The Production of Presence

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The production of presence is the creation, management, and distribution of content and stories that center the marginalised individual and reflect the being-in-the-world of marginalised groups in deliberately authentic and representative ways; these produced narratives then counter dominant hegemonic discourses of everyday life by providing alternate retellings and imaginings of everyday lived experiences.

This doctoral research project explores the relationships between virtual and material spaces through the online activities of women of colour social justice activists in Toronto. Internet technologies and services have reshaped the city and everyday urban life, and the growing availability of devices and access to being online is changing how we engage with the city in innumerable ways. In this project, I examine the ways in which the internet affords access to the right to the city for racialized and gendered individuals who may have been excluded from city-building processes: these online activities are what I call the production of presence.

First, I describe the ways in which women of colour social justice activists in Toronto use their online activities to access their right to the city, extending it to include the right to represent the city. I look at the characteristics of virtual spaces that uniquely enable and facilitate different ways of being in urban spaces.

Second, I apply an object-oriented framework to user-generated content posted online by my research participants (for example, blog posts, tweets, avatars) to examine the ways in which this data has the agency to both produce presence that extends beyond the tokenism of visibility politics, and to organise readers into audience, publics, or communities. Examining user-generated content as object reveals the agency of data and raises questions about the ethics of producing and using user-generated content in professional practice, which I explore in the third paper of this dissertation.

In the final paper, I look at planning and journalism as two professions involved in shaping and representing the city, and I examine the ways in which the online personal archives of women of colour social justice activists can be accessed to inform reporting on and designing the city.

Nehal El-Hadi, writer & researcher.