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The affect of the hashtag: #HandsUpDontShoot and the body in peril

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On 9 August 2014, Michael Brown, a young man of barely 18 years, was killed by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson, which renewed discourse surrounding the occurrences of racial violence in the United States enacted at the hands of police. Brown’s death led to the development of a hashtag movement called #HandsUpDontShoot on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, which critiqued the disparate treatment of racial minorities and the excessive use of (often deadly) force by police on black bodies. #HandsUpDontShoot offers an example how the convergence of subjectivities occurs affectively: the hashtag, while making a discursive appeal to consider Michael Brown’s rumoured stance of surrender when he was shot by Wilson, also featured photos of movement participants recreating his pose with their own bodies. Further, the embodied affect of the movement overlapped and entangled with that of offline spaces, where protesters on the ground in Ferguson and other communities began to raise their hands above their head in a desire to not only create an external spectacle of Brown’s victimhood, but to live within the subjectivity of his abject body. Through a media ecology analysis, I argue that the subjectivity of Brown’s body was kept alive through the movement, as the hashtag and associated imagery can be seen as material extensions of Michael Brown’s body and a desire to make sense of Brown’s death through an affective exchange with the body in peril. In this sense, the participants of #HandsUpDontShoot transformed the movement from a space for standing with the victim to a state of standing within the body in peril.
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Keywords: affect; body in peril; digital media; hashtag; protest rhetoric; social movement

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Denver

Publication date: March 1, 2016

More about this publication?
  • EME explores the relationships between media, technology, symbolic form, communication, consciousness, and culture. Its scope is interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary. Media ecology provides a rich philosophical, historical and practical context for studying our increasingly technological and mediated society and culture with an emphasis on historical context.
    Media ecology scholarship emphasizes a humanistic approach to understanding media, communication, and technology, with special emphasis on the ways in which we have been and continue to be shaped and influenced by our inventions and innovation. The Media ecology approach is predicated on understanding that media, symbols, and technologies play a leading role in human affairs, and function as largely invisible environments affecting the way we think, feel, act, and organize ourselves collectively.
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