Blogging as privileged speech

Last May, I did a presentation at Computers & Writing titled, “Blogging as Social Action: The Weblog as Genre.” In my genre theory class, our readings have been mostly been on the deep theoretical and methodological implications of genre, which I find very valuable, but I am also interested in the ideological and political implications of genre and writing/speaking practices within genres (not that I mean to imply that there's a separation between those two areas). In that presentation, I reviewed Carolyn Miller's argument in “Genre as Social Action,” in which she points out the limitations of the concept “genre” to describe simply a taxonomy of different kinds of texts. She argues that a genre is a response to social forces. Such social forces can be at the small-scale community level, like the relatively small community of scholars in a certain discipline. Here I'm thinking of the community of scholars involved in the publication of June Davis' article (from Berkenkotter & Huckin, Genre Knowledge)—the researchers doing work on the mice, the editor of the journal, and the reviewers, and then the larger concentric circle of the authors of articles Davis read that influenced her research and the way she packaged the data from her study. The social forces can operate on a larger scale, too, and the forces I'm referring to here are global capitalism, racism, gender hierarchy, heteronormativity, and the like.

In my Computers & Writing presentation, I claimed that blogging services, by offering free hosting and easy-to-use software, have enabled more people than ever to have a voice on the internet, to be able to participate in political discourse, like a citizen in the Classical sense. In saying this, I realize that I am taking the same tone as the scholarship on computers and composition which has been characterized as uncritical and overly enthusiastic, and I want to point out the obvious class implications: Unfortunately, most voices still are not heard, and the internet is still very much a North American, western European province. However, millions of people keep blogs and express their political and ideological convictions. This is why I found Bazerman's article (in The Rhetoric and Ideology of Genre) so interesting. In a discussion of major online news publications, he writes that:

although all these sites provide news and commentary for various publics to contemplate, and this news and commentary may provide the basis for later actions, these electronic journals afford no immediate active form of participation except letter writing in response—typically, an email response form is attached to each web site (p. 27).

Blogging definitely qualifies as an “immediate active [and public!] form of participation,” and for that reason, I am dedicated to studying them. I still struggle with this point that Bazerman brings up:

Insofar as the polity is reduced to issues of economics and the marketplace, and insofar as the most important actors on the political stage are coincident with those that have the most economic power, nonmarket values will have a hard time getting voice within the political discussion, for that discussion will be in genres not amenable to the expression of noneconomic values and interests (p. 33).

Is the blog amenable to the expression of noneconomic values and interests? Sure, people talk about Marx all the time on their blogs, but the blog arose from the internet, which we know has a fraught history (see the work of Laura Gurak, Cyberliteracy and Cynthia Selfe, Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century: The Importance of Paying Attention). Blogging allows for a multiplicity of voices and the expression of a lot of politically progressive thinking, but a blog entry is not as powerful an agent for change as a letter to a congressional representative. I will leave my reading response, then, with a question: How powerful are bloggers, and can genre analysis assess that power?

That was my reading response. Last night's class was really helpful to me; we talked a lot about class implications for blogging. Carol [Berkenkotter] said that blogging is privileged speech--you have to have access to a computer, obviously, and you also have to have a significant amount of leisure time. She raised the question, "What kind of illocutionary force does privileged speech have?" She also noted that genres are perpetrators of the status quo and of ideology.

Cross-posted at Kairosnews.


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Blogging as Identification

Great post, Clancy. I gotta say, I'm in agreement with Carol. I've talked a little about this in the context of Veblen's concept of "conspicuous leisure" at

but the questions you end go way beyond my questions, and really help me to re-think some of my own class concerns about blogging.


Yes, Carol was spot-on with h

Yes, Carol was spot-on with her observations. Your example of the receptionist at the dentist's office who has an evening job doing data entry made me think about perruque and tactics as de Certeau uses the terms in The Practice of Everyday Life. Really, all you need to keep a blog is an internet connection. Blogger, with its slogan "Push-Button Publishing for the People," is free of charge, so if that man or woman at his or her night job doing data entry opens a browser window and steals little chunks of company time blogging (can you tell that I'm speaking from experience?), there's an example of perruque--a subtle form of resistance.


Interesting post. I wonder if you could compare blogging to the early days of feminism with "consciousness raising circles." It is true that blogs do not readily issue in action, but they do allow isolated people to come together and begin to find "fit language" to articulate common concerns. When those people then have the courage to speak that new language in public (as when Germaine Greer confronted Mailer) it makes news, and can make things happen.

The Happy Tutor

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