Abstract

This essay describes the popular Bechdel Test—a measure of women’s dialogue in films—in terms of social network analysis within fictional narrative. It argues that this form of vernacular criticism arrives at a productive convergence with contemporary academic critical methodologies in surface and postcritical reading practices, on the one hand, and digital humanities, on the other. The data-oriented character of the Bechdel Test, which a text rigidly passes or fails, stands in sharp contrast to identification- or recognition-based evaluations of a text’s feminist orientation, particularly because the former does not prescribe the content, but merely the social form, of women’s agency. This essay connects the Bechdel Test and a lineage of feminist and early queer theory to current work on social network analysis within literary texts, and it argues that the Bechdel Test offers the beginnings of a measured approach to understanding agency within actor networks.

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