This continues a series of posts that, all together, comprise my literature review for my Master’s thesis research. You can view all of the posts by clicking here.
What follows is a brief section about my theoretical framework for my project. Enjoy!
Feminist activists online use blogs and websites to disseminate information, and they use their unique experiences as women in order to write about woman issues, but how do they create a community of feminists online in order to share information and reach an audience? The easy answer to this is that they use literacy practices to connect with other feminist writers online. I plan to interview several feminist bloggers about their literacy practices and analyze their answers according to John F. Szwed’s five elements of a literacy event in order to find similarities and discrepancies between the bloggers’ answers, as well as gain a better definition of feminism and feminist blogging. Szwed uses five categories – text, or what is being written; context, or under what circumstances the reading and writing is being done; function, or what purposes and uses the reading and writing served; participants, or who is involved in their reading and writing process; and motivation, or what tensions, desires, or needs motivate the writers and readers – to analyze literacy events. By breaking up the information presented to me through interviews with bloggers into these five categories, I can analyze the information and look for patterns and discrepancies between the bloggers’ processes of reading and writing online. This, in turn, will help me come to conclusions about how communities are formed online through literacy events.
Completing an ethnography about several writers’ literacy practices online and deciphering how these writers create a community online will be a difficult task; each blogger’s style can be so different and it takes a community of people to spread the word about blogs in order to get the kind of readership needed for real change. Also, the nature of the internet is such that there is no one “site” to observe. Therefore, I have decided that this study of feminist bloggers must be a combination of a participant-observation research of a field site and ethnographic interviews in order to complete a discourse centered online ethnography. According to this article by Jannis Androutsopoulos, an online ethnography “combines the systematic observation of selected sites of online discourse with direct contact with its social actors” (2). I will be using several feminist blogs as sites and evidence of texts, and I will also conduct several interviews with the bloggers themselves to collect their ideas of literacy and how this burgeoning technology effects how they read, write, discuss, and share information. I will use Androutsopoulos’ definition and outline of an online ethnography to form my methodology for this project.
However, throughout this project, I must keep in mind that I am not only an observer of this community, but I am also a participant of it. In her article, “Friendship, Friendliness, and Feminist Fieldwork,” Gesa Kirsch illuminates possible problems with friendships and how they interact with fieldwork and posits the following advice: “Unlike friendships, which develop over time and are built on reciprocal trust and shared information and activities, interviews are likely to be asymmetrical interactions, with one party—the party generally with the most institutional power—asking the questions and the other answering. While feminists have worked hard to make these interactions mutually beneficial, to encourage the exchange of information, and even to propose the possibility of a friendship between researcher and participant, such relationships are still based in large part on an interview process whereby the flow of information is one-sided” (2165). Feminists work to undo patriarchy and power relations on every level, and the power relationship between interviewer and interviewee is no different. In order to conduct an interview that is mutually beneficial and does not play in to a hierarchical power structure, I must keep the interviews open to dialogue and input. Luckily, I already know some of the prospective participants from my undergraduate studies, and all of them are people with whom I have shaped an online relationship already, which will help me conduct these interviews. Although it will be beneficial, my previous involvement in this community could also cause bias in my research, as well as in the gathering of data, which is also something of which I must be aware.