My current research centers on sexual violence, forensics, and the criminal justice system. I also research forms of TechnoFeminism and technological innovation.
Shelby, R., and Hatch, A. (2014). Obscuring sexual crime: examining media representations of sexual violence in Megan’s law. Criminal Justice Studies, 27(4): 402-418.
Shelby, R. (2016). “Rising Inequality and the Fading American Dream.” In Focus on Social Problems: A Contemporary Reader, edited by Mindy Stombler and Amanda Jungles. New York: Oxford University Press.
The Problem of Whiteness in Leisure and Sport Practices
McDonald, M., and Shelby, R. (2017 Forthcoming). “Feminism, Intersectionality, and the Problem of Whiteness in Leisure and Sport Practices.” In The Palgrave Handbook of Feminism and Sport, Leisure and Physical Education, edited by Louise Mansfield, Jayne Caldwell, Rebecca Watson, and Belinda Wheaton. Palgrave.
Research in Progress
Whose Rape Kit? Technological Innovation, Materialization, and Barriers to Social Justice
Since the introduction of the rape kit, the role of forensics in prosecuting perpetrators of sexual violence has accelerated. Reshaping what is considered a viable legal case, increasingly, victims must have a ‘good’ rape kit for their rapists to be prosecuted. Although evidence, and especially DNA evidence, created with forensics is held as the gold standard, rape kits have created a crisis for the criminal justice system, as evidenced by the immense rape kit backlog, and the cost of processing them. Much scholarship has focused on those who collect rape kits, sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs), rather than the rape kits as a technological artifact and intervention. To date, no scholarly examination of the rape kit’s origins exists limiting analysis of the rape kit’s success. In this paper, I conduct a socio-historic archaeology of the rape kit uncovering its histories at the intersections of science, law, and culture. First, I trace its origins as a technological intervention by feminist activists and uncover its developers’ original aims. I then assess the rape kit’s impact on arrest trends by analyzing longitudinal arrest and victimization data. Lastly, employing both STS and feminist conceptions of materialization, I suggest normative cultural views of sexual violence interact with discourses of science and technology to complicate the perceived objectivity of the rape kit, and its capability to achieve social justice. This analysis offers productive insights for transforming State policy, and bridging divergent views of sexual violence justice.
Shifting Paradigms of Bodies, Wearable Technology, and Techno-Physical Feminism
In recent years, the rise of wearable technologies has transformed the scope and scale of bodily knowledge, and identified technoscience as a means to corporeal empowerment. Alongside popular fitness technologies, female sexual armor has received global media attention lauding “anti-rape wearables” as the new wave in women’s self-defense and sexual violence prevention. And yet, a close reading of the historical record reveals rape prevention strategies have never been simply limited to the body proper, but have also incorporated material extensions. Throughout the twentieth century, a series of inventors developed wearable ‘sexual armor,’ designed to rebuild the feminine body as more capable of warding off unwanted sexual advances. Using the methodological strategy of media archaeology, I trace the discursive history of sexual armor designed for male and female wearers through patent records from the 1850s through the present, and begin to uncover techno-physical feminism, my term for the technoscientific strategy inventors believed would help transform the wearer’s psychology, corporeal resilience, and agency so that women might better resist sexual violence in contrast to conventional self-defense strategies that incorporated martial arts, boxing, or wrestling. However, as this analysis demonstrates whereas corporeal strategies such as self-defense have offered a means to challenge dominant gender ideologies of passivity, too frequently techno-physical feminism re-inscribes the female body as passive. This research illuminates shifting paradigms of gendered sexuality, the enduring view of technology as an effective behavioral and cultural intervention, and normative physicality.
The militant British Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) formed in 1908 in response to what members saw as the slow-moving pacifist tactics of other suffragette groups. Facing police violence they countered with attention-getting strategies including disruption, occupation, and hunger-strikes. The WSPU also created a thirty-woman bodyguard battalion to protect its members. Trained in jiu-jitsu, they promoted women’s physicality internationally creating the modern women’s self-defense movement, as something “every woman should know.”The WSPU’s physical feminism reflected both their imagined and idealized relationship to the world. Seeing the body as a critical site where gender and power are inscribed, they aimed to transform normative conceptions of femininity as vulnerable through physical prowess. Corporeal techniques were thought to empower women and challenge the status quo. Grounded in this philosophy, the WSPU created the board game Suffragetto, which features encounters between the Suffragettes and police. Based upon archival research, I contextualize and theorize the game’s impetus and examine Suffragetto as emblematic of the WSPU’s focus on physicality. Althusser argues ideology has a material existence residing in its apparatus and practices, and that ideology reflects our imagined relationship to the real world. Butler suggests that gender is a citational practice that can also be performed in subversive ways. Suffragetto materializes the real and imagined through domestic game play drawing new audiences to the WSPU’s physical feminism, This game remains salient today as it offers feminist ideology in a hybrid fantasy-real world environment allowing players to experiment with alternative forms of political resistance.