12 December 2019 | Story Rulanzen Martin | Photo Johan Roux
Dr Dionne van Reenen received her PhD during the December Graduation Ceremonies at the UFS

Very seldom in modern history do we try to critically think about how our bodies and even more those of women are presented in modern popular culture. Through her PhD research project, Dionne van Reenen attempts to critically analyse ideological formations of the body in performance and its discursive distribution in the consumption of contemporary popular media, adding to existing literature and research on the topic.

Her dissertation is titled Performing the Erotic: (Re)presenting the Body in Popular Culture.

Van Reenen, a senior researcher at the Unit for Institutional Change and Social Justice at the University of the Free State (UFS), received her PhD qualification specialising in English on Wednesday 11 December 2019 during the final ceremony of the December Graduation.

Van Reenen has extensive experience in all areas of education. Her work at the Unit for Institutional Change and Social Justice is interdisciplinary, involving both everyday and institutional politics. She also holds a Master’s degree in Philosophy, which she obtained in 2013 from the UFS. In 2016, she chaired the UFS Language Policy Review Committee and established the Gender and Sexual Equity Office, which formulated the Sexual Harassment, Misconduct, and Violence Policy at the UFS. 

Changing of social constructs in media consumption

“My study focuses on performative framings of social constructs of gender, race, and class (along with size, age, and ability) in the ordering processes of society,” she says.  These performative framings in are in turn sustained by the (re)presentation of eroticised bodies in popular visual media in the 21st century. “These framings and orderings are critiqued as nothing new, but simply entertainment product that is trading in ideologies and stereotypes that have long been in sociocultural circulation, and they affect how people think, speak and act.” 

The study also shows that the dynamics of ‘virtuality’ and ‘visuality’ in the digital age are altering traditional demarcations of space, place, time, and community, and have paved the way for formations of global cultures that are, at the same time, informative, expedient, empowering, homogenising, prescriptive, and imperialising.

Whilst the #MeToo movement focused more on gender-based violence, gender inequality, and sexual violence, which are big social issues and do not exist in isolation, Van Reenen used her critical philosophical training to understand how, in the current era, the dominant discourse on representations of the body, particularly marginalised bodies, has been constructed at the popular level. 

With every PhD research dissertation the candidate’s main aim is to add new knowledge to a discipline. For Van Reenen, it is important that her research can contribute to a change in social and cultural constructs by re-imagining the (re)presentations of the body in popular media.

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