Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Gender and Academic Blogging

Melissa Click and Nina Huntemann have an article in Flow on the gender disparity in media-studies blogging.  It's a great read and outlines what I imagine to be widespread concern that blogging might unconsciously replicate gender, race, and class divides in our field(s). I'll add just a few thoughts.

First, the authors note that "The career benefits of blogging are undeniable." The matter is not self-evident, however. Respondents may feel their careers benefit, but those blogging are inclined to think so. They may also be a self-selected group whose careers do benefit. I, mean, I hope the Click and Huntemann are right, but I cannot be fully confident.

Second, the article attributes gender disparity to the types of blogging: "So why don't female media scholars blog?" they write. "Of course many do, but part of women's perceived invisibility is bound up with what counts as a media studies blog. If journal style blogs and journal/k-log hybrids are not perceived as making important contributions to the field, then many scholarly blogs written by women do not appear on the collective media studies radar." Point taken, but the question I have is this: female scholars are absolutely no more likely to weave personal experience into their scholarship and are no less likely to adopt an abstract expository writing voice. I see no gender divide in the style of scholarly writing (even as gender divides poke their head up repeatedly in objects of study, or the role of feminist analysis). Why, then, does online academic writing become the place for a split approach?

Third, I wonder if a broader pattern in blog consumption contributes. And I mean consumption of non-academic blogs. I know I developed much of my template for this blog - and adopted what Click and Huntemann call knowledge-logging - by reading current events and political blogs - and academic blogs inspired by such k-log blogs. I have no evidence that women academics who blog read fewer of these blogs, but I can say I read next to no LiveJournal-type blogs, so at least on my end consumption may encourage a gendered blogging behavior.

I will concede that blogging continues to see a gender and racial divide in film studies and only moderately less so in media studies. But class is different: blogging, in fact, is the one countervailing tendency I can foresee to work against aggregation of social capital. Networking serves positive functions in the academy, but too often things get based on scholarly cliques, on who one went to graduate school with, and on program reputations. Blogging offers a real possibility to expand conversations beyond institutional walls.

3 comments:

Dave said...

One clear route for reversal might be academia-sanctioned LiveJournal groups! In music criticism, I think that there's any interesting distinction between obviously gendered (the bulk of indie music blogs are male-centric in terms of writers, contributors, commenters) and more gender-neutral (pop blogs I read tend to be fairly equal in terms of gender distribution of contributors). But on LiveJournal, almost ALL major critical groups I'm aware of are fairly 50/50 gender-wise -- case in point being the excellent (full disclosure: I contribute!) Poptimists community. But it's even difficult to convince non-academic dilettante (and/or "academic hobbyist") types that LiveJournal criticism has any real critical legitimacy (which it does), and I can imagine this is even more difficult to recognize for an established academic field.

But more community-oriented media studies blogging on a template that might be more "friendly" to academic consideration (a regular old dot-com) might be a good way to attempt to erase these kinds of distinctions via gender balance in moderation/main contributors, though admittedly my knowledge of media studies blogging is close to nil.

Also, is it common in media studies for contributors who are not already recognized within academia to build any kind of credibility through blogging? My (extremely limited) experience suggests that most blogs are a consistent venue for people who already significantly contribute to academic writing/conferences to maintain some visibility, as opposed to allowing lower totem-pole figures to "break out" -- but I could be completely wrong about this. In music crit there tend to just be too many blogs to allow this kind of rags-to-riches blog-to-wider-credibility story to happen, save for people who happen to hit particular zeitgeists (preceding a major blogging wave or finding under-represented niches that allow for some publication crossover).

Chris Cagle said...

Dave,

I like your comparisons to music-crit blogs, though I'm going to have to look more at those to see what comparisons hold.

You're right that academic blogs are addenda to professional careers established through traditional means (graduate education, reviewed publication).

Dave said...

Hm, I think my point there, if I actually made one, was that any disparity within academia between men/women would, logically, be essentially identical within blogging if "professional extension" were the case. Whereas non-sanctioned or only quasi-academic media studies bloggers (perhaps people who are technically inside academia but don't do the conference circuit etc.) would have a potential greater voice through blogging than they would (e.g.) on the conference circuit and through peer review. Which is to say that online venues hold promise only to the extent that the wider field recognizes the promising venues as legitimate ones. (Music criticism has never really been taken up by academia, save for some dabbling in cultural studies and maybe ethnomusicology or musicology, neither of which have significantly absorbed rock/pop music criticism, so the legitimacy distinctions tend to be fairly makeshift all around -- popular message boards and online publications might effectively have as much credibility as, e.g., the Experience Music Project conferences.)