To Be Girl, Digital, and Black: Black Girls' Digital Media Production as Cultural Discourse

Wade, Ashleigh. 
 Rutgers The State University of New Jersey, School of Graduate Studies ProQuest Dissertations Publishing,  2019. 13809848.

Abstract (summary)

This dissertation investigates the cultural discourse of girlhood that Black girls produce through use of digital media. I combine Black Feminist frameworks with media studies and spatial humanities to interrogate the productive possibilities of Black girls’ digital media practices. My project asks: How do Black girls use digital technologies to create photographs and videos that contribute to conversations about race, gender, and sexuality, and what might these images and conversations reveal about how Black girls both navigate and create spaces through cultural production? I employ semiotic analysis and ethnographic methods to understand how Black girls come to engage with digital media, how these interactions shape girls’ sense of self, and how these practices position Black girls as theorists of Black girlhood. By approaching Black girlhood as a site of production rather than merely consumption, my research shifts the focus in the existing literature on Black girlhood from a deficit or delinquency model to a productivity model. The project refuses a simplistic consumer-producer binary and offers a more nuanced and accurate account of Black girls’ media practices.

In the first chapter, I contextualize Black girls’ contemporary media engagements within historical constructions of girlhood in the United States, arguing that racially nuanced understandings of girlhood can lead to more expansive imaginings of what the Internet can do in the realm of social justice. The second chapter examines the Instagram posts of three celebrity Black girls to put forth a theory of Black girl semiotics. I use this theorization of Black girl semiotics to illustrate how Black girls can leverage social media to produce, control, and reclaim narratives about Black girlhood in ways that would not be possible through other mainstream media platforms. The third chapter analyzes the Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube activity of “everyday” girls. This chapter combines focus group data, interviews, and visual analysis to explore how the digital, physical, and conceptual layers of Black girls’ geographies affect their digital content. Finally, the fourth chapter presents Willow Smith’s Afrofuturist visual and sonic expressions as manifestations of free Black girlhood that function as a point of departure for imagining and constructing Black girl futures.

Ultimately, I conclude that Black girls’ digital media productions function both as sources of Black girls’ knowledge and artifacts of Black culture more broadly. Attending to how Black girls document, interpret, and share their experiences has significance not only for building the field of Black Girlhood Studies but also for the ongoing debates about practices of archiving, the role of digital media technologies in our everyday lives, and potentialities (and limitations) of digital media in social justice activism.

Indexing (details)

Gender studies;
Black studies;
0733: Gender studies
0325: Black studies
0459: Communication
Identifier / keyword
Black girlhood; Digital media
To Be Girl, Digital, and Black: Black Girls' Digital Media Production as Cultural Discourse
Wade, Ashleigh
Number of pages
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 81/3(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Cooper, Brittney C
Committee member
Alexander-Floyd, Nikol; Gerson, Judith; Bratich, Jack
Rutgers The State University of New Jersey, School of Graduate Studies
Women's and Gender Studies
University location
United States -- New Jersey
Source type
Dissertation or Thesis
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL