About the project
Fostered by global and local feminist movements, the international discourse on gender-based violence (GBV) has reached significant popularity since the first decade of the new millennium (Romito 2005). Notwithstanding the laudable visibility achieved, this mainstreaming has resulted in representations that have often confirmed, instead of questioned, gender stereotypes (Mandolini and Williamson 2017).
This is particularly true if we look at specific cultural contexts in which feminist discourse on sexist abuse has passed from marginality to visibility: Italy, where an extensive discussion on femicide started in 2012 (Laviosa 2015) but where media portrayals continue to consolidate patriarchal rhetoric (Giomi 2015).
In light of this situation, activists and artists in Italy and beyond have produced a variety of responses that have challenged the simplistic portrayal of sexist abuse conveyed by mainstream journalistic discourse. Among these, graphic novels on the topic have been published in recent years and feminist collectives have frequently used graphic narratives – in particular, superhero comics – for their awareness-raising campaigns against sexist abuse.
In a global context where activists’ goals are mainly discursive (Jenkins et al. 2016) and where storytelling is a strategy commonly employed in feminist counter-discourse construction (Guaraldo 2013), an investigation on the use of graphic narratives to portray sexist abuse is necessary in order to fully understand the potentials of gender violence-related social movements practices. However, no systematic research on the topic of graphic narratives against sexist abuse has been carried out so far.
This postdoctoral research project aims at investigating the role played by graphic narratives in the popularisation of feminist stances on gendered abuse in Italy and beyond. The project, funded by the FWO (Research Foundation Flanders), is built around the hypothesis that graphic novels and comics represent a crucial resource in the area of art-activism against sexist violence, given their ability to use the cross-discursive system of words and images to convey complex narrative structures while, at the same time, remaining accessible to a wide audience.
Dr Nicoletta Mandolini is a FWO Junior Postdoctoral Fellow at KU Leuven (Belgium), where she is working on the project Sketch That Story and Make It Popular. Using Graphic Narratives in Feminist Activism Against Gender Violence. She owns a PhD from University College Cork. Funded by the Irish Research Council, her doctorate project focused on the representation of gender-based violence and feminicide in contemporary Italian journalistic and literary narratives. Among other articles on sexist abuse in contemporary Italian literature, she co-edited the volume Rappresentare la violenza di genere. Sguardi femministi tra critica, attivismo e scrittura (Mimesis 2018). She is an active member of the CASiLaC (Centre for Advanced Studies in Languages and Cultures) research cluster on Violence, Conflict and Gender, that she co-convened from 2016 until 2019. Her research interests include feminist theory, gender-based violence, Italian women writers, comics studies, feminist media studies and transmedial storytelling.
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