Beyond shame culture? Kenyan women’s self-representation practices online

Dina Adhiambo Ligaga


The bulk of scholarship that addresses women’s self-representation at the moment focuses on postfeminist cultures and sensibilities. What this scholarship is clear on, is the fact that self-representation of girls and young women in contemporary society has increased acutely in the age of digital media, and with it, the need for a more critical reading of what such representations might mean. While acknowledging that girls and young women are seen as active producers of culture online, Dobson argues that they are easily judged, dismissed and shamed as being active in ways that society frowns upon. They are ‘thought to be engaged in projects of self-representation driven by vanity, or incessant social communication driven by insecurities and trivialities’ (Dobson, 2). It is however possible to read these online productions of selves as political. Referring to work done by scholars on African Popular culture, we see that actions in the everyday can in themselves demonstrate the kinds of refusal that are difficult to pin down, precisely because creative productions in the everyday are attuned to people’s need for survival, as well as people’s very idea of ‘living’. Lauren Berlant’s idea of affect in the present, in many ways, points towards this sentiment of being alive in the moment, of doing what one does in the moment, without attachment to what she refers to as ‘the promise of the good life’ (Berlant, xx). Berlant questions the idea of the good life, the promise and fantasy of it, as organized in a neoliberal context and challenges readers to think of living outside of the scope of the ‘good life’ trap. This article seeks to push two questions: is it possible to look at young women’s online practices in Kenya as agentic? Secondly, is it possible to read these practices as both part of and apart from neoliberal and patriarchal signifiers within which they are bound? I select three young women’s performances online in Kenya, and taking into context the ‘celebrity’ locations they occupy, engage with the public meanings of their performances.


digital subjectivities, hypervisibility, self-presentations

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