(Trans)national Queers Online: An Analysis of LGBTQ Websites in Poland and Turkey
(Department of Communication Studies, University of Antwerp, 2015)
Supervisors: Alexander Dhoest, Bart Eeckhout
Lukasz Szulc is a postdoctoral fellow of the Research Foundation Flanders at the University of Antwerp (Belgium) and a Marie Curie fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science (UK). Since June 2016, he has been the Student and Early-Career Representative at the International Communication Association’s LGBTQ Interest Group. Lukasz was awarded a Ph.D. in communication studies from the University of Antwerp in February 2015. Three articles written during his Ph.D. have received awards from international academic associations, including BASEES, ICA and OTSA. His academic interests include the social and cultural role of new media, LGBTQ identities, nationalisms, and transnationalism. He has published extensively on these topics in international peer-reviewed journals such as the International Journal of Communication, New Media & Society, and Sexualities. For more information about Lukasz you can contact him through his website or send him a tweet @LukaszSzulc.
The Internet has generally been recognized as a particularly advantageous medium for LGBTQs, that is, lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, trans* people and/or queers. However, as I explain in this doctoral dissertation, LGBTQ Internet studies remain dominated by US scholars working on US cases who tend to ignore or take for granted the contexts of their research, which results in the exaggeration of the role of the Internet as ‘the’ medium of globalization in general, and LGBTQ globalization in particular. By contrast, in this research project I aim to provide a closer and more nuanced look at the intersections of LGBTQ sexualities, Internet communication, the nation and nationalism. In the most general terms, I investigate what is left of the supposedly discarded nation and nationalism on the Internet. Following Michael Billig’s (1995) concept of banal nationalism, I am primarily interested in the subtle, often unnoticed and taken-for-granted (re)productions of both individual nations and the world as a world of nations. The arguments put forward in this doctoral dissertation are based on a qualitative analysis of about 30 relatively popular LGBTQ websites in Poland and Turkey. I examine the websites’ homepages, hyperlinks and domain names to investigate how web content and web-specific technologies are put into work to (re)produce or challenge (particular) national discourses online. I additionally support my arguments with the analysis of user-generated content and e-mail interviews with the authors of LGBTQ websites. Taken together, the case studies presented here demonstrate that the nation and nationalism still do matter online. Even if nations are not always explicitly referred to or accentuated and the framework of the world as a world of nations is not always clearly apparent, my research shows that individual nations and the world as a world of nations continue to be (re)produced on LGBTQ websites in a more banal way. More broadly, I argue against the conceptualizations of the Internet as borderless and deterritorialized and ‘the global gay’ (Altman 2001) as homogenous and Westernized.
Inspiration to undertake this research
This Ph.D. project was largely inspired by my personal story. First, the Internet proved to play a major role in the exploration of my non-normative sexuality, which made me wonder about the importance of new media for LGBTQs. Second, my long-term stay abroad—six months in Turkey and more than six years in Belgium, led to an unexpected discovery that I am profoundly Polish, which resulted in my interest in routine reproductions of national identities. I wanted to better understand my own identifications, feelings and practices as well as to connect them to broader social and cultural mechanisms. Therefore, I decided to conduct research on the online intersections of sexuality and nationalism.
An in-depth look into one aspect of the dissertation
In one chapter of my dissertation, I look at a particular web-specific technology, country-code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs, such as .uk for the United Kingdom), to investigate to what extent and how it is employed to enforce or resist particular national discourses. I propose that while ccTLDs may often go unnoticed, they do play an important role in (re)producing, in a banal way, individual nations and the world as a world of nations. In my analysis, I focus on the particular case of the .tr domain for Turkey. This is because at one point in my research I was struck that while in Poland the majority of sample LGBTQ websites use the Polish ccTLD, in Turkey only one website uses the Turkish ccTLD. I wondered if there is a particular reason for why the authors of LGBTQ websites in Turkey tend not to use the Turkish ccTLD. To investigate this question, I first tracked the allocation procedure of .tr and employed critical discourse analysis to examine the policies governing the procedure. Next, I conducted e-mail interviews with the authors of six LGBTQ websites in Turkey and asked them how they decided about the choice of their websites’ Top-Level Domains. The results demonstrate that .tr is employed by Turkish authorities to (re)produce, in a banal way, a heterosexist notion of Turkishness online. Additionally, my research shows that some authors of the analyzed websites do not dismiss .tr as banal but refuse to use it as a way of setting up resistance against the Turkish national requirements embedded in the domain. This chapter has been published in New Media & Society, and its earlier version was awarded an Honourable Mention by the 2013 Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association.
Perspective on the fields of nationalism, ethnicity, and race
Michael Billig’s (1995) concept of banal nationalism is undoubtedly the concept with which I engaged most profoundly in my research. In general, I share the author’s conviction about the continued persistence of the nation and nationalism, also in the Internet age: ‘Maybe, nations are already past their heyday and their decline has already been set in motion. But this does not mean that nationhood can yet be written off, and its flaggings dismissed as pastiche or nostalgia’ (Billig 1995: 177).
At the same time, I believe that my dissertation makes at least two important contributions to the concept of banal nationalism. First, while Billig developed his argument based on the analysis of the British press, my work updates the concept in relation to the Internet. Contrary to the suggestions of some researchers, my results show that the affordances of the Internet do not critically challenge the idea of banal nationalism: banal (re)productions of individual nations and the world as a world of nations can easily be traced in web content as well as web-specific technologies such as hyperlinks and the Domain Name System. Second, my dissertation indicates the need for qualifying the arguments about the banality of some instances of nationalism. When Billig writes that ‘The national flag hanging outside a public building in the United States attracts no special attention’ (1995: 6), he does not consider that the flag could attract special attention. Conversely, when I compared ccTLDs to national flags hanging outside a public building, I emphasized that while ccTLDs usually go unnoticed, they could and do lose their banality at particular times and for particular groups.
Reflections on the job market
The academic job market in Europe is much saturated, especially in humanities and social sciences. While fresh Ph.D.s in the USA normally start their careers as regular university employees, obtaining such positions right after defending a Ph.D. seems unrealistic for the majority of their European colleagues. A common alternative is to apply for highly competitive postdoctoral fellowships and continue devoting much time to research (instead of teaching) in order to improve one’s CV. This is not necessarily a worse alternative but it does not help to eliminate the feeling of uncertainty among junior academics.
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