Marina Segatti is a PhD student in the Feminist Studies Department at UC Santa Cruz. Segatti studies how social media has accelerated and deepened polarization in contemporary Brazil. Used by both the far-right and queer and trans activists on the left, social media outlets are, according to Segatti, “battlegrounds for fights over public opinion and sexuality.”
In November, we talked more about Segatti’s research and teaching. Segatti was a 2020-21 THI Summer Research Fellow and helped design and teach a course called “Memory in the Americas” as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) in THI’s Questions That Matter course series on Memory (2020-21). Our conversation touched on continuing human rights research, teaching, and the intersection of these academic pursuits.
It’s wonderful getting a chance to speak with you, Marina! Can you start by telling us about your research interests and current work on your dissertation?
My research investigates how Brazilian queer and trans activists and politicians use social media to respond to the rise of neoconservatism in Brazil. Brazilian politics has been in a deep multidimensional crisis since 2013, marked by unprecedented political polarization and the rise of the far-right. Social media has played a steering role in political events, specifically in disseminating a conservative agenda by addressing historical and structural inequalities through a moral framework. Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram have been battlegrounds for fights over public opinion and sexuality. While far-right groups in Brazil have heavily relied on the circulation of fake news, new political actors have also creatively deployed social media to construct anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-transhomophobic narratives. My work examines how these new, unconventional and progressive voices reach wide audiences and gain popularity via social media platforms. For example, three Afro-Brazilian transwomen (Erica Malunguinho, Erika Hilton, and Robeyonce Lima) were elected as state representatives paradoxically in the same election that brought to power a neofascist president. I approach my research through the lenses of the lived, the discursive, and the socio-historical elements of queer and trans practices in social media. I am interested in delineating the connections between sexual and political discourses as articulated in and through social media in contemporary Brazil.
Your work is so important for understanding social movements and elections in Brazil and other parts of the world. What kind of data are you collecting for your research? What methods are you using?
Currently, I am working on digital data collection and archival research. I have been collecting and transcribing the social media content of queer and trans elected politicians in the 2018 (city deputy) elections. I use a tool called CrowdTangle to acquire data from Facebook and Instagram. This fall, I will be learning a Twitter Data Developer tool to acquire Twitter content more systematically. Both tools allow me to download data in batches through a dashboard that filters information. In terms of archival research, I have been mapping and acquiring both Brazilian queer and trans social media activism and the main far-right Brazilian political actors’ social media content to better understand the contemporary cultural, social, and political situation. I am also archiving social media debates from other media platforms to complement the data.
I am conducting a digital ethnography that focuses on field events rather than field sites. For example, I examine how a media story is transmitted and circulated on multiple digital platforms and who is involved in disseminating and engaging with this content. Social media has become my ethnographic digital space, and I focus on tracing sociality, movement, and interactions around a particular event instead of isolating a specific community or network. Although fleeting, social media content is inherently aggregative; it builds on and catalyzes previous events and brings together different actors across different backgrounds. I am analyzing my data based on feminist intersectional and anti-racist theoretical frameworks that have emerged to study the Internet.
You’ve also been a Graduate Student Researcher at the Human Rights Investigations Lab for the Americas. What can you tell us about your research at the lab? Why do you think a background in the humanities is important for this type of work?
As part of the digital researcher team in the Human Rights Investigations Lab for the Americas, I have had the opportunity to track human rights conflicts and violations across the Americas by employing open-source research tools and techniques. We discover and verify publicly available information to search for the truth and challenge disinformation as a means of advancing justice. Collaboration is a key element of the lab, and leading organizations have trained us in the field, including Amnesty International, Bellingcat, and the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley.
It is a unique and rewarding experience to use my academic research skills and newly acquired technical skills to challenge exploitation, oppression, and violence.
Our work involves partnering with undergraduates, graduate students, faculty members, community members, and nonprofit organizations. One of the collaborative investigation projects I worked on resulted in a research report on the spread and impact of COVID-19 disinformation narratives in Latin America.
My background in humanities contributes to our social justice-oriented research. One of our first steps is to conduct a risk assessment of the case, through which we carefully consider issues around privacy and positionality (power and privilege). In addition, I find it important to bear in mind the complex way that people’s struggles and oppressions are interconnected. While it is fundamental to look at the micro-interactional elements in any situation, it is equally necessary to be attentive to the big picture, to the structural and historical connections. It is a unique and rewarding experience to use my academic research skills and newly acquired technical skills to challenge exploitation, oppression, and violence.
Last year, you were a Public Humanities Graduate Student Instructor for THI’s Questions That Matter course series. Can you tell us about your experience designing and teaching a course on “Memory and the Americas”? What do you hope that students took away from the seminar?
I am thankful I was selected for THI’s Public Humanities Graduate Student Instructor position. It was one of the most well-rounded experiences I have had in my academic career.
I am thankful I was selected for THI’s Public Humanities Graduate Student Instructor position. It was one of the most well-rounded experiences I have had in my academic career. Having the opportunity to design and teach a course in collaboration with other graduate students across academic divisions, with the support of THI and the Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning (CITL) and the mentorship of established professors and former THI GSIs, was unique and enriching. As someone who envisions an academic career, having this holistic support early on has been essential for my growth and development as a scholar.
One of the goals of the course was to offer an encompassing understanding of the role of memory, such as practices of remembering and forgetting, for processes of history-making, survival, and resistance. A central question that we sought to address throughout the course was “who has the right to memory?” I guided the students to attend to the tensions between memory and history as an important site to discuss the construction of collective identities, collective memory, and representation as well as to better understand how memory can be created, mobilized, and instrumentalized to forge national and dominant narratives. In designing the course, we included a diverse range of materials, such as indigenous textiles, religious material culture, propaganda produced by dictatorships, visual arts such as photography and films, and literature. It was essential to go beyond academic articles and to examine different modes of knowledge production. Our objective was to provide students intellectual tools to read against the grain of what is often considered official and hegemonic knowledge.