This dissertation is a study of violence against women (VAW) prevention, feminist public sociology, and social media. In the past decade, many sociologists have been working to debate and operationalize Michael Burawoy’s call “For Public Sociology”, which challenges academics to engage beyond the university to effect social change. At the same time that Burawoy’s program has garnered much sociological attention, social media have become a central site of mass communication and core component of the public sphere more broadly. This research explores two questions through surveys and in-depth interviews as well as my own experiences with public sociology: (1) how do people working on VAW prevention use and experience social media? And (2) what is the role of feminist public sociology in preventing VAW?
My findings explore the benefits and challenges of social media for VAW prevention work and argue that these processes should be understood through the ecological model of VAW prevention that is widely used in offline prevention work. I find that participants primarily use Facebook and Twitter, and that their activities cluster around four broad goals: (1) information transmission to existing and new audiences; (2) conversational activism: shaping narratives around VAW; (3) feminism: shaping their own feminist identity as well as online feminism more broadly; and (4) preventing online VAW (e.g. online sexual harassment), a new form of VAW prevention that has garnered recent advocacy and emerging academic work.
My research contributes four theoretical conclusions to discussions of public sociology, of feminism, and of VAW prevention: first, converging disciplines and roles in social media means that there is a more pronounced need for knowledge translation to achieve social and institutional transformation. Second, VAW prevention in social media reveals a rapidly reflexive, increasingly intersectional feminism that prioritizes experiential knowledge and conversational activism online. Third, this feminism is incompatible with Burawoy’s original four-part framework for sociology but can be reconciled using community-based scholarship principles and emerging feminist work. Finally, the emerging category of online sexual violence encapsulates emerging re-understandings of feminism, gender, and violence by presenting us with a present-day cyborg problem where offline/online dichotomies are increasingly obsolete.