’ social positionality. We propose the concept of “subverted agency” to emphasize that use of digital technologies may be personally empowering but might reinforce normative regimes contributing to sociostructural marginalization. We investigated digital practices of 17 online-soliciting transfeminine sex workers through semi-structured interviews in Singapore, where attitudes toward gender diversity and sex work remain conservative. We highlight three dilemmas of digital media environments, namely, presentation of gender identity and embodiment, intimate relationships characterized by persistent liminality, and competitive pressures related to authenticity of identity. The subverted agency perspective suggests that digital practices do not straightforwardly transform unequal sociostructural conditions; instead, it offers a frame to rethink inclusion by attending to contextual intersections of marginalization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)458-477
Number of pages20
JournalNew Media and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The study was funded by a grant from Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University.

Publisher Copyright: © The Author(s) 2022.

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