This is a very quick post to say that I will be hosting the Down Under Feminist Carnival for this month (April). The optional theme is “Community”, specifically of the online feminist variety, but this theme can be broadly interpreted or ignored completely if you wish!
Submit posts at Blog Carnival throughout the month, but if you can’t access blog carnival, please email me at franceshaw AT gmail DOT com.
I’m very excited to be part of this Carnival, and look forward to seeing all the submissions. I welcome new and different voices as well as blogs that have been regularly featured.
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Although I’ve been doing a few interviews in dribs and drabs since November, I am only just really getting stuck into the fieldwork section of my research. This means that I’ve kind of stopped reading books and theories, writing preliminary papers etc., and have started to talk to people. I’ve already met some incredibly interesting (and kind and lovely!) people and gained many different perspectives on people’s experience of blogging. Thank you to all of those people who’ve shared their stories with me!
Last year I was wondering about, I guess, the partial nature of research online – you click on the links that interest you, and it’s no different if you’re a researcher, even if you’re subscribed to everything. I did a case study on the Triple J Hottest 100 debate from last year because it’s something I feel passionate about, and the activism that came out of that debate was remarkable, particularly the @Hottest100Women twitter vote. The same often goes for posts around issues of disability, discussions about race and racism in Australia, home birth-related or feminist motherhood related posts and blogs, some pop culture stuff more than others, and issues around fat acceptance. These are things that I will always click on and follow, because of my own interests in these things. Research is often partial, and the recognition of that is integral to feminist standpoint theory – but so is the centreing of women’s experience and women’s points of view (as opposed to my point of view!). So in my attempt to overcome a skewed vision of the community I used network analysis, a supposedly objective mapping of the community as it’s constructed through links and so forth, but this can only go so far.
In talking to women with blogs, I’ve realised two things; first – that everyone’s experience and understanding of the feminist blogosphere is different – for example, some people have come from a starting point of reading big US feminist blogs, and finding Australian blogs from there, while others remain largely uninterested in blogs outside the specifically Australian feminist blogosphere. Others don’t read a lot of other blogs at all. So answers to questions about whether the Australian feminist blogosphere exists as an entity become highly subjective. Secondly, that the blogs and discussions that have caught my eye and seemed most significant and discourse-challenging to me are also the posts that people repeatedly bring up as examples of important moments in the community for them. Which makes me hopeful that my reading of the community is not quite as skewed as I thought it might be.
I’m excited and nervous about the next part of my fieldwork, listening to bloggers all over Australia talk about their personal experience of both blogging and feminism. Although I have a basic theoretical framework worked out, so much of what my thesis will say will come from these interviews and what people tell me about what blogging means for them (which of course is part of that methodology and theory). So this where it really begins!
I’m also helping my supervisor to re-write a chapter for publication in a new edition of an edited collection. Which is difficult because I’m not really in a writing frame of mind, more of a listening/gathering ideas frame of mind. So I’m having some trouble with that, but trying to get it at least partly done before I head off around Australia next Wednesday.
Just moved house the weekend before last, so that’s also been disruptive (and expensive). In late March my partner and good friend / flatmate are taking me to the USA, a trip we’ve been planning for about a year now. Of course it comes at terrifyingly bad timing, but if I can get a lot of things done before we go then I can relax and enjoy myself.
I also wanted to write, at some point, about how much reading feminist blogs has changed my identity and my feminism, but that will have to wait for next time.
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Tags: fieldwork, interviews, methods, personal
This week I went to the APSA Conference at Macquarie Uni to give the first of my papers. I did my first year of uni at Macquarie, and it’s right near where I grew up, so it was kind of nice to be back there for a few days. It’s a beautiful campus (imho). I also met some very lovely and likeminded people.
Now I’m back at UNSW, trying to complete plans and preparations for next week’s travel while at the same time trying to ignore the fact that I seem to be sick AGAIN. Am looking forward to settling in to my Hilton bed in Milwaukee. Yeah. Not so much the 6 nights in an overpriced Chicago dosshouse. I bought a guidebook to Chicago yesterday and it looks like fun. I am a lucky kid.
But before I get back to travel planning, I want to address something that I noticed at the conference. There was a lot of papers given that were relevant to my research. The first day was chock-a-block with media politics stuff. The second day was chock-a-block with feminism and gender studies related stuff. In particular, I shared my morning session with two other young feminist scholars talking about (more or less) the state of contemporary feminism, and then in the afternoon there was an “intergenerational conversation” between Anne Summers, Marian Sawer and Emily Maguire.
The most worrying thing about this conversation (which I suppose was inevitable from the way it was framed and the people chosen to participate) was the development of a discourse in which contemporary feminism was framed in the following way: young women are alienated from feminism, young women are not angry (if anything they prefer to be/feel “empowered” rather than angry), there is no longer an external movement (as opposed to femocrats). Many people made excellent points, in particular Marian Sawer in saying that “empowerment” is no alternative to rage, and that anger is really necessary for social movement action. And also I was in agreement with a lot of what Emily Maguire said. But I was incredibly disappointed by the pervasiveness of (as someone said to me afterwards) this language of young women’s deficits. Also worrying is the repeated concept that young feminists should be considered as somehow separate and distinct from feminists who aren’t young. Also that if there are many young women who aren’t feminists (which I don’t deny), it follows that there is NO active women’s movement at all. I put up my hand and said, basically, young women ARE angry, and there IS a movement, but the conversation moved on very quickly from that. It’s a very unpopular position to hold, when the media constantly says that feminism is dead, but it is disappointing when feminists say it too. Because it brings up, again, the issue of INVISIBILITY. Young (and I hate making that distinction, because it seems less than meaningful to me, to distinguish between younger and older feminists) women, when they do engage in politics, are erased. Even in my session, the first speaker was basically reiterating the claim that young women are politically inactive, and when I stand up afterwards and say, well, look at all these feminists doing amazing things online in overtly political and active ways and then for there to be a conversation afterwards about how young women aren’t active in feminism…
I don’t know, cognitive dissonance. Am I being a crazy idealist in thinking that was is happening in the feminist blogosphere is huge and amazing? I don’t think so. And I thought that all that is necessary is for people to be aware of it and see the incredible activism that is going on. But perhaps I was wrong, and the investment in the idea that feminism is in abeyance has a much greater hold. You understand, I am not disagreeing that there is a lot of hostility to feminist ideas at this point in time, but I strongly disagree that feminism has been rendered inactive as a result.
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First of all, today is my Uni presentation / Postgrad seminar / practice-run for the conferences I’ll be attending over the next few weeks. That’s in 2.5 hours. I am totes hanging out for Beta Blockers, but am pretty happy with the written-up speech itself.
Secondly, the first paper has been accepted and I’ll be giving that at APSA on the 28th of September I believe. Here’s that paper, and also the second paper for the US conference. Both papers are available for viewing on Scribd.
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So I guess this blog has failed as an academic blog.
To be honest I am not comfortable (after 10 years of personal blogging) excluding my self, my life from blogging style writing. Attempts to separate the personal from the academic on this blog meant that I diverted academic stuff to my academic work, and personal stuff to my personal blog, which left nothing left for this page.
So the focus of this blog is going to change, to include more of my experience of writing a phd, and other things that I care about. This seems a hell of a lot more authentic. A lot of my academic notes are in dribs and drabs rather than fully formed posts (if something is fully formed, then wouldn’t I just write it in a paper or something?). A more personal style allows me to bring these dribs and drabs together without committing to them intellectually.
So I will do that.
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While recognising the importance of culture in the process of social change, Melucci (1996, 36-37) artificially separates the cultural from the political. In his view there are social movement actors who prepare the public for political change through cultural discourse, and other actors who then “process” the issue through “political means”. But cultural politics is itself part of political change. Politics can’t be divorced from everyday life, from the opinions expressed in living rooms, from the discourse that occurs in classrooms, workplaces and online forums.
He celebrates the way that contemporary movements “challenge the modern separation between the public and the private” (Melucci 1996, 102) while maintaining a corresponding dichotomy, that between the cultural (private) and the political (public). This seems like an unnecessary distinction to draw, especially in light of his analysis of the way in which political conflict is bred of personal experience. He explains how “society […] intervenes in the very roots of individual life”, breeding “crucial social conflicts, in which new powers and new forms of resistance and opposition confront each other” (Melucci 1996, 106). In light of this explanation, the distinction between the cultural and the political is superfluous, since politics takes place at the level of everyday life.
Melucci (1996, 121) describes power as “so finely interwoven with the structures of daily life” that “the call for the power to be rendered visible, for the asymmetry of social relationships to be laid bare” is therefore itself antagonistic to power. And yet this apparently occurs at the level of “culture” rather than “politics”. Feminist discourse carries this call to lay bare the foundations of inequality, yet the discourse of women is elsewhere described as a “useless surplus” of “cultural production” (Melucci 1996, 138). While Melucci here is arguing, in fact, that this apparently useless surplus has productive results in the women’s movement, he is also constructing women’s politics/discourse/culture/surplus in an unnecessary subdivision which removes women twice from approaching political agency. He does this first by separating women’s cultural production from the intentional cultural work of social movement actors described above – the surplus of women’s cultural production (the “waste”) unintentionally or even accidentally leads to discursive change. He then does this again by separating the cultural from the political, locating cultural change in people’s heads.
Something I find very frustrating about social movement theory in general is the tendency to break social movements up into increasingly abstract constituent elements which are also defined abstractly in terms of “processes” and “structures”. We need to find a balance between the abstract and the specific; an approach that is conceptually rich but not bogged down in term definition and term coinage or the division of “processes” into their various “aspects”. Such a theoretical approach actually conceptually removes us as theorists from the reality of people-in-social-movements and obscures rather than clarifies our understanding of social movements. This is partly because the reification of social processes removes social agency from individual actors but also because the division of social movement “processes” into “aspects” through the use of abstractly defined terms which are then repeated mantra-like in social movement literature is essentially the reproduction of meaninglessness.
We need to use words which have meaning in and of themselves, to describe social action, i.e., the ways that individuals act to change their worlds. This is an inherently interesting subject, so there is no need for papers to be cluttered with double-barrelled abstractions.
Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity: So Bauman’s conclusion that society has become individualised to the point that an individual blames herself for her problems rather than blaming the system is a useful one. However, Bauman’s other conclusion that network communities are ‘peg’ communities (Bauman 2000, 37), momentary and thus meaningless, erratic responses to temporary anxieties, is premature. Firstly, this conclusion, in its denigration of the value of sharing intimacies (described here as the invasion of public space by “the private”) fails to note that recognition of systemic failures will never be understood without the recognition of shared private problems (since he has already argued that social problems have been privatised). It also reifies the notion of “public life” as a space free of emotion etc. and thus a rational space, a problematic position that yearns for a return to a neat division of these spheres, a position that leads to the exclusion of those who are associated with “private” concerns – the affective and the emotion (i.e. women).
Thoughts on reading In a Winding Snarling Vine:
It’s important to understand people as the primary agents in social processes, rather than reifying the processes themselves. Such a reification leads to determinism, whether technological, structural, linguistic or otherwise. The recognition of the agency of people is a guiding principle in my approach.
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