Freirean Radical Love and Transformative Empathy: The Multimodal Literacies of Adolescent Social Media Activism
Michaels, Natasha Roseline
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The evolution of social media activism calls for a critique into the commonly accepted trope of adolescent political apathy and naivety. In this study, I explore specific examples of adolescents’ strategic use of social media platforms such as Instagram to disseminate and circulate their political beliefs. I trace a selection of memes used for spreading awareness of current social justice issues such as the #BlackLivesMatter movement in 2013 to the #StudentStandUp movement of 2018. The memes used in these social movements demonstrate how adolescents create and/or circulate memes and multimodal texts with the intention of forging empathetic connections (through words and images) to affect others into political action against social injustices. Drawing upon critical affect literacy and a Freirean model of Radical Love (1970/2005) – or an action-based love for humanity- I apply lenses of critique to examples of memes and discussions that adolescents have on online to demonstrate how critical literacy evolves and reveals their capacity to recognize and repeat patterns as a tool for sophisticated communication. The study reveals that adolescents are satisfying mandates of the Ontario English Curriculum while attesting to their empathetic use of a voluntary, leisurely, space of social media. I draw upon Dawkins (1976/2006) framework of cultural idea-meme evolution and couple it with the Foucauldian (1975/2008) idea of power relations to establish the foundational idea that power is present in the cultural competition of ideas, that creates the inequities adolescents are critiquing in social media. The study concludes that adolescents are competently using, circulating and/or creating memes to inspire revolution while demonstrating critical literacy skills.