POLITICAL DELIBERATION, BROKERAGE, DIFFUSION, AND CONNECTIVE ACTION ON @QUEERAPPALACHIA
This project investigates the network structure and political importance of the popular Appalachian culture and politics page @queerappalachia. Promising users a feed filled with “community.content.culture,” @queerappalachia serves as a digital hub for anyone interested in queer perspectives on Appalachian politics and culture, regardless of their geographic location. The page’s over 3,000 posts include memes about Appalachian culture; celebrations of queer rurality (#saturdaynightinthecountry, #ruralresistance); references to big trucks, Mountain Dew, and The Trailer Park Boys; posts about opioid addiction, needle exchanges, and #harmreduction; jokes about communism and anarchism; calls for establishing #mutualaid drives; and signal boosts which highlight ongoing activist efforts in the region, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline protests and the Kentucky miner’s strikes. The page’s recalcitrant and anti-establishment content has attracted a surprisingly large following of around 230,000. But what does this expansive online network mean for Appalachian and Southern queer people?
Rural queer people often have limited access to offline political organizing due to their geographic location, but online political communities may be a way of increasing rural political engagement. However, the usefulness of social networking sites like Instagram for political organizing is contested. To better understand what @queerappalachia is and how it is being used, I have created a multidimensional network of the page, mapping how users interact with posts, hashtags, and each other. In particular, this study provides evidence for how the collective action concepts of “brokerage,” “diffusion,” “identification,” and “deliberation” are being organized and enacted within the @queerappalachia community. I have also conducted interviews with followers of @queerappalachia who have been identified as central by the network study. The interviews provide evidence of how people within the @queerappalachia network conceptualize their political identities in relation to the page and how users utilize the affordances of Instagram communities for political action.