Skip to main content
Arts & Culture

Feminism is trending: digital feminist activism, labour and subjectivity

The Western world is witnessing a resurgence of feminist activism, which increasingly takes place in digital spaces. This project investigates activists’ experiences of conducting feminism ‘online’ by adopting a new perspective that explores the kinds of selves that digital feminists are encouraged to perform. The study is informed by existing research on women working in the digital economy.

This body of work has shown that social media platforms tend to reward empowered, entrepreneurial and self-branding personas, thus calling forth so-called ‘neoliberal’ modes of selfhood. By focusing on the kinds of selves that are cultivated when engaging in digital feminism, this study explores the extent to which this activism is aligned with and/or subverts neoliberal modes of selfhood. The study’s findings will be communicated to academic and non academic audiences and disseminated through three journal articles, conference presentations, and public events.

Wider research

Dr Scharff’s research falls into two main areas: 1) Engagements with feminism and 2) Work in the creative economy.

The British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship Feminism is Trending: Digital feminist activism, labour and subjectivity brings together these two strands of research.

Engagements with feminism: Dr Scharff’s research on engagements with feminism, which was funded by an ESRC Postgraduate Studentship and an ESRC Postdoctoral Studentship, was published in her monograph Repudiating Feminism: Young women in a neoliberal world (Routledge, 2012). The book takes a novel approach to repudiations of feminism and re-framing them as performative acts of (normative) femininity, 2) tracing how women’s positioning in relation to class, race, and sexuality intersects with their stance on feminism, and 3) foregrounding the workings of neoliberalism and neo-colonialism in portraying feminism as less relevant to allegedly empowered, ‘western’ women. Dr Scharff developed this work by co-editing (with Maria Stehle and Carrie Prei) the special issue ‘Digital Feminisms’ in the journal Feminist Media Studies, which Routledge re-printed as an edited collection in 2017. The British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship Feminism is Trending builds on this research.

Work in the creative economy: Dr Scharff’s second area of expertise is in analysing subjective experiences of work in the cultural and creative industries. This research, which was funded by a Small BA/Leverhulme Grant and the ESRC Future Research Leaders scheme, has advanced existing scholarship in three key ways: 1) it explored the classical music profession and thus brought into critical focus a hitherto under-researched field, 2) it used quantitative and qualitative research to provide the first systematic overview of racial and gender inequalities in the classical music profession in Germany and the UK, and 3) approached well-researched facets of artists’ working lives – such as its precariousness - through the lens of subjectivity, thereby offering a deeper understanding of work in the creative economy. Most recently, Dr Scharff developed this research by co-editing (with Dr Anna Bull and, as associate editor, Professor Laudan Nooshin) the book Voices for Change in the Classical Music Profession: New Ideas for Tackling Inequalities and Exclusions (Oxford University Press, 2023). Dr Scharff’s interest and expertise in questions around labour and subjectivity inform her work on the British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship Feminism is Trending.

For a complete list of Dr Scharff’s publications, please see here

Our Partners

British Academy

British Academy

Project status: Ongoing

Principal Investigator


Funding Body: British Academy

Amount: 166,984.79

Period: April 2021 - April 2023