Sunday, March 3, 2013

Radical System -- Comments on Lopez's "Mommy Blogging" article

This article presents a discussion of the process that a group goes through in order to create, maintain and extend its identity. In this particular case, that group is a loosely connected association of women connected by two characteristics – they are bloggers and they are mothers.

The conception of mommy blogging as a radical act has merit – if only in terms of the acceptability of the premise that mothers can choose to develop their own idnetities and characterize them as they desire, so this response will focus on particular quibbles I have with some of Lopez’s assertions, suppositions and suggestions.

The first conceptual disagreement concerns Lopez’s facile and ultimately disingenuous interpretation of the public sphere as a gender-exclusive concept or space. The classic conception of the public sphere is about social status more than it is about gender – high society women had more opportunity to enter into bourgeois activities than did working class men.

Later in the article, Lopez discusses the commodification of the mommy moniker. Mommy Blogging is the yoking of the private (family) with the public (commercialization). It is, in fact, an example of Jurgen Habermas's social transformation of the public sphere come to life.

Careers (and conferences, fittingly) are made by arguments over what the public sphere is and is not, and the questionable invocation is almost irrelevant when compared to the serious methodological questions that arise from Lopez’s text. The most grievous error is the lack of detailed information about the sources and sites that she used to create her data set. She reports a “Google search” of the key phrase and shares that 21 blogs returned results, but does not explain what the sites are: Are they connected to Blogspot, LiveJournal, or other blog networks or are they altogether independent?  

Lopez also laments the “homogeneity” of her sample and I take this to mean that she was hoping for a much more diverse result. It is likely, however, that the sample is a fairly representative one and the problem is not with her sample (or perhaps even methodology) but with the medium of a very unique form of blog that poses the greatest problem to this study’s importance. The claim that the bloggers, 60 percent of whom were white, were “somewhat diverse” falls flat, even when compared against (as she does) the 74 percent overall whiteness of the “general internet population (734). Her odd choice to include an excerpt from Barbara Barnett that describes the important distinction of “race, class and sexual orientation” is particularly questionable, given the homogeneity she admits.

The language of blogs is, on the whole, informal across the board and that style is not unique to mommy blogging; followers of Andrew Sullivan, Kevin Drum, Ana Marie Cox or Josh Marshall could just as well feel a sense of closeness and affinity, even though they write about politics.

In some respects, the perception that non-mommy bloggers have of that group is similar to how journalists treat and regard sports journalists – “pretty good writer for a mommy blogger.”

Lopez’s characterization of the BlogHer 2006 conference is particularly puzzling. She seems to approve of the “entire session” dedicated to mommy blogging as radical act, but places too much emphasis on what a conference can or should do. She seems surprised that the conference did not bridge the gap between radical mommy bloggers and other female bloggers – but why would a conference created and supported by the establishment be imagined to do anything to dismantle that system?

A highlight and a point that is relevant beyond the narrow confine of the mommy-non mommy dichotomy is Lopez’s articulation that blog entries have no deliberate or required connection to other entries and therefore using a blog complicates the active construction of an organized, arranged self (738). For this reason, according to Lopez, “mommy blogger” is not a limiting phrase or characterization and in fact there is no real need or validity to putting any kind of adjective in front of the term blogger.

There is a contradiction later on in Lopez’s piece. She positions the mommy bloggers as being without an identity but explains that they have lack cohesion as a group. If there is no singular identity – that is, a set of qualities that can group and thereby allow relations – how can there collective action? This question is compounded when she lauds the mommy bloggers for creating a strong community – it is difficult to understand what position Lopez takes. Her examples point in myriad directions, with some data negating other data of the same kind.

“Radical act” might be too strong a term when weighed against other, already understood notions of radicalism. That does not mean, however, that a certain group of women should not have the right to self identify, but, at least in the way that Lopez sets the scene, it would appear that they are vying for a position within the system of the blogosphere, rather than calling for its upheaval. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.