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Scott Burnett is investigating the online ’manosphere’ spaces

Meet Scott Burnett, researcher from South Africa now working at University of Gothenburg and trying to understand the "NoFap" movement and white liberal constructions of entitlements to property and landscape.

Who is Scott Burnett?

– I come from a small town in South Africa, but worked most of my career in Johannesburg on a prominent HIV prevention and youth development campaign called loveLife. I completed my PhD in Critical Diversity Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. My PhD focused on how white South African reproduce entitlements to the gains of racialized oppression in discourse of property, landscape, and environmental conservation.

– I moved to Gothenburg in July 2017 with my husband, who is a professor of multilingualism also at GU. Before joining  I was senior lecturer at Lund University.

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scott burnett
Scott Burnett

What is your current research on?

– I am currently investigating two distinct though related discursive formations. The first centres around young, white men who congregate in ‘manosphere’ spaces online to construct social imaginaries about gender, sexuality, and race. This work so far has focused on the anti-PMO (porn-masturbation-orgasm) movement called NoFap.

– The second is a continuation of my doctoral research, where I approach the production of racial regimes of ownership from a critical theoretical perspective, looking specifically at white liberal constructions of entitlements to property and landscape, both in environmentalist discourse and in opposition to land reform policies in South Africa.

How come you got interested in those questions.

– As a professional social change communicator in the non-profit sector in South Africa working on issues of social justice and public health, I became increasingly frustrated with enduring structures of racial and economic oppression.

My entire reason for doing research is to contribute to fairer and more equal societies

My entire reason for doing research is to contribute to fairer and more equal societies, and to do what I can to dissolve these destructive and deadly hierarchies that still affect so many societies around the world, including Sweden.

Why is it important – what are the issue or the challenges here?

– The same patterns of the construction of racial hierarchies in liberal discourses are very much apparent in Sweden, too, especially as the politics of migration has become an increasingly central issue in the media and at the polls. Similar dynamics of green colonialism to those I have identified internally in South Africa are visible between Swedish environmentalism and the world, and in Sweden itself, where expropriative, extractive (especially of “renewable energy”) and other problematic settler colonial practices are ongoing in Sápmi.

How do you divide your time now between research and education?

– I try to make sure that half, or more than half, of my time is devoted to research. But I am a strong believer in overlaps. The Masters students I supervise, for example, teach me new things about what is going on in the literature all the time, and I hope to work with some of them on publishing research. My teaching is itself informed by my research; I make sure that I use case studies I have worked on, or literature I am grappling with, as well as my own publications and co-publications, in designing my teaching.

What made you apply for a position at the IT faculty?

– I was excited by the prospect of working together with people who understand information technology and the architecture of our digital world better than I do, and of being part of an intellectual milieu at the cutting edge of research into online spaces. Especially with regard to my research interest in “toxic technocultures”. I hoped to find collaborators and resources that might be interested in methodological innovations for online ethnography, social media data mining, or other useful techniques.

Dream scenario in the future?

– Raising funding for a research project on “toxic technocultures” that brought together skills from around the department and/or faculty, with enough money to recruit a doctoral student interested in exploring this area.