What is it about?

In this article, I ask what roles bodies play in online political engagement. The anonymity inherent to online communication suggests that we "leave the body behind" in the "real world" as identity markers of class, race, and gender are hidden when we go online. But actually, bodies online matter in multiple ways. First, the physical body is always there. Even if we engage in online debates, for example, our body chemistry, our ability or disability to use a keyboard or touch screen, and our own body image always plays a role. Second, we create digital bodies online. This is demonstrated in the article with various examples of online engagement in which avatars are produced and selfies are shared. Third, these digital engagements then reflect on how we perceive our offline bodies. Fourth, not only our subjective perception of offline bodies changes, we also use online content to consciously alter our offline bodies, when we share dieting tips or advice on gender transition. All of this draws attention to the crucial role of bodies in online engagement.

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Why is it important?

The recent scholarship on digital democracy neglects the role of the body. This is due to poststructuralist debates in the 1990s in which online users were understood as disembodied beings. This paper updates our understanding of what it means to engage in online politics.

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This page is a summary of: Rethinking Digital Democracy: From the Disembodied Discursive Self to New Materialist Corporealities, Communication Theory, November 2019, Oxford University Press (OUP), DOI: 10.1093/ct/qtz033.
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