Pain Generation

This week's review digs into the complexity and challenges of feminist activism on social media—an online space rife with neoliberal, self-governing logic

Pain Generation: Social Media, Feminist Activism, and the Neoliberal Selfie

Saraswati, L. Ayu. New York University, 2021
224p bibl index, 9781479808342 $89.00, 9781479808335 $28.00, 9781479808328

Pain Generation: Social Media, Feminist Activism, and the Neoliberal Selfie  book cover. Woman holding cellphone to take a selfie.

Saraswati (Univ. of Hawai’i), author of Seeing Beauty, Sensing Race (CH, Sep’13, 51-0585) and coeditor of several feminist collections, here focuses on the ways online feminist activism addressing abuse and harassment often reiterates a neoliberal emphasis on self-healing that commodifies pain and calls for individual rather than political change. A specific social media activist project in each chapter serves as a case study to develop a sophisticated, nuanced argument through close reading and content analysis. Throughout, she analyzes the phantasmagoric effects of social media as users are drawn into a world of spectacle and displaced feelings that creates a false sense of personal agency while relying on entrepreneurial neoliberal subjects. She also considers presentations of race from the perspective of Asian and Asian American feminists navigating platforms structured by neoliberalism. Although the book focuses on specific social media accounts and campaigns, Saraswati insists she is not criticizing individuals but rather sexist and racist capitalist systems. She suggests social media activism can resist neoliberal identity by allowing rather than fixing pain, emphasizing interrelationships, and promoting collective action. The analyses are incisive and the theories applicable far beyond the specific examples, especially for those promoting social activism in digital spaces.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals.
L. McMillan, Kutztown University
Interdisciplinary Subjects: Asian and Asian American Studies, Women’s & Gender Studies
Subject: Social & Behavioral Sciences
Choice Issue: Jun 2022

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