I was listening to CBC this morning on my drive in, and I heard Dr. Keren (who is giving a talk on Friday on the Blogosphere) discuss about his new book. He is doing a reading at a bookstore in Feb, so I am going to try and catch him then.

This is the release for his talk:

This journey through blogosphere highlights major forces operating in today’s politics: apathy toward political affairs,

resistance to globalization, a quest for redemption through religious

fundamentalism and terrorism. Michael Keren compares bloggers to terrorists,

arguing that while the methods advocated by the two groups are obviously

very different, they both represent a similar trend, one of diversion by

respected but disenchanted citizens from the norms of civil society to a

fantasy world in which the excessive use of words-or bombs-would make

everybody listen.


Day: Friday, February 2, 2007

Room: SS729

Time: 12:00 Noon

The main debate for sociologists studying online culture has been whether or not we can call online social aggregates “communities” in the “true” sense of the word, and whether or not people are using this form of communication as a “replacement” for face to face communication. There are many academics who say “no,” and we need to start mourning the loss of “real” communities, and that people participating in online culture (whether it be through blogs, games, or other forms of online communications) are doing so at the expense of making “real” connections.

This is, from listening to Dr. Keren, is one of his main arguments. He talks about this woman who blogs about her cats, and how when one of the cats died, that her “blogging community” (i.e. the people who read and respond to her blog), were in mourning. He noted that at this time there were “important” political events going on in the world at that time, and notes how he checked the newspaper that day and found that it occurred on the same day as the big SARS outbreak…

I think Keren, and other academics who are studying online communities, blogs, etc. have a point – it cannot be denied, that when looking at a woman blogging about her cats, and the community going into mourning when one of them dies, seems, you know, kind of weird.

Yet, on the other hand, my thinking on this is that it isn’t my job as sociologist to make these kind of statements about the people I am studying; it is not my place to impose a moral code of what “should” give someone a sense of community, how they connect, what they “should” be paying attention to in the world, what they should be blogging about… etc. etc. etc. Is this my place to say to this woman and her readers that they are being “silly” because there are “important” things going on in the world? After all, its just a cat right? Further – a cat most of these people have never even seen in real life.

Or can we look at it from the opposite angle: that this woman, who felt a great deal of affection for her cats, would have been in solitary mourning over her loss… after all, it’s just a cat! Yet, here she has this dense community of people who are providing support, giving their sympathy, etc.


6 thoughts on “Blogosphere

  1. I agree, Paul. I think sociology has 2 capabilities: one is to study things thoroughly, meticulously, and respectfully, resulting in a richness in detail that few other disciplines could touch, and the second is to study things from a completely moralistic standpoint and impose that upon those who are being studied. I always thought this was especially true in the case of crime and deviance, but apparently it’s spreading to the other sub-disciplines.

    Although I think this sounds like a fascinating topic, I disagree with Keren’s assertion that people are choosing only to blog about ‘trivial’ matters. While there are many blogs that don’t explore issues of great depth, alongside those are blogs that closely watch and critique social issues and developments. For example, I have discovered in my own research that an important impetus for increased criminal justice intervention in cases of violence against prostitutes started at the grassroots level with blogs. Children, friends, and grass-roots community organizations started blogging about these issues, demanding more ‘justice’ for the women they knew, and eventually it filtered up to the level of the RCMP, the UN, and Amnesty International.

    I do realize by offering this example, it appears as though I’m playing the same game of deciphering what’s ‘important’ content and what’s not. That’s certainly not my intention. As Arthur Frank always points out, the work of Goffman always reminds us that what may seem trivial, unimportant or mundane may actually be enormously rich in sociological detial.

  2. When I read the post as a political scientist, one of the things I found interesting is this idea that communities represent a zero-sum game. That is, on-line communities thrive at the expense of “real-life”/traditional community. I don’t think this is the case, but if this IS a bent in the literature, I’d be curious to hear what is its theoretical justification. The cynic in me thinks it’s probably a vestige of the Cold War ….

    Another idea I had was whether online communities allow people to express ideas and the like that are normally considered inappropriate in traditional forums. For example, no one is going to go on and on about their cats over cocktails (except, perhaps when I want to torture my friends a bit), but posting about them on a forum or blog dedicated to that particular purpose seems harmless if not healthy.

    Personally, mourning a dead pet is not eye-roll worthy. What is, however, is a PhD student from Winnipeg emailing POLCAN (poli-sci list serv run through the Canadian Political Science Asssociation) to let us all know he has a political blog and that he thinks there aren’t enough of them out there … and that all his potential employers should read his in their spare time.

  3. Wow – this is most likely a guy that has not read the literature on blogging and academic hiring.

    Blogs (as my post above so clearly demonstrated) are often tossed out there, only briefly edited, and sometimes, flat out embarrassing. I have heard from numerous sources that academic hiring committees can look down on graduate students who blog, because it says to them that “they have too much time on their hands”

    Of course, I think that this is bullshit, and have often remarked that a department that wouldn’t hire me because of my blog is not a department that I would ever want to work for.

    That said, there is a reason I don’t blog with my full name. I make no secret of who I am, but I am not putting my name out there for someone to google me, read two things on my blog, and then make a decision on who I am .

  4. Becca,
    We had this very discussion yesterday in Theory class – the topic of blogging as resistance. Art wasn’t convinced that they did much at all, but I pointed out the case of Howard Dean, who had a flood of support for his bid to be the leader of the Democrats in the last US Election. Almost all of his “grassroots” support came from the blogosphere.

    I think there is real potential for blogging, but that change, as always, is slow.

  5. After having had some time for reflection, removed from the loaded gun pointed at my temple that is the Theory Presentation, I must go back on my assertion of the internet as being a possible site of resistance. Truth is, at any point, we can be shut down. There are plenty of countries throughout the world, non-democratic maybe, but a reality nonetheless, where subversive thought is filtered and eliminated. There is really no way to say whether or not that will ever be our reality, but I am inclined to fear the possibility.

  6. Just from a simple mind…if someone in the ‘real world’ loses a pet, tells their friends about it, they will sympathise with them (mourning?); if the blogger has a community of friends, would their support be shown in a similar fashion? Again nothing deep, just logical to me.

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