Postdoctoral Fellow: Kate Marston

Re-imagining digital sexualities research and practice through speculative fabrication and thinking-with fungi

My PhD explored how social media, smart devices and gaming platforms shape young people’s sexual cultures. By harnessing arts-based methods to unlock a range of embodied, material, spatial and affective experiences, I developed an innovative methodological approach to engaging with young people’s digital practices. Drawing on feminist posthuman and new materialist theories my thesis illustrated the enduring force of heteronormativity as well as illuminated how gender and sexuality is reconfigured online. Findings demonstrated how:

  • Young people’s digital relationships continue to be oriented by the active male / passive female sexuality binary with unsolicited ‘dick pics’ considered an unremarkable feature of everyday life for girls
  • Publicising romantic relationships online reproduced and unsettled heteronormative fantasies of monogamy, marriage and domesticity by highlighting their inherent precarity
  • Non-human social media content (e.g food, pets, slime) displaced the disciplinary gaze from the female body online and evoked different bodily imaginaries for participants
  • Social media facilitated participants’ engagement with environmental activism in ways that momentarily disrupted the gendered bodily regulation they strongly felt elsewhere

My fellowship will communicate and build upon my PhD by establishing a strong publication track record as well as holding practitioner workshops to model and further test the affordances of speculative fiction and textile arts for exploring the digitally-networked body with young people. 

Finally, I will pilot a project, titled The Future is Fungal?, in partnership with the National Museum Wales (NMW). Fungi have been described as the earth’s natural internet due to their capacity for networked communication through underground hyphae networks, and scholars are increasingly developing queer methodologies for attending to the non-binary, subversive and maligned facets of fungi (Kaishian and Djoulakian 2020; Griffiths 2015). Inspired by this work, I will collaborate with young people to investigate how thinking-with fungi can open up creative and critical spaces for examining networked communication, gender and sexuality in their everyday lives.

Twitter: KMars08

Instagram: LoomsandShrooms