Camgirls: Webcams, LiveJournals and the Personal as Political in the age of the Global Brand, Terri Senft’s dissertation, is presented as a study in the field of feminist performance and media studies. By focusing on the phenomenon (the appearance and global dissemination) of camgirls, the author has a main question, or trigger: what does it mean for feminists to speak of the personal as political in a network society?
Senft makes an interesting point on how the webcam is used as an “evocative object” (Sherry Turkle), an object that helps you think with, for autobiographical purposes and/or for constructing an online persona (there is no judgment on whether this operation is fictional or not). And instead of conducting a detached study on the subject, the author created the “TerriCam” and “became” a camgirl herself.
The author disputes the idea that the camgirls are objects of “mediated gaze/voyeurism” of the viewers. She claims that users of those websites are not passive, they interact with the camgirls (through comments or chats) and browse the archives, choosing what to see and when. This navigation and selection would distance those viewers from spectators at a movie theater, and Senft calls this operation “grabbing”.
Although there is only access to a synopsis of the dissertation, I can understand why the author would emphasize the agency and desire of expression/representation of the camgirls and try to deal with a complex situation by creating new categories (such as “grabbing”) and by criticizing the “easy” use of established concepts like voyeurism . I can see why people would classify this phenomenon like that and not give it another thought, but the concept was quickly dismissed at the synopsis, as well as exhibitionism.
It’s a work which calls for action, which urges feminists to rethink concepts (of interaction and the spectator) and to find ways to take action and use networks. As a reader, I was challenged and curious to learn more about other view(s) of the concept of interaction, since my experience and understanding of it today is that it is still limited and predictable on the internet.