Public, Private, Political: Social Theories and Blogging Practices

Public, Private, Political: Social Theories and Blogging Practices (Jerz’s CCCC 05 Notes)

The first panel I attended, Wednesday evening.

Lanette Cadle, Bowling Green State University, presented “Their Own Space: Adolescent Girls and the Personal Weblog.”

“At Livejournal, girls rule.”

67% are women, and the site features over 2 million active blogs. Yet women are under-represented in online research. Cynthia Gannet discusses the gender split between the historic concept of the journal and the diary. Cadle sees LiveJournal as a remediation of the traditionally feminine form of the diary.

Cadle referred to Bolter and Grusin’s Remediation (which I’ve used as a textbook in my Media Aesthetics class.)

She referred to the tradition of passing around diaries at slumber parties, and suggested that accessing online journals (merely?) speeds up the socialization that paper diaries already enable.

She offered this taxonomy of diarist entries:

  • Daily Log
  • Vents and raves
  • Links
  • Comments
  • Quizzes
  • Memes
  • Images

New to me: The “friends cut” — a threat to drop someone from your “friends” list unless they post a comment. A quick way to find out who’s actually reading your blog.

She studied the public, friends-only, and private entries from blogs written by girls 15 and 16. (During the Q & A I asked for more details about how she found these girls – they are all friends of her daughters, who mediated for her.)

She suggests that our students know about technology, but they may keep quiet. Case study: a young blogger who dislikes writing in school, doesn’t get credit in school for the technical skills she’s developed.

Students are developing a habit of writing, reflective habits,

Blogs enact “Women’s ways of knowing.”

Blogs accelerate the process of identity construction, while maintaining the fluidity of that identity.

***

Daisy Pignetti, University of South Florida, Tampa

“The Public (Blogo)Sphere: Civic Discourse and Grassroots Endeavors”

Since Cadle examined teen angst diaries, it seemed fitting that Pignetti examined political blogs – the intensely personal and the intensely political being the two kinds of blogs that the mainstream media typically examines.

Pignetti noted that the GWBush blogs have all rebranded themselves as GOP sites. This seems to short-circuit whatever grassroots push there was for Bush.

Meanwhile, the “Deaniacs” who were “desperate for change” have also adjusted their online activities.

According to Pignetti, this campaign more than any other achieved a sense of Habermas’s public sphere.

She noted Joe Trippi’s reason for using the internet “You had trust in strangers again.”

The feeling among the Deaniacs is that blogging encourages us to try to walk in each other’s shoes, which is an appealing notion for grassroots organizers.

Pignetti finds this attitude a bit idealistic for a blog used for political purposes. Nevertheless, the loose organization of the Dean campaign fits well with blogging.

She cited Dan Gillmor’s assessment of the Deanblog is a “genuine community.” The organization took huge risks, trusted people from the edges to run the campaign.

“So,” Pignetti asked, “why didn’t it work?” It’s not egalitarian there (in the Bush camp), but they won. How can we start using technology to make it more democratic and a more egalitarian space?

Moving over to the Bush blog, Pignetti noted that the site doesn’t permit interaction… not even in “grassroots” category. Nearly every post was signed with titles, Bush twins blog mostly listed their events, again prohibiting comments, with “posts that read a little bit more like press releases than a diary form.”

The Bush sites feature no blogroll, no posts included links. A ZIP code search permitted Bush supporters to meet other supporters in their neighborhood, but the site itself did not facilitate (or record) such contacts.

Conclusion: If egalitarian discourse is more important, but the current winning model is more elitist… turn to Habermas to find out what we can use with this technology. (My eyes glazed over here… Habermas is on my “I really should read” list, but I confess it’s not very high on that list.)

The political blog gets attention from the mainstream media…

Education is required, for journalists, bloggers, liberals and conservatives. Dean’s campaign was a turning point, and in 2008 technology will be even more important, including blogs, but also including tech we don’t know about now. This new technology will help blogs morph into something else, leading to new possibilities for personal reaction.

My thoughts:

While it’s true that the Bush site doesn’t feature a true blog, neither did the Kerry site. Just because the Bush campaign doesn’t itself support grassroots activism doesn’t mean that the conservative bloggers aren’t finding other ways to use the power of the internet. (Consider Dan Rather.) And it wasn’t Bush that defeated Dean, it was the Democrats, who nominated Kerry instead. I’d like to see these issues examined, should Pignetti expand her talk for future publication.

On her blog, I have followed Pignetti’s interest in the Dean campaign, which she expresses both through scholarship and her own political activism.

In the classroom I strive to maintain a neutral pose on most issues, which sometimes infuriates my students since I won’t give my opinion. I tell them that I do have political convictions, that I did vote, and that I think certain things are right and certain things are wrong. But I’m more interested in getting everyone in the class to think about alternatives, other ways of “knowing,” and respectful conversations. I tell my students that it is impossible for a human being to be completely unbiased, but that if we are aware of our biases, and we make a conscious effort to account for them, then we can be fair. (At the very least, we’ll be more aware of biased news coverage.)

***

Clancy Ratliff, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, “The Parental is Political: Gender, Punditry, and Weblogs.”

Ratliff mentioned that the community norms of blogging are traceable to the norms that had formed around forums and other electronic spaces. But she suggested that blogs provide authors with a little more opportunity to talk with people who disagree with you. Discussion boards focused on feminism or environmentalism tend to have a homogenous community “with a little wiggle room” where debate might take place, but where radically opposed opinions aren’t likely to be prominent.

By contrast, a blogger typically features a a blogroll may have links to people farther on the left than you and on the right… but a traditional e-forum would assume that someone voicing a different opinion is a troll.

Ratliff mentioned the recurring online meme, where are the women political bloggers? She observed that bloggers have found that “being sexy gets you readers,” and referred to gendered terms such as link whore and link slut.

She suggested, without wholly embracing, a few ways that men and women are generally considered to differ: women are more reflective, men are more like pundits, making pronouncements. Because men use more violent images and more sports metaphors, they may tend to spark rebuttals more than women do.

Other reasons why there may be fewer female political pundits: women use pseudonyms more than men (thus they may be out there in the blogosphere, but because they aren’t identifying themselves as females, they are uncountable).

Women aren’t perceived as blogging about politics… but Ratliff mentioned a Bitch Ph.D. blog that made a political point through telling a story about a mother’
s encounter with rats. At first glance, it appears to be a personal anecdote, of the kind found on the “mommy blog,” but it is political, even if it doesn’t mention legislation or name names (as a more overtly political male blogger is presumably more likely to do).

(Incidentally, James Lileks has a habit of blends political punditry with personal material more closely associated with the feminine diaristic style of writing would probably be productive. He alternates between venom-dipped fisks and charming stories about his daughter “Gnat.” Some of the writing he did right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks were extremely powerful rhetorical constructions that clearly resonated with scores of bloggers who linked to his work.)

This line was in my notes. I don’t know what it means: “Hrring, Computer Mediated Communication” Was that supposed to be “hiring”? (Any ideas, Clancy?)

Ratlilff noted that in most online communication contexts, the minority gender conforms to the majority gender. Thus, she queried the stereotypes of the informative male and the interactive female.

Like Pignetti, Ratliff concluded with a gesture towards Habermas – but thankfully for me, went on to note that Habermas finds that the public political sphere emerges with the decline of the monarchy, and that competing private interests has led to the decline of the public sphere.

A few personal notes:

I’ve seen Clancy speak before, but this time I was struck by how clearly her rhetorical training influenced the delivery of her speech. She started off with a careful preview – what I call the “blueprint” – telling her audience she is about to say. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say “umm” or lose a thought in the middle of a sentence, which is something I fear I do far too often. During a brief period of time when carpal tunnel syndrome forced me to dictate my comments on student papers, I found that my classroom presentation style improved dramatically.

Last year, when I first met Clancy, after having interacted with her for a long time on KairosNews, she said that she expected me to be “a big burly lumberjack guy, with a full, thick beard,” and attributed her expectation to my opinionated writing style. (Since then I’ve grown a beard, though I like keeping it trimmed.)

Brief Reflection on All Three Sessions

The private, the political, and gender in the SHU blogosphere

I’m increasingly seeing students who come to my classes with years of experience blogging in a social context. They sometimes struggle to learn the proper register for writing an academic blog, but so far all the students who have identified themselves as committed personal blogger have been able to develop the additional skill that enables them to write more professionally when necessary.

We have a blog for the College Republicans, but no opposing group has requested a blog. One student recently presented a liberal opinion, using a few rhetorical questions in his post, and including an attack on the Catholic church. When a few conservative bloggers responded with answers to those questions, he felt he was being attacked, and deleted their comments. A different student (whose opinions are moderate-to-liberal) gently pointed out that deleting opinions that you disagree with is missing the point of having a blog in the first place.

Most students at SHU, and most student bloggers at SHU, are women. The male bloggers who are the most active on the site include two professors and one student who has never taken one of my classes. Most of the “bloginators” (the committed bloggers who write far more than the syllabus requires) are women. On average, the men write fewer entries, but for some reason they attract a disproportionately higher number of comments per post.

A great panel, and a wonderful way to start off my CCCC experience.