Blog Post

Towards a Tumblrontology

Towards a Tumblrontology


I have curated a Tumblr archive of text, photos, photo sets, gifs, and video produced and circulated by self-identified feminist of color and queer user. Through queer theory, feminist of color theory, and theories of new media, I have read and annotated them as objects that create and evidence a Tumblr body and logic. On I analyze the ways that these circulated objects contribute to a “Tumblr-ontology” or a way of being and world-making practice specific to this Tumblr community. I argue that users create a Tumblrontology that transforms and transcends a toxic reality by producing and remixing oppositional, visual/textual cultural objects, by performing forms of subjectivity and community that revel in multiplicity, and by queering dominant regimes of temporal and material productivity.The page is organized in a categorized collage format through the overlapping categories of Tumblr as Space, Tumblr as Time, and Tumblr and/as Identity, which comprise the Tumblrontology. Images, gifs, videos, and text are organized under these three tags but also link and relate to objects in other categories. The page can be navigated as a free form collage and users can click any image for annotations as well as traverse to other related posts. In my annotations, I focus primarily on how users queer normative aspects of time and space on the site and what this lends to in terms of community guidelines, subjectivity, and collectivity. . I hope for this archive and analysis to link and map traces of everyday queer and feminist of color utopia that are enacted, enabled and sometimes confounded through the Tumblr platform. 

With this project, I aim to compile features of queer and feminist of color Tumblr populations that I have observed and personally benefited from into a formal logic that can operate within and without the site. I hope to illuminate a way of being on Tumblr that departs from mainstream narratives of pragmatic social justice movements that hinge on cohesive messages and goals. Tumblrontology aims to highlight the ways that conflict, unproductivity, and bad feelings can serve as a queer political framework that rejects stasis and presentist thinking. This logic intervenes in popular discourses that posit online feminism and social justice movements as inherently and irrefutably “toxic” and unproductive. This project does not have a decidedly optimistic or pessimistic view of behavior and becoming on Tumblr but will rather reflect the ways that neoliberal markets and logics confound, enable, and repress virtual and physical bodies. It serves as a tool of analysis, a logic, a techne for a queer understanding of important characteristics of digital resistance and survival in neoliberal and postracial time. In this vein, one audience for my project is academics focused on creating queer theoretical lenses with which to navigate our current society.

Blog Images

Screenshot of blog hompage

Organizational Categories

Tumblr as Space:What does the virtual/physical space of Tumblr look like? What lines its walls and fills its air? Focusing on people’s perceptions of Tumblr as a physical space with certain characteristics, I analyze circulated images such as this that hint towards a commonly held view of Tumblr as a space. I analyze what the physical interface lends to a virtual conception of the space as well as the perceived impracticality of the space and the criticism of it as a “make-believe” world.

Tumblr as Time:Tumblr temporality operates in multiple and queer ways. l look at the space as a “time suck” seen through the unending scroll and the way things are archived to privilege the present which requires a never ending game of catch up.  This time is seen as unproductive in a capitalist sense but I argue for its creative and radical productivity. There is also constant nostalgia of childhood, disbelief/rejection of formal adulthood, and simultaneously discourse that looks towards an imagined or created future. I focus on how a queer Tumblr temporality lingers in the past and looks hopefully towards an unknown future. 

Tumblr and/as Identity: I will explore the creation and reification of identities on Tumblr; specifically how some established identity labels are used in profiles such as the one above. Identity labels are employed constantly and pushed beyond their limits to the point of unrecognizability outside of Tumblr. There is a hyperreal onslaught of fantastic, multiple, and often conflicting identities that forgo and exceed their “real” referents and become a discourse of their own.


Theoretical Lenses

My analysis of the queer and feminist of color Tumblr visual and cultural production is situated in contemporary queer theory works. One influential lens comes from Elizabeth Freeman’s Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories, which analyzes sexual orientation in confluence with temporal orientations. I apply her concept of chrononormativity,the use of time to organize individual human bodies toward maximum productivity” (3) to the ways that Tumblr users queer time and material productivity on the site. Users feel and respond to this normative organization by “wasting time” on Tumblr and exert significant time and energy into curating their blogs and interacting with other users. They place import in uses of time not considered materially productive and in doing so enact a form of everyday resistance. I also examine forms of longitudinal, collective temporal organization with the use of images and gifs that reference past revolutionary moments as well as childhood events. Through circulating past images of the black power movement or early queer movement and placing them in discourse with the present, users are actively collapsing barriers of time and collective amnesia that often plague social justice movements. The circulation of these images points towards a future that is not yet here and one that users do not yet know the shape or look of but know intimately the feel and the change that they want to create.

At the base of a Tumblrontology is the disruption of a dualist view of real vs. virtual worlds. I argue that there is an interstitial space between the screen (the Tumblr sphere), the viewer, and the environment around them in which identities are fleshed out, tried on, and acted out. Of import to my analysis is Micha Cardenas’ argument in “Becoming Dragon” for virtual worlds as ones that allow for prototyping of the world we want (372). She argues that this framework for becoming is suitable to global capitalism and allows for the unknown. The characteristics of space, time, and identity that I have listed as components of a Tumblrontology threaten what we have come to view as “reality” or “real” or “online” identities. Tumblr users are steadily impinging on what is viewed as practical and applicable in life outside of Tumblr by enacting what feels most true to them in an imagined/created world and forcing this to be the case in their “real” world.

Moving Forward

         This Tumblr archive is a work in progress that I hope to expand in the upcoming months for use in my American Studies senior thesis. I am using this archive as a starting point to marry the Tumblr objects with the theories that I hope to use in my larger project. I hope to deepen my analysis of how identities are enacted and communicated in this segment of Tumblr. I will improve the tagging system so that themes and theoretical lenses that I employ are easily searchable. It has been difficult to figure out how many objects to include within the entities of space, time, and identity but I will expand both the images and annotations.






1 comment

this sounds a lot like what I'm doing in my diss project though I'm focusing more on temporalities and working towards a theory and aesthetic practice of decolonization.  I also had a narrower focus in terms of the types of images I was using and where they were coming from. My tumblog is here

inactivity is purposeful and based on some changes on the business end. If you ever want to talk, I'd love to speak with you about what you are doing!