Juliana Friend

Research Interests: Digital Media; Citizenship; Health/Communicative Inequality; Pornography; Ethics; Senegal; Gender and Sexuality; multimodal ethnography; collaborative knowledge production


My research focuses on digital media, health, and gender in West Africa. Using participatory action research methods, my dissertation explores how sexually stigmatized communities in Senegal navigate sutura – the Senegalese ethic of discretion or modesty – amid changing digital media practices. Anxieties about social media “oversharing” of intimate life are displaced onto members of queer and sex working communities. Marginalized for their online presence, those perceived as sutura’s “digital dissidents” articulate potent alternatives approaches to pressing tech policy issues.

In historically contingent ways, sutura has predicated claims to national belonging, moral legitimacy, and legible gender identity on the ability to project and manage a boundary between “intimate” and “public” life. When historically-marginalized Senegalese conspicuously blend intimate and impersonal address through pornography or through public health outreach on dating websites, these perceived “digital dissidents” epitomize sutura’s transgression. Through case studies ranging from the production of pornographic textiles to youth digital Health activism, I explore how Senegal’s perceived digital dissidents reanimate sutura’s other valence: community protection. They reimagine sutura as a way to protect themselves and others online. In doing so, they turn sutura into a potent framework for challenging taken-for-granted assumptions in tech and tech policy. For example, by reimagining sutura as collective protection, interlocutors in sex working communities pose an alternative approach to dominant frames in US and EU digital privacy policy that emphasize individual control over information. Moreover, as COVID-19 heightens interest in digital health methods, eHealth activist interlocutors have important lessons to share about the complex relationship between digital health communication and health equity.

A co-creator of many-to-many.net, an open-source storytelling platform, I am interested in tech design logics that facilitate the equitable creation, circulation, and archiving of ethnographic knowledge. I bring this experience to the Alternative Digital Futures project at Berkeley’s Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity (CLTC). This project aims to amplify Senegalese sex workers’ perspectives on inclusive approaches to digital privacy protection, providing funding for them to reach the international audiences they wish to reach without jeopardizing their sutura.

My research has been supported by a Newcombe Fellowship, the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, a Fulbright scholarship, Berkeley’s Center for Global Public Health (CGPH), and a Digital Humanities at Berkeley Collaborative Research Grant.