Lecture by Rodney Jones, March 12, 2021

Rodney Jones, Professor of Sociolinguistics, University of Reading

Digital Literacies and Synthetic Embodiment: The Ethics of Mimicry on TikTok

This talk focuses on the ways new practices of synthetic embodiment made possible by digital technologies change people’s relationship with the voices and bodily performances of others, and the implications of such changes for their understanding and experience of the relationship between language and social identity. In it, I consider the unique affordances for synthetic embodiment offered by TikTok, most importantly the ability it gives to users to inhabit the verbal and bodily performances of others, “re-presenting” them with their own bodies through practices of lip-synching and multimodal stylization. Whether these performances are based on commercial content or the verbal performances of amateurs, they inevitably engage users in performing and implicitly commenting on ways of speaking (and moving) associated with social groups other than their own, and this itself has given rise to a range of metalinguistic commentary on the platform critiquing the authenticity of other users’ performances or criticizing them for engaging in cultural appropriation or perpetuating racial or gender stereotypes. While applied linguists have developed a rich lexicon for discussing practices of language stylization and mocking as well as of metalinguistic discourse, the unique affordances of TikTok of synthetic embodiment and collective practices of creativity and critique present new theoretical and pedagogical challenges. To address these challenges I argue for an integration of concepts from queer and posthuman studies with more traditional approaches to digital literacies, suggesting ways in which we can understand these ludic performances as opportunities for young people to engage in productive debates about the appropriateness and authenticity of acts of voice appropriation.

March 12, 2021
3 – 5 pm
Zoom Session
(registration required)