CCCC Presentation: Comments Appreciated

For several days now, I've been working on and practicing my CCCC presentation. I've done presentations of new research -- meaning I wrote the paper just for the conference -- but more often, I've presented on research I'd been doing for months or years. Both situations bring their own challenges. There's a lot I could say about my topic (gender in blogging), but I only have 15 minutes.

There's been some discussion at Collin's about the quality of presentations at CCCC, much, if not all, of which I agree with. I have specific ideas of what I like in a conference presentation, and I'm thinking of these as my personal goals. They include:

  • Speaking extemporaneously. I prefer speaking over reading a paper, but reading a paper is okay if the speaker makes plenty of eye contact and consciously varies his or her pitch so the presentation doesn't have that monotonous reading cadence. During most read-a-paper presentations, the only way I'm able to understand the content presented is if I write down as much of what the person says as I can and then read my notes later.
  • Telling a story. This is what makes presentations by people like Peter Elbow, Laura Gurak, Wayne Booth, Michael Keene, and Cynthia Selfe great. When I go to a presentation by one of those folks, I always leave knowing something I didn't know before. They make arguments and introduce new theories with classroom implications, but they do it by telling an engaging story, often from an historical perspective, drawing upon the trajectory of composition theory, history of the internet, or classroom practice. Point is, they make it interesting and memorable.
  • Going light on the theory. I realize this won't be a popular opinion, but unless the speaker has visual aids showing definitions of theoretical terms or key quotations, I think it's best to rein in the amount of theory presented. You can't always assume that your audience is already familiar with your body of theory, and if they're not, you're not going to be able to teach them much about it in a 15-minute presentation. I think presentations should pique the audience's curiosity and inspire them to go out and read the theory themselves.
  • Showing enthusiasm! It's good to do this even though you know old so'n'so is going to go for the jugular as soon as they open the floor for questions.

Then there are my personal pet peeves, especially apologizing ("I'm sorry this is so disorganized," "I'm sorry I'm reading to you like this," and so on), which makes me want to roll my eyes and boo loudly, and griping about time ("If I had time, I'd tell you about..." "I wish I had more time..." "Looks like I'm over time, but..."). Eeeyaarrrgh.

Well, enough about that. As for my own presentation, I'm going to review some of the previous scholarship in gender and computer-mediated communication by scholars like Susan Herring, Kira Hall, Sherry Turkle, Sandy Stone, and a few others. One of my professors rightly pointed out that a lot of the scholarship on weblogs doesn't appropriately situate blogging in the context of earlier research on computer-mediated communication (see also these notes). I want to show not only what is new about blogging, but what's not new -- the continuity in how gender norms are constituted in blogging practices. Some of the observations one can make in the where are the women case(s) are in keeping with what feminist researchers of CMC have been saying for close to twenty years.

Then I'm going to describe the "where are the women" case and point out some of the recurring themes and arguments. I also intend to use quotations from a couple of posts to show differing approaches to political discourse, both in terms of writing style and choice of issues (authoritative, pundit style versus an expository style drawing upon anecdotes and personal experience, foreign policy and war versus domestic laws and public policy affecting women and children).

I think what we've got here -- and this is part of what makes blogging different from the research on gender and CMC on MOOs, listservs, discussion boards, etc. -- is a self-perpetuating system involving mass media and citizen media (weblogs, podcasts, what have you). A weblog is a personal publishing platform in a way that discussion boards, MOOs, and the like are not, and bloggers gain readership and recognition in a way participants on discussion boards, listservs, and MOOs do not. Bloggers usually link to what's in the news, and the bloggers who don't as often respond to news stories don't get as much attention from the mass media. It's not that mass media attention and traffic are the proper goals for keeping a blog, but these factors can provide powerful encouragement to do better and more frequent writing. The blogger who gets these things knows that he or she has an audience who wants to know what he or she thinks.

But back to this self-perpetuating system thing. That "women's issues" don't get equal coverage in the news is a big reason why people wonder where these supposedly scarce women political bloggers are. Maureen Dowd's latest column corroborates what I've been saying (emphasis mine):

There's an intense debate going on now about why newspapers have so few female columnists. Out of what will soon be eight Times Op-Ed columnists - nine, counting the public editor - I'm the only woman. [Dowd also says that of the op-ed writers for the Washington Post, only one is a woman.]

[. . .]

Gail Collins, the first woman to run The Times's editorial page and the author of a history of American women, told The Post's Howard Kurtz: "There are probably fewer women, in the great cosmic scheme of things, who feel comfortable writing very straight opinion stuff, and they're less comfortable hearing something on the news and batting something out."

There's a lot of evidence of that. Male bloggers predominate, as do male TV shouters. Men I know and men who read The Times write me constantly, asking me to read the opinion pieces they've written. Sometimes they'll e-mail or fax me their thoughts to read right before I have lunch with them. Women hardly ever send their own rants.

There's been a dearth of women writing serious opinion pieces for top news organizations, even as there's been growth in female sex columnists for college newspapers. Going from Tess Harding to Carrie Bradshaw, Dorothy Thompson to Candace Bushnell, is not progress.

I think blogging, more so than other online communication, brings to the fore the underrepresentation of women in mass media and citizen media.

My problem is, there's also a lot of interesting rhetorical theory I bring to this topic in my dissertation. In my dissertation, I use public sphere theory -- not just Habermas, but feminist criticism of public sphere: theorists like Seyla Benhabib and Nancy Fraser.* Especially relevant is the distinction between questions of justice and questions of value (or the good life). The former, in Habermas' view, is associated with generalizable norms, and the latter is associated with values, which are more subjective and tied to particular cultures. Questions of justice should be discussed in the public sphere. Then feminist theorists point out that questions of value can also be considered questions of justice. For example, whereas domestic violence was previously considered a question of value (a woman’s life is better if she does not experience violence in the home), it is now a question of justice (society has a responsibility to protect women and children from violence in the home; failure to do so is unjust). Many women with political weblogs write more often about issues traditionally associated with questions of value, such as child safety regulations, parental leave policies, and reproductive rights, using reflection on personal experience as an inroad to discussing such issues. Am I going to be able to show the connections between this theory and blogging in any meaningful way, or is that another presentation? Must...cut...

* About the use of the term "public sphere theory": I consider Fraser and Benhabib public sphere theorists in their own right, not just secondary sources to Habermas' theory.


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I'm just trying to figure out how to calculate the barycenter of a public spherical triangle.


I prefer when people talk extemporaneously at conferences, but it's not that easy to do. And very few people, in my experience, tend to do it. Perhaps the best thing is when you circulate a paper beforehand to the audience and then you can give your talk with the expectation that the audience has already read it.

Recognition in what quarter?

I'm really glad you're posting this because your sessions Wednesday night, and I can't get to it. This is important stuff. Two things stand out: 1. The passage on how blogs are different from prior CMC because of the way bloggers gain recognition, and 2. Male bloggers gain more news media recognition because the topics they're blogging about are ones the news media covers.

I talk about the first point here,

The second I think is narrowly true. Most bloggers came to prominence this past election cycle and shortly after on election year issues and media controversies. I don't know why male bloggers got most of the attention since many female bloggers were writing about the same topics, but I think it has to do w/ things like the Technorati power rankings and Google. News reporters probably use that shorthand --Google or Technorati-- as a shorthand for authority.

A lot of news reporting is pack. Reporters use the sources other reporters use. So when Glenn Reynolds starts making the news, he gets into Lexis/Nexus and soon he's the go to guy on blogs.

If the issues are changed --say it's abortion rights instead of a CBS News document screw-up-- are more women columnists and/or bloggers rising to the top? Or are some so-called "women's issues" so politicized that they become the bailiwick of male opiners? Do the issues have to be more thoroughly female? And if they do, what does that tell us about gender and technology?

I guess what we're seeing constantly is that computer networks offer promises and potentials for new kinds of groupings and social organization, but changing paradigms and hierachies and habits is hard because when people move online, they carry --for better and worse-- their prior habits, beliefs, and prejudices with them.

Nick Carbone
nick.carbone at gmail dottydot com

Excellent point

Nick, I'm so glad you brought this point up:

If the issues are changed --say it's abortion rights instead of a CBS News document screw-up-- are more women columnists and/or bloggers rising to the top? Or are some so-called "women's issues" so politicized that they become the bailiwick of male opiners? Do the issues have to be more thoroughly female? And if they do, what does that tell us about gender and technology?

It's something I meant to cover in the post, but I forgot. When newspapers do run stories about blogs by women, they're most often in the Lifestyles section, like stories on "mommy blogs." The blogs by women are seen more as confessional diaries than political broadsides.


The first mention of "public sphere" in JSTOR is "to begin with the public sphere, woman has often been more or less debarred from civil rights, an injustice which is due to the idea that she is inferior to man" (A.E. Crawley "Sexual Taboo: A Study in the Relations of the Sexes (Part II)." The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 24 (1895): 225).


Have fractals been described as "homoeomerous?"

The difference of blogging

I'm very interested in what you're saying here, perhaps because I am a woman blogger who has never previously been anywhere near as excited about any kind of CMC as I am about blogging. So I think when you say that one thing that makes blogging different is that
it "is a self-perpetuating system involving mass media and citizen media (weblogs, podcasts, what have you). A weblog is a personal publishing platform in a way that discussion boards, MOOs, and the like are not," I would completely agree. I always thought MOOs sounded interesting, but they seemed more complicated than I felt like figuring out. But going to blogger (or LJ, etc)(no matter how "amateur" that is) and creating a blog is a simple thing: something that isn't time-intensive. (I've been musing on and off about the gendered nature of time, women's relationship to time, etc., and how that relationship may also account for some of their apparent absence in the blogosophere.)

I would be interested in hearing more (at some time, in some venue) about how you use Benhabib especially. It occurs to me that the way she talks about listening at the end of _Critique, Norm, and Utopia_ is a radicalized version of the listening rhetoric that Booth advocates and that Jeff ( critiques. For Benhabib, contra Booth, listening isn't about getting rid of difference, but of fully engaging, being there with difference. And I do think blogs can be a mediation of that process, though it's interesting that the recent research on polical blogs have shown that liberal bloggers tend to link to other liberal bloggers, and conversative to conservative. Not a lot of room for listening to difference there.

Anyway, great stuff.


Thanks for the JSTOR reference, Jonathan. :-)

Doing talks about blogging for professors who want to use weblogs in their teaching has forced me to articulate the differences between weblogs and other kinds of online discussion, so I've gotten used to it. What I said in the post about recognition and readership is only one difference. Another important difference is the relative freedom from community norms. Lots of people call blogging communities "echo chambers," and I'm not saying that's inaccurate, but usually, on weblogs, people show a range of their thinking and experiences that you don't often get on discussion boards, especially if the boards are centered on a certain topic, as they often are. Before blogging, I was very active on feminist discussion boards, and while you can find out a lot about people on boards, there are constraints about what can be discussed, however loosely they're applied, and people who enter the space disagreeing with the views held by the community are often looked at suspiciously and dismissed as trolls. For example, on the Feminista! boards and the Michfest boards, they're talking about a variety of topics, but from a particular perspective. If you went there, you'd be expected to abide by the norms of most online communities: lurk for a while and get a sense of the board atmosphere before you post, and posit your opinions carefully, making a point to show respect to the conventions of the community. If you went in there, said up-front that you're not a feminist, and started strongly disagreeing with what the posters write, you wouldn't be received too well there. That's not so much the case if you comment on someone's blog. I also think of the magnificent Flea as another example, who posted on the Ms. boards for years before starting her blog, and while her writing was terrific on the boards, it's so much better on her blog because it shows a more complete picture of her as an individual.

Another thing I think is worth mentioning is software. Admittedly, this is a casual observation -- feel free to dispute it -- but people who use Blogger, Movable Type, TypePad, Drupal, and WordPress and who have their own domains are taken more seriously as academic and political bloggers than those who use LiveJournal, Xanga, Pitas, and Diaryland. One could argue that the latter set of tools has those "teenage girl" associations and that the tools themselves carry gendered meanings. Herring, Kouper, Scheidt, & Wright (2004) do a good analysis of this aspect; they make a distinction between filter blogs (gendered masculine, more media attention) and journal blogs (gendered feminine, less media attention).


"I realize this won't be a popular opinion, but unless the speaker has visual aids showing definitions of theoretical terms or key quotations, I think it's best to rein in the amount of theory presented."

Actually, I suspect that this is exactly a popular opinion. I think that there are plenty of presentations that would improve with a healthy shot in the arm of rhetorical and critical theory, but that being said, I agree that it's not usually best to devote the bulk of one's time in a presentation explicating it. We need to give ourselves permission to assume that (in your case, for example) an audience at our flagship conference is sufficiently familiar with Habermas, Benhabib, and Fraser to not *need* that explication.

Is that actually the case? Maybe not. But when I hear about somebody I don't know, I do two things: I find out who it is, and I go out and get something written by that person, particularly if I've found it interesting, potentially useful, etc. And this is exactly what you mention above.

It's possible to give a theoretically sophisticated talk that is accessible, engaging, and worthwhile, and it's equally possible to give one that is paradoxically light on the theory at the same time...


Parceling out the time

What I'd really like feedback on are arrangement and division of time. Assuming my presentation is going to consist of three (not completely discrete) sections:

1. review of previous feminist CMC research (and what makes blogging new, what makes it not new)
2. description of the "Where are the women?" case and perceived differences in style and content (masculine and feminine styles and issues)
3. tie-in with Habermas, Benhabib, and Fraser

Which section should I cover first? How much time should I spend on each one? My presentation is 15 minutes; should I aim for five minutes on each one? The way it is right now, I've got it in the order you see here, about five minutes for each section, but would it be better to rearrange the sections? How would you, the audience, like me to structure this presentation?

Lots to respond to!

I agree that extemporaneous speaking is easier to listen to, better to present, and so on. But it takes practice, which many don't seem to want to do.

I agree about the apologies.

My big pet peeve: wishy-washy moderators. I want (for myself on the rare occasion that I'm so _excited_ I go over time and for others either excited or boorish) a moderator who gives a five minute warning, a one minute warning, lets the person have a _minute_ to "wrap up" and then CUTS THEM OFF. Too many times I've seen 45 minute presentations overrun the poor last panelist and kill all discussion time. RUUAAARRGGH! HULK MAD!

Your CCCCs presentation sounds very cool. Are you going to post your notes afterward?

More on apologies

If someone's going to read a paper, I'd rather hear them say something like:

"Hey! Yeah, you! You're gonna sit right there while I read you this PAPER! Why don't you suck on THAT?!"

than hear an apology.

Seriously though, Brendan, I'm moderating a panel, and I plan on doing what you've said. I'll probably post some notes after my presentation. Depends on if I can get a laptop to take to the conference with me. I'm scrambling trying to find one. I hate being poor!

I agree with your comments ab

I agree with your comments about what makes a good paper (although I'm in one of those "but we ALWAYS read our papers" fields - I think the point I saw somewhere that it doesn't really matter whether a paper is read or spoken from notes, what matters is the amount of time spent practicing, is really on the money).

As for parceling out the time, I'm so not in your field that you can take this with as much salt as you'd like ;-), but especially in a 15 minute paper, I would prefer to hear more about the actual cases you're examining (i.e., the "where are the women" stuff) than the theory and scholarship into which it fits. Although I recognize you have to give the context and wouldn't suggest ditching the scholarship/theory at all - just that it's sometimes harder to process. So my vote would be if there's any doubt, spend more time on section 2.

I tend to hear a lot of papers (and read articles, come to think of it) that start with review of lit/discussion of theory and then move to the actual cases "here's all the stuff other people have said and the theoretical framework I'm working with - and here's the actual stuff with which I'm working to talk about these issues") - so would probably put your section 3 before your section 2. Or you could flip it all around and talk about section 2 ("here's the really cool material I'm working with"), then put it all in context with sections 1 and 3 ("here are the implications of this material"). But I tend to like to separate things out in a way that's probably artificial (or a function of my discipline, which is very different from yours). So I'm probably not the best audience for you...

And oh, those apologies! WHY waste your audience's time by telling them that you couldn't be bothered to put the time into the presentation that you should have put into it? Couldn't agree more!

didja see?

There's a Newsweek article by Steven Levy ("Blogging Beyond the Mens' Club") that'd be relevant to your talk

if for no other reason than it's a contemporary, mainstream media example of the "where are the X" sorts of arguments...

Interestingly, in the article itself, Levy asks "Does the blogosphere have a diversity problem?" while on the sidebar, the link to Levy's article is labeled "Levy: The Blogosphere's Diversity Problem." I've got all sorts of questions that I'd like Newsweek columnists to ask, if the editors will turn them into declaratives for me... ;-P


My suggestion on the presenta

My suggestion on the presentation itself is concentrate on the first two, and mention the third as something you'd like to "talk about further in discussion, if anyone is interested."

Have fun!

Bitch. Ph.D.

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