Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blogging Communities (Readings, 9/18)

I was really intrigued by several things said about blogs in this week's readings. Barton's concept of the subjectivity and intimacy of blogs can lead to some interesting places in their academic use. The Colby et al article provided some fascinating perspectives on networked academic blogs as either a salon, a performance space, or the agora. Both of these articles make sense on their own, and there are some parts of each argument that I can completely buy. However, if these ideas are explicitly combined, and put in perspective with some phenomena I've experienced online, things can get really cool.

Unsurprisingly, this goes back to knitting for me. The knitting blogosphere is salon-like in that someone reading knitting blogs learns a great deal of intimate detail about those writing them (which also, of course, links back to Barton). Even though I read Modeknit/Knitting Heretic for knitting info, I'm still worried about the author's husband, who is going through treatment for a particularly ugly type of cancer. However, sharing this information has more of a purpose than simple intimate revelation for the author; it's sparked off debate and discussion about cancer prevention and treatment, as well as the fundraising for same, throughout the online knitting community. Part of this is due to basic human concern for someone who's suffering; part of this is due to Annie's fabulous snarkiness and wisdom. We care because she's earned her place in the salon.

The knitting blogosphere can be a place that allows someone to learn how to perform, both as a blogger and a "real knitter," through the encouragement of others and the sharing of information. Additionally, knitting podcasts have exploded in recent memory into a celebrity-making vehicle all their own.

Insofar as functioning like the agora, there's no question that this happens within the knitting blogosphere. After all, the Yarn Harlot has had a huge deal of influence over both knitting trends (many yarn store owners call the sales boost that anything she's working on experiences the Harlot Effect) and charity fundraising for her chosen causes, as she's rallied knitters to donate $339, 632 to Doctors Without Borders to date.

Okay, so thus far, knitblogging is fitting into each of the three types of activity set out by Colby et al. However, there's a larger function here, partially fed by the intimacy discussed by Barton, that really excites me: the formation of community.

The vast majority of knitbloggers are aware of the "stars" of the community. However, smaller networks also form, whether driven by blogrings or shared interests, where several bloggers are talking to each other on and through their blogs on a regular basis. Sounds a lot like the class blog, right? However, I find this phenomenon even more interesting in some ways, because these bloggers have, in many cases, never met. They've certainly never been put together and forced to interact as is done in a class. Still, they've formed a community of mutual support and exploration, much like the academy.

So, what interests me most here is the potential for this kind of interaction among scholars of all levels. I mean, interacting through class-based blogs is wonderful, no doubt, but what about this kind of interaction with no outside prompt? I've started to see this through networked research and work blogs held by academics; is there any way to encourage this phenomenon in other levels of learners? After all, the community formed here seems to be, in many ways, much like its own academy, but it's one without borders or compulsion, which can certainly spur learning in whole new ways.

This phenomenon is frustrating, as its deliberate creation by instructors is (by definition) impossible, but tantalizing. Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?


Kris said...

Hmmm, dare I say that the connection between salon, agora, performance, and the knitting blogosphere seems like a way cool way to develop a theoretical framework for the analysis in this particular genre of blogs, oh, say, for a dissertation? :-) How do the knit blogs fit into a "rhetorical tradition" of the women's circles of 19th century/early modern rhetorics, only recently recovered by feminist historiographers? Just some thoughts, but in relation to your last comments about scholarly blogs, you might want to talk to Meredith about the presentation she did for Penn State, where she interviewed some blog stars in our own disciplines, Ratliff, Mueller, Krause, etc.

Britt said...

Heather -- I'm with Kris. This is fascinating (though my saying "dissertation?" doesn't hold the same power that Kris's comment does so just know that I'm rooting for this). I love this post and while this isn't a useful comment (much like a "I like it" for peer review) I wanted to let you know that I read this and loved it :)