I am pleased to share that I have a book chapter, written with Andrew Chadwick, forthcoming in the third volume of Rebecca Lind’s series Produsing Theory in a Digital World. This series examines how theory can help us illuminate the connections between audience, content, and production in a digital world. Our chapter explores this in an area where audiences are key, celebrity activism, taking Emma Watson’s feminist advocacy as a curious case.
Watson is part of a long history of celebrity collaboration with the UN, making international headlines when she launched UN Women’s HeForShe campaign back in 2014. But Watson doesn’t just use institutional platforms to promote feminist campaigns: she has, and creates, her own. When she launched a feminist book club and discussion forum on the Goodreads website in 2016 (Our Shared Shelf), Watson shared that she would ‘love for this to grow into an open discussion with and between you all’. But Watson is a movie star with over 50 million followers on Instagram, and while social media is associated with greater openness and interactivity celebrity status has long been theorised as a hierarchy based (in part) on distance. We argue that her description of Our Shared Shelf as a space for discussion ‘with and between you all’ is just one example of the rhetorical moves she uses to balance proximity and distance from group members.
Interviews with Our Shared Shelf members show that while the forum may seem to place Watson in close proximity, it is her negotiated distance from other members that underpin their comfortable acceptance of her as a political representative. While Watson’s celebrity status and large social media followings are seen as valuable because she can ‘give voice’ to other feminists, members want to participate on their own terms and not be too closely associated with celebrity culture. By drawing on her connection to formal politics through the UN and presenting herself in a professional way, and at an appropriate distance, members uncomfortable with celebrity accept and support Watson as a worthy exception. We argue that while the boundaries between media production and consumption may indeed be blurring online, celebrity status is more politically valuable where celebrities can keep some distance.
This chapter will be published next year. If you are interested in taking a look before then feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Andy (A.Chadwick @lboro.ac.uk).
Reference: Watts, E. and Chadwick, A. (2020, forthcoming). ‘“With and Between You All”: Celebrity Status, User-Audience Networks, and Representative Claims in Emma Watson’s Feminist Politics’ in Lind, R. A. (ed) Produsing Theory in a Digital World 3.0: The Intersection of Audiences and Production in Contemporary Theory. New York: Peter Lang.