“Not the real world”: Exploring experiences of online abuse, digital dualism, and ontological labor

Gosse, C. (2021). “Not the Real World”: Exploring Experiences of Online Abuse, Digital Dualism, and Ontological Labor. In J. Bailey, A. Flynn, & N. Henry (Eds.), The Emerald International Handbook of Technology-Facilitated Violence and Abuse (pp. 47–64). Emerald Publishing Limited.

Link: https://doi.org/10.1108/978-1-83982-848-520211003

Open access: Yes

Notes: This paper explores two valuable terms that are critical to online abuse. First is digital dualism, which refers to the (false) distinction between the online and offline worlds. The second one is ontological labour, which is the process by which victims try “to convince others, and in some cases themselves, that the online abuse they experience, and the impact of that abuse, is real.”

Quote: “When digital dualism is naturalized and invisibilized, it further erases the harm of online abuse because it hijacks an important process of recognition.” (p. 59)

Abstract: Online environments have become a central part of our social, private, and economic life. The term for this is “digital existence,” characterized as a new epoch in mediated experience. Over the last decade, there has been a growing interest in how online abuse impacts one’s digital existence. Drawing on 15 interviews with women, this chapter demonstrates a type of labor—which I call “ontological labor”—that women exercise when processing their own experiences of online abuse, and when sharing their experiences with others. Ontological labor is the process of overcoming a denial of experience. In the case of online abuse, this denial stems partly from the treatment of online and offline life as separate and opposing. This division is known as digital dualism, which I argue is a discourse that denies women the space to have their experiences of online abuse recognized as such.

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