Blogging

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Chapter 4 Vignette

I've been very reluctant to write this post lest it spur another round of "Where are the women?" for me to contend with, but I figured it was time for a dissertation post. I owe it to you, right? Well, a while back I finished Chapter 4 and am now in the process of revising it. In Chapter 3, I give a thorough overview and chronological description of the "Where are the women?" case: the posts, descriptions of the (onymous) people involved, and the contexts and exigencies of each instance of WATW. For example, the Larry Summers speech had a degree of influence on many of the comments. I also give a more detailed micro-rationale for my project than I give in the introduction. To clarify a bit, the macro-rationale is "why rhetoric should study blogging" and the micro-rationale is "why the 'Where are the women?' case." As anyone who has participated in them can tell you, the WATW threads are quite rhetorically unproductive; nothing really changes as a result of them, and that's one reason I find them so interesting. So in Chapter 3, as part of my detailed micro-rationale, I bring in some of the MANY metacommentaries and parodies of WATW, plus some of the interview responses.

Now for Chapter 4. I'm mostly drawing upon Nancy Fraser's article "Rethinking the public sphere: A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy," but in this chapter I'm not going into her thoughts about multiple, subaltern counterpublics. I'm more interested in the four problematic assumptions she points out on which Habermas’ idea of public sphere rests: first, that inequalities in social status can be “bracketed” in a public sphere; second, that a singular public is preferable to multiple publics; third, that issues and interests deemed “private” should be excluded from the discussion; fourth, that a public sphere’s fruition depends on keeping “civil society and the state” separated (p. 117-118). Fraser claims that “[o]ne task for critical theory is to render visible the ways in which societal inequality infects formally inclusive existing public spheres and taints discursive interaction within them” (p. 121). That task, rendering visible these inequalities, is the raison d'être of this chapter.

I'm reviewing the various stereotypes and ideas about women's speaking in public that get tossed around in WATW. To illustrate, see this comment, and tell me if this guy didn't totally nail the "maiden, mother, crone" archetypes/stereotypes that feminists have been talking about for years (sincerely, I think this is really well put):

[I]n the world of Big Punditry women get one of three jobs:

1. The Soft-core Liberal Infobabe. Doesn't say or do much. Her entire function is to perpetuate the idea that if you're a liberal, you can have sex with women like this.

2. The Breast-Feeder from Hell. Begins every argument with "As a mother, I ..." Uses nurture six times in a single paragraph. Her function is to serve up chocolate-covered liberalism to guilty insecure housewives.

3. The Uppity Old Lady in Tennis Shoes. See Molly Ivins. This is where Infobabes go when they get put out to pasture. They're supposed to be sort of funny - Driving Miss Daisy kind of funny.

Specifically, I look at 1.) the role of sex, beauty, and attraction and how it can create noise; 2.) "women aren't interested in politics; they're more interested in fashion, gossip, and babies"; 3.) "women and men communicate differently," i.e. the "women can't handle the food fight, boxing match, swashbuckling, Crossfire, Hardball, insert agonistic metaphor here flavor of political debate"; 4.) "women are too busy with the house and the kids to have time to blog"; and 5.) "women aren't as technologically savvy as men." Mind you, I'm not saying there isn't any truth in any of these, especially #4. I'm just laying them out there. I may say more about these later, but for the vignette I want to focus on #2, because there are pictures!

Consider these sample comments:

There are simply less females than males passionate about politics, hence less females blogging.
If there is a blogosphere concerned with sales at Nordstroms or Hollywood gossip, that blogosphere will be predominately female. (Reader at Kevin Drum's weblog)

and here:

As for the gender thing, I still don't know if this is a problem in search of a solution or just the way women are. I'm leaning toward the latter, frankly. They don't like war, don't like hard-nosed arguments and have a hard time separating the personal from the political. Case in point, a girlfriend the other night told me Bush was too stupid to be president, and anyway she didn't like his family--his daughters didn't seem engaged enough (unlike who? Chelsea? Amy Carter? I was confused). This, apparently, was enough to decide her vote--Laura is a bit chunky and I don't like her shoes, it's settled!

Let me first say that I mean no disrespect toward the people who made these comments. The ideas represented here have a long history. In fact, in keeping with Jonathan's creative 'Aleatory Research' methodology, I happened upon some political cartoons from the suffragist movement, which I ended up using in the chapter. From January 27, 1909, a comic by T.E. Powers titled "When Women Get Their Rights":

Also from the 1910s:

The caption says, “Woman Devotes Her Time to Gossip and Clothes Because She Has Nothing Else to Talk About. Give Her Broader Interests and She Will Cease to Be Vain and Frivolous.”

I'll stop there; this is only a vignette, after all. As always, feedback is welcome.

A Scattershot Stump Speech

Back in September at the New Media Research @ UMN conference, I saw Lee Rainie give a wonderful, enthusiastic stump speech about internet research (his characterization, not mine). At the beginning of his talk, he told us that he was going to give us some background about the Pew Internet & American Life Project and its history and then he would gesture, scattershot-style, toward some of their current and future projects. The speech was excellent in every possible way, and when it was over, I thought, that's what I want to do at MLA.

I was invited to be on the NCTE-sponsored panel at MLA, titled "Digital Scholarly Publishing: Beyond the Crisis," along with Kristine Blair, David Blakesley, and Mary Hocks. I'm scheduled to go first, so I'm planning to give about 3-5 minutes of background on "the crisis" for the uninitiated, but after that, I'm going to talk about some of the work that people are already doing online every day. For the purposes of this talk, I'm positioning myself as a human aggregator, gathering and presenting the best ideas of what scholarly publishing could be, well, beyond the crisis.

The crisis, as I've always understood it, is an economic problem, an unsustainable business model, consisting of 1.) the conflict between the book-for-tenure model and the financial troubles (and subsequent cutbacks of number of titles published) of university presses; and 2.) price-gouging on the part of scholarly journal publishers and libraries' declining ability to afford journal subscriptions (which also affects book sales). This article in Inside Higher Ed provides a good status report on the latter. The former was heralded by Stephen Greenblatt in his famous letter to members of MLA. Greenblatt outlines the problem, pointing out that "books are not the only way of judging scholarly achievement." He suggests:

We could try to persuade departments and universities to change their expectations for tenure reviews: after all, these expectations are, for the most part, set by us and not by administrators. The book has only fairly recently emerged as the sine qua non and even now is not uniformly the requirement in all academic fields. We could rethink what we need to conduct responsible evaluations of junior faculty members. And if institutions insist on the need for books, perhaps they should provide a first-book subvention, comparable to (though vastly less expensive than) the start-up subvention for scientists.

This letter spurred a lot of discussion, at least in circles I frequent, about alternative requirements for tenure, especially online publishing. Certainly we in rhetoric and composition have been thinking about online publishing's place in the tenure and promotion process. I'm going to try to condense the major points of all those sites I linked into a few minutes of background information on the conversations about online publishing in our field.

Then, I'll segue into the scattershot ideas by making a few remarks about the work that Collin Brooke is doing and summarize some of John Holbo's many contributions to the thought about the future of scholarly publishing. Obviously there's no way I'll have time to do their work justice, so I'll need to decide what's most important in conjunction with what I'm talking about and then create a bibliography with all the articles I'm linking to here.

Then I want to focus on some particular cases.

  1. Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs. This is an edited collection of essays that we published using weblog software.
  2. Computers and Writing Online 2005. For this online conference, we made the review process public (a "public feedback process") and have kept the content up at Kairosnews, with a Creative Commons license, so that others can copy and distribute the presentations -- e.g., for a course pack.
  3. Rhetoric and Composition: A Guide for the College Writer. Matt Barton of St. Cloud State University, along with students in his rhetoric courses, has done a lot of work building a free rhetoric and composition textbook using a wiki.
  4. Carnivals. Collections of posts on a given topic, like informal journals representing the scholarship that's being published on academic weblogs.
  5. Massive Multi-Thinker Online Reviews. Holbo's play on MMORPG, these are seminar-style events in which a group of bloggers reads the same book or article at the same time and blogs about it.
  6. CC-licensed online readers for courses. This is something I've been trying to plug for a long time, but it hasn't caught on just yet. There's all this Creative Commons licensed content online, and it would be so easy to reproduce essays on a given topic, group them into themes, write an introduction à la an edited collection, and assign it in a class. I'm working on one, which I'll unveil as soon as it's finished, but I'm too busy with my dissertation right now, so it has gone unattended lately.

I want to close with a return to the larger social context, meaning, and goal of scholarly publishing -- to disseminate new knowledge -- and point out the benefits of open-access online publishing to anyone (academics or nonacademics) who doesn't have access to a large research library. I might draw upon some of the arguments presented at a recent conference at the University of Minnesota, Publication, the Public University, and the Public Interest.

Sigh. There's a lot more to say on top of that. I haven't even touched the problems related to archiving and indexing all this content, and I haven't said as much as I'd like about intellectual property and alternative copyright models. Maybe during the Q & A.

Article in SadieMag

I'll join Jill, Rox, Lindsay, and Deanna in blogging the SadieMag story on women and blogging. For the story, I answered some questions over email and spoke on the phone with Stephanie Schorow, the author of the story, and I recommended that Schorow watch these videos from BlogHer, especially the ones by Halley Suitt and Heather Armstrong. I don't have anything to add beyond what others have already said, but I thought I'd share some comments I made that ended up on the cutting room floor.

1. Are there truly fewer female political bloggers than men? Seems like male-written blogs dominate the top 100 lists (technorati, truthlaidbear) but does that reflect what's happening in the blogosphere?

No, I don’t think there are fewer female than male political bloggers. I think the common understanding of “political blogger” is too narrow and usually refers to a blogger that, first of all, writes about politics narrowly defined. Lots of women especially, but also men, have a broader, more sophisticated understanding of “political” that includes the ways public policy affects individual lives. This view of “political” opens up a space for a lot of personal narrative writing about lived experience, which, again, doesn’t immediately spring to mind when someone says “political blog.”

Second, some of the male-authored blogs in the top 100 lists are more like aggregators or filters, with many short posts per day mostly consisting of links to news stories and to other bloggers’ posts. That’s certainly doesn’t reflect what’s happening in the blogosphere. Plus some of them write about nothing but politics, and that doesn’t reflect what’s happening in the blogosphere either. Most people write about a wide variety of topics.

Also, if you look at the most popular blogs according to the ranking tools (especially Ecotraffic), you’ll also see several of the blogs that are owned by Nick Denton of Gawker Media: Gawker, Defamer, Gizmodo, and Wonkette. Many in the blogosphere read them but think of them more as magazines than blogs. These blogs have several writers, all of whom are paid to blog, and they stay very much on topic.

2. Are female bloggers-- right left moderate -- getting the attention they deserve? if not, why not?

It’s hard to cast it in terms of “deserving” or “not deserving” when we’re talking about blogging. It’s not as simple as saying that good writing will attract a large audience, and bad writing won’t. Blogging is a distributed communicative model, where you have to reach out and gather your audience. You have to link to other blogs so that they can see you in their http referrers, you have to comment on other people’s blogs, send them trackbacks, link to their posts in your posts, etc. You have to write yourself into the network and engage with the medium, and that entails a good bit of what many would consider self-promotion.

So if you think of it as “the best writers deserve the most attention,” well, there are plenty of good writers out there, but we have to find out about them somehow. Some people argue that the people who are at the top of Technorati and the Ecosystem, regardless of whether they’re men or women, deserve to be there because they’ve put a lot of work into updating their blogs constantly and reaching out and connecting to their audiences – and maintaining their relationships with their audiences. (See, for example, Halley Suitt here.)

Still another factor to consider is a blogger’s real-world reputation. If a major league scholar with impressive credentials starts a blog, people are going to link to it immediately. Economist Gary Becker and judge / legal scholar Richard Posner, for example, started a blog together some months ago, and it generated a lot of buzz immediately. Some people might think that if a person has impressive credentials, that means he or she deserves a larger audience.

3. What are some of the best female-written blogs in your opinion? The best liberal blogger? The best conservative blogger? The best in keeping everyone guessing?

Best female-written blogs:
One Good Thing: http://buggydoo.blogspot.com/
Girl Genius: http://girlgenius.typepad.com/girlgeniuscom/
Badgerings: http://badbadbadger.blogspot.com/

Best liberal bloggers:
Pharyngula: http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog
Bitch Ph.D.: http://bitchphd.blogspot.com/
Body and Soul: http://bodyandsoul.typepad.com/
Norbizness: http://norbizness.com/
Feministe: http://feministe.us/blog/
blackfeminism.org: http://blackfeminism.org/
Hullaballoo (Digby): http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/
John & Belle: http://examinedlife.typepad.com/johnbelle/

Also creative endeavors like:
The Rude Pundit: http://rudepundit.blogspot.com/
Wealth Bondage: http://thehappytutor.com/ (“fetish action figures”)
[UPDATE: Totally should have put Fafblog here the first time.]

Best conservative bloggers:
Ann Althouse: http://althouse.blogspot.com
Ilyka Damen (now defunct): http://ilyka.mu.nu
(and though they’re more libertarian/fiscal conservative)
Crescat Sententia: http://www.crescatsententia.org/
Marginal Revolution: http://www.marginalrevolution.com/

4. Do females have a different voice than men when blogging? Or is the Internet truly a genderless zone that levels the playing field? Do females feel more free in writing their opinions than speaking them when they might be shouted down by men - or even by other women?

I wouldn’t say women have a different voice from men. While stereotypes do exist, both feminine (attenuated assertions, claims phrased as questions, an interpersonal style) and masculine (opinions stated as facts, information accompanied by critique, aggressiveness), it’s not at all the case that actual practice confirms these stereotypes.

I hope that women feel free to state their opinions online, but I’m not sure about that. In the course of my research, I’ve seen references to women bloggers who stopped blogging, especially conservative women, but I don’t know why that is. I’ve also read quite a few posts and comments about how women face harassment and threats online, so intimidation might make some women feel inhibited about posting their opinions online. Whether it’s actually the case or not, it’s commonly said that more women blog pseudonymously than men.

5. Some bloggers, such as Digby, are said to be female but keep their gender a secret. Do you think it makes a difference to readers?

Google "jon digby" blog and you’ll see that some people claim digby is a man. But for a long time, I’ve found it interesting that people think digby’s a woman, though; many of his posts are more essayistic than the punditry we see on a lot of the men’s political blogs, where most of the posts are just links to news items or other posts with a sentence or two of commentary.

6. Wonkette has garnered a lot of attention for her site. How representative is she of female bloggers?

Not very. Wonkette is run by Nick Denton of Gawker Media and is more like a magazine. He picked Ana Marie Cox based on some of her prior writing, like on suck.com.

Carnivals and Academy 2.0

I'm liking this Academy 2.0 idea a lot. I agree with Collin and Alex that more mashed-up, collaborative, networked, open source-style public peer production is going on every day. Collin already mentioned the Teaching Carnivals, but I want to go a little further with the whole idea of carnivals. A carnival, in case you hadn't heard this term before, is a collaborative effort to harness good, recent posts on a specific topic. For science, there's Tangled Bank, then there's the History Carnival, the Asian History Carnival, Carnivalesque for early modern history, the Philosopher's Carnival, the Skeptics' Circle, and the Carnival of Bad History. Each carnival consists of a list of links to posts that meet the criteria for the carnival. Usually the person who hosts the carnival provides a one-sentence description of the post.

What are these, if not distributed scholarly journals? It's true that they don't have length requirements and that they're not refereed...well, they're not refereed in the traditional sense of gatekeeping. The posts are still reviewed and commented upon, but in the comments sections of the blogs or on other blogs. Point is, carnivals are clearly intended to be scholarship, however informal, and their resemblance to scholarly journals should be noted. For example, here's one I'm excited about that's taking the resemblance to a new level: the newest Feminist Carnival, which is doing a special issue on 1970s feminist thought. From Sour Duck's Call for Submissions (sound familiar?):

Yes, there's a theme: 1970s feminist thought. However, this won't be a nostalgic look at "second-wave feminism". Oh no. I'm looking for pieces that engage with the themes and ideas of 1970s feminism, while applying them to current events, or looking to the future.

You might say it's a "1970s into 2000" Feminist Carnival issue.

Examples of topics to consider:

  • women and men in the workplace (e.g., creating an even playing field, and equal pay for equal work)

  • reproductive freedom (with the advent of "the pill") & sexual liberation ("sex is fun!")

  • healthcare reform (1970s feminists took on the medical establishment and effected significant change. What else needs to be changed? Can 1970s tactics prove effective again?)

Technorati tag:

By the way, don't forget the next Teaching Carnival at Scrivenings. The 1970s into 2000 Feminist Carnival issue will appear on November 16, which is right around the time Scrivener will be posting the new Teaching Carnival.

Blogging While in Labor

Miss Zoot is an old college buddy of mine, and boy, is she one dedicated blogger. So dedicated, in fact, that she blogged her labor before giving birth to a beautiful baby girl whose blog pseudonym is NikkiZ. Read all of her labor/birth posts; they're funny and sweet as her posts always are.

Light blogging ahead

I'm in Atlanta until the 25th, so I will likely not be posting much here until then. But you never know.

Dissertation: Literature Review

Now for my concept map that represents my literature review. This is how it's shaping up, and hopefully I won't have to add too much to it (I'm fine with taking stuff out). I've been struggling with it and getting contradictory advice, which I've come to understand is common, and which boils down to one question: Is it preferable, in a dissertation, to enter a specific conversation in one field of study, or to get a broader sampling of books and articles representing multiple disciplinary perspectives on your general topic/object of study, even though you run the risk of overlooking some important work? I'm hoping to be able to do the former, as you can see on the concept map. I want this thing to be wieldy. (This image links to a larger one.)

Literature Review for Dissertation

But if there are problems, I need to know, and I'm always grateful for feedback, so please leave it here or email me.

Online Portfolio of Work Related to Rhetoric, Digital Media, and Feminist Theory

Rhetoric

Dissertation Prospectus

Preliminary Exams

Outlook: What's next for blogging? In Bruns, A., & Jacobs, J. (Eds.), Uses of Blogs. Forthcoming from Peter Lang Publishing. Original questions and answers posted July 24, 2005.

Between Work and Play: Blogging and Community Knowledge-Making (Essay in Lore: An E-Journal for Teachers of Writing)

Review Essay on Blogging, October 2002

Sites of Resistance: Weblogs and Creative Commons Licenses (PDF)

Making the Adjunct Visible: Normativity in Academia and Subversive Heteroglossia in the Invisible Adjunct Weblog Community

Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca on Data Selection

"Push-Button Publishing for the People": The Blogosphere and the Public Sphere

Neither Compelling Nor Arbitrary

Thoughts on Burke's "Four Master Tropes"

Response to Burke's "Semantic and Poetic Meaning"

Genre Theory, Genre Analysis, and Blog as Genre

Blogging as Privileged Speech

Anarchy in Academe? A Cultural Analysis of Electronic Scholarly Publishing

Musings on Foucault, Power, and Resistance

Thoughts on Aspasia and Diotima

Feminist Theory

Gender and Open Source

Performativity: Draft of 3W Encyclopedia Entry

Essentialism: Draft of 3W Encyclopedia Entry

Whose Voices Get Heard? Gender Politics in the Blogosphere

Feminist Knowledge Claims and the Postmodern Critique

Identity Politics: Genealogy, Problems, Legitimacy

Theorizing Butler

Can Narrative Do the Work of Theory? A Look at Toni Morrison's Beloved

The Problem of Experience in Feminist Theory

On Theorizing Gender

Intersectionality, and I *Heart* Nomy Lamm

Notes on the Sex/Gender Distinction

Conference Notes

CCCC 2005

CCCC 2004

Feminisms and Rhetorics 2003

Two posts on Computers and Writing 2003

Roundtable on the Status of Qualitative Internet Research (from AoIR 2003)

Rhetoric Seminars

Seminar on Richard Fulkerson, "Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century," College Composition and Communication, June 2005 (56.4)

Composition Theory, "Good Writing," and -- Impending Theory Wars?

More on Fulkerson

Seminar on Kelly Ritter, "The Economics of Authorship: Online Paper Mills, Student Writers, and First-Year Composition," College Composition and Communication June 2005 (56.4)

"It don't matter. None of this matters." Or, composition pedagogy and Ritter's article on plagiarism

More on Authorship, Intellectual Property, "Templates," and Student Writing

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