Blog reading and writing by gender, 2000-2010

Blog reading and writing by gender, 2000 - 2010 graph | Pew Internet
Blog reading and writing by gender, 2000 - 2010 | Pew Internet

Gender and blogging

Why is food blogging so dominated by women? I don’t have exact results on this question back yet so I cannot tell you precisely how female-dominated the food blogs are, but I would confidently bet that 85% or more are written by women.

So that got me thinking: are blogs in general female-dominated?

I already knew that was not true – political blogs and tech blogs are often written by men. But I wanted to know with some evidence better than my own hunch just what the gender balance in blogging is overall. As you can see above, it’s pretty evenly split these days. About 14% of women and 14% of men contributed to their own blog or online journal the last time Pew asked that question. This shows us that blogging itself is not the gendered-gate. Equal amounts of men and women are making it into the practice of blogging but the content they blog is refracted through a gendering lens. Women appear to dominate not only food blogs but also baby blogs (aka mommy blogs), fashion blogs, and design blogs. Men appear to dominate political and tech blogs.

This study is not the only one that comes in and disproves the idea that cyber communities are doing the work of revolutionizing gender practice. But it will offer another drop in the bucket. Thanks to Pew’s long-standing commitment to researching the internet, I can at least assure myself in this case, that it isn’t technology itself which produces gendered practices. Women and men are equally likely to post blogs. They just end up in gender-homogenous topical arenas in the blogosphere.

The Unintended Consequences of Obsessing Over Consequences (or why to support youth risk-taking)

Developmental psychologists love to remind us that the frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until humans are in their mid-20s. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for our ability to assess the consequences of our decisions, our ability to understand how what we do will play out into the future. This is often used to explain why teens (and, increasingly, college-aged people) lack the cognitive ability to be wise. Following from this logic, there’s a belief that we must protect the vulnerable young people from their actions because they don’t understand their consequences.

This logic assumes that understanding future consequences is *better* than not understanding them. I’m not sure that I believe this to be true.

Certainly, when we send young people off to fight our wars, we don’t want them to think about the consequences of what they have to do to survive (and, thus, help us survive). It’s not that we want them to shoot first and ask questions later, but we don’t want them to overthink their survival instincts when they’re being shot at.

Reproduction is an interesting counter-example. There’s no doubt that teens moms do little in the way of thinking about the consequence of getting pregnant. But folks in their 30s spend an obscene amount of time thinking about what it means to reproduce. Intensive parenting is clearly the product of constantly thinking about consequences, but I’m not sure that it’s actually healthier for kids or parents. I would hypothesize that biology wins when we don’t overthink parenting while the planet (as a delicate environmental ecosystem that can barely support the population) wins when we do overthink these things. Just a guess.

Creativity is another interesting area. We often talk about how older people are more rigid in their thinking. I love listening to mathematicians discuss whether or not someone who has not had a breakthrough insight in their 20s can have one in their 40s/50s. Certainly in the tech industry, we’re obsessed with youth. But our obsession in many ways is rooted in risk-taking, in not thinking too much about the future.

As I get older, I’m painfully aware of my brain getting more ‘conservative’ (not in a political sense). I am more strategic in my thinking, more judgmental of people who just try something radical. I spend a lot more time telling the little voice of fear and anxiety and neuroticism to STFU. I look back at my younger years and reflect on how stupid I was and then I laugh when I think about how well some of my more ridiculous ideas paid off. I find myself actually thinking about consequences before taking risks and then I get really annoyed at myself because I’ve always prided myself on my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants quality. In short, I can feel myself getting old and I think it’s really weird.

Most people judge from their current mental mindset, unable to remember a different mindset. Thus, I totally get why most people, if they’re undergoing the cognitive transition that I’ve watched myself do, would see young people’s risk-taking as inherently horrible. Sure, old folks respect the outcomes of some youth who change the world. But since most people don’t become Mark Zuckerberg, there’s more pressure to protect (and, often, confine) youth than to encourage their radical risk taking. And, of course, most risk-taking doesn’t result in a billion dollar valuation. Hell, most risk-taking has no chance of paying off. But it’s a weird, connected package. The same mindset that propelled me to do some seriously reckless, outright dangerous, and sometimes illegal things also prompted me to never say no to other institutional authorities in ways that allowed me to succeed professionally. This is why I don’t regret even the stupidist of things that I did as a youth. Of course, I’m also damn lucky that I never got caught.

I’m worried about our societal assumption that risk-taking without thinking of the consequences is an inherently bad thing. We need some radical thinking to solve many of the world’s biggest problems. And I don’t believe that it’s so easy to separate out what adults perceive as ‘good’ risk-taking from what they think is ‘bad’ risk-taking. But how many brilliant minds will we destroy by punishing their radical acts of defying authority? How many brilliant minds will we destroy by punishing them for ‘being stupid’? It’s easy to get caught up in a binary of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ when all that you can think about is the consequences. But change has never happened when people simply play by the rules. You have to break the rules to create a better society. And I don’t think that it’s easy to do this when you’re always thinking about the consequences of your actions.

I’m not arguing for anarchy. I’m too old for that. But I am arguing that we should question our assumption that people are better off when they have the cognitive capacity to think through consequences. Or that society is better off when all individuals have that mental capability. From my perspective, there are definitely pros and cons to overthinking and while there are certainly cases where future-aware thought is helpful, there are also cases where it’s not. And I also think that there are some serious consequences of imprisoning youth until they grow up.

Anyhow, fun thoughts to munch on this weekend…

The Oversharer (and Other Social Media Experiments)

What new norms are we evolving via the use of social media?

Way back in 1967 sociologist Harold Garfinkel proposed that the social world was filled with hidden rules for behavior that were so taken for granted it could be very difficult to notice them even if you tried to.  To make this point he famously sent his college students home for spring break with an assignment: He asked them to “spend from fifteen minutes to an hour in their homes imagining that they were boarders and acting out this assumption” (p. 38). In short, they were to be polite to their families and note what happened.

It turns out that people aren’t polite to family.

As family norms were broken the result was often pandemonium.  Unsuspecting family members quickly diagnosed their children as ill… or even insane. Speaking politely to your parents is so unusual that most families took it as cruel mockery, or as a kind of elaborate, unsuccessful joke.  Students found the experience unaccountably stressful, given the apparently innocuous instructions. Garfinkel’s experiment is now widely known as “the lodger” or “the boarder.”  He advocated this technique of de-familiarizing everyday life by challenging some unstated assumption as a way to discover the existence of hidden norms.  He called it “breaching.”

What would Garfinkel’s breaching experiment look like if we designed it to investigate emerging norms in social media?  In the class that I teach at the University of Illinois called Communication Technology and Society we set out to figure this out.  Here is a sampling of some of the breaching experiments we designed and conducted.  (Siddhartha Raja, Matthew Yapchaian, Dawn Nafus, and Ken Anderson contributed to this list.)

I’ll list the experiments here but not the results.  Note that a few of them produced results we did not expect.  Dear Internet: Can you think of any other social media norms to investigate with norm breaching experiments? This is like making your own failbook for the sake of science. All new Garfinkels welcomed.

Social Media Norm Breaching Experiments

  • CHATTY FLICKR MARKUP: Sign up for an account and find users on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/) that you do not know. Try to start a conversation with them using the “add note” tool and the “add your comment” box to mark an image that they have uploaded. Try varying the kind of image you comment on from those that are very personal (wedding, kids birthdays, etc.) to those that are very impersonal (buildings, landscapes) and see how the reactions vary. Note that you may have to post a lot of notes and comments to get any reaction. You may have to try different and creative strategies to get people to respond to you. Describe the reactions.
  • GCHAT STRANGER. If you have a gmail account already, use gchat to begin chat conversations with people that you don’t know (or don’t know very well). Vary the kinds of things you say to see if you can get them to start a chat conversation with you. Describe what kind of chat message will successfully get a stranger to chat with you on gchat. Remember to be polite and respectful at all times. Note: You may have to try to gchat A LOT before you get someone to respond to you. Do not keep trying the same people if they do not respond.
  • WAY OFF TOPIC. On Facebook or a similar site that has threaded conversation (e.g., status updates with replies), over a period of three days leave a large number of comments that are all completely and obviously off-topic and not relevant to the thread. For this to work, there can be no relation between the reply and the topic at all; just start talking about something else. If you like, address some of them to the wrong person as well. Describe the results.
  • FACEBOOK WALL INQUISITOR. On Facebook, friend five strangers — people you don’t know (maybe friends of friends). Once they accept your friend request, post a public comment to their wall introducing yourself and asking them about themselves. In your posts, do not refer to any friends that you have in common; just talk about yourself and ask them about themselves. Try to get information from them about themselves. (You must start this assignment before Monday for it to work!). Describe the responses.
  • ONLY ONE MEDIUM. Choose one popular communication technology. Only use that technology for 3 days. (e.g. Use Facebook direct messages for ALL communication even when it is obviously inappropriate or impractical.) Describe the reactions.
  • ALWAYS MIX MEDIA. For 3 days, always “mix” media–always respond to a communication using a different medium of communication than the one that was used to contact you. (example: if you get a phone call, let it go to voicemail then SMS them. If you get an email, send a picture to their phone, etc. Respond to your twitter @’s in person.) Describe the reactions.
  • THE OVERSHARER. Pick either an acquaintance you don’t know that well or a parent. In a 24 hour period dramatically increase the amount of information you send this person using a text-based mobile communication technology that you know they can receive (likeIM on your phone, text/SMS, or e-mail on your phone/PDA). For example, you could communicate with them every time you do anything (“hi I am getting on the bus”, “arrived in class,” “class is boring,” “having lunch,” “talking with friend.”) Describe the reactions.
  • LAPTOP ALTRUISM. In a public place, ask to borrow a stranger’s laptop “for a second” to check something and then spend an excessive amount of time using it to do things on Facebook. If you get no reaction or the overall experiment is very short, repeat the experiment with another person.

Infographics as research tools

Food Blog Study | Linear Growth Diagram
Food Blog Study | Linear Growth Diagram

I have a potentially unhealthy obsession with information graphics. It took me a good chunk of the day to make the graphics in this post and while part of the motivation behind making them was to have something visual to post on this blog (which could have been accomplished in *much* less time), there was also a methodological motivation. I wanted to find a way to make infographics that were not only good at illustrating a point for readers, but also analytically helpful.

Here’s the challenge: the project I’m working on this summer utilizes a web crawler to scrape the connections among tens of thousands of food blogs from ye olde interwebs. This is a methodology that I have not used in the past. As anyone who has done something like this before has told me, the web crawler will pretty much just keep going and going even with the constraints that are built into it. It never sits back on its haunches and pops out a message that says something like, “That’s it, lady, the whole network is yours for the examining”. It does not tell me when it is done, I tell it when to stop. If I cut it off too soon, I risk performing analysis on an incomplete network, one that I erroneously believe to be more or less all there. If I cut it off too late, I risk building a noisier dataset, wasting time, and generating a larger database that could crash my software or my computer altogether. (I speak from experience. I have already run Excel into the ground repeatedly, something that made me proud considering how robust Excel is.)

When thinking about how to tell when the web crawler is done, I find it is helpful to think of asymptotes.

So, thinking of asymptotes, I realized that there must be some function that I could plot, a graph I could make based on the information I have about the ongoing behavior of the crawler, that would help me visualize its state of approaching done-ness. [Pardon my free reign in the word creation department. I prefer the incorrect ‘done-ness’ over the grammatically superior ‘completeness’.] My first attempt at graphing was not the burgeoning eggs you see above, it was the top half of the graph below. The eggs just turned out to be more interesting to look at and they provide just about as much useful information as the top graph (ie not that much useful information from an analytical standpoint).

Food Blog Study | Crawler Progress Graphs
Food Blog Study | Crawler Progress Graphs

The top graph shows cumulative growth in the number of nodes gathered over time – the total number of nodes is around 32,000 as of 19 July. For the eggs, I used the size (in MB) of the output file. Honestly, folks, it doesn’t really matter if I’m looking at megabytes of storage or number of nodes. This absolute size approach is analytically vacant – it does not help me determine done-ness of crawling activity. It tells me that the crawler is still gathering new nodes that pass the food blog test. Yes, I already knew that.

How can I tell if I have to spend another 3 days, 10 days, 3 weeks getting up at 5:00 to fiddle with it?

But what I really want to know is whether or not the crawler is slowing down. True enough, math wizards, I can examine the slope of the segments in the top graph and deduce that flatter slopes mean the crawler isn’t adding as many nodes. That is not satisfying enough for me. Visually, it’s not as easy to detect precise slope changes as I would like. I found it was more useful to take the number of new nodes added per crawl session and divide that by the number of hours in that crawl session. That gave me the number of new nodes added per hour of crawl time. The hourly growth rate varies from day to day (sure, it varies from hour to hour but I’m not a stickler here – the average hourly rate for an entire day is sufficiently precise).

I went ahead and plotted these hourly rates. They bounced around more than I thought they would, though they pretty much stay somewhere between 60 and 100 new nodes per hour. The day they dipped to 6 was not a true low, it was an artificial low. On that day I went back and retroactively removed all of the alcohol blogs from the existing collection of nodes because I am not studying wine, beer, or cocktail blogs. I am studying food blogs. So the boozy blogs got the boot and that made it look like the crawler spent that particular day picking its nose or otherwise dawdling. Not the case. The thing about bots is that they are never caught with their fingers up their noses. On the other hand, they may have to be taught to stay away from the swill.

The bottom graph will be more helpful as I try to figure out how the crawler is doing on any given day and if it is starting to approach an asymptote of a single digit new node augmentation rate.

If this post had a moral it would be: don’t be afraid to try new methods both at the macro-scale (like adding social network analysis to your methodological quiver) and at the micro-scale (like trying to use infographics to help guide your research).

How to Write a Book

The title of this post is presumptuous, because I haven’t written it yet.

I have a book contract for my dissertation. Yay! Cheers! What every graduate student dreams of while slaving away over their hot word processor, eyes glazed over as they attempt to wrangle the methods section into submission for the umpteenth time. And I’m very lucky and psyched about it. But now I’m faced with the task of actually writing the book.

This is my third major writing project. The first was my MA thesis (200 pages). The second was my dissertation (500 pages). (I also wrote a very bad NanoWriMo novel in 2002 which shall remain hidden forever.) Clearly, my problem is not actually WRITING. The problem is GOOD WRITING. And GOOD WRITING only comes from butt in chair focus, day after day.

So here are my tips for those of you struggling with book-length projects:

1. Write every day. Even if it’s only 200 or 500 words. I got a job while I was writing my dissertation so I had to compress a year’s amount of work into four months. I set myself a very aggressive goal of 2,000 words a day, which I usually made. The advantage of writing every day (even if it’s only a few paragraphs) is that it keeps the project in the front of your head and your consciousness all the time, and it prevents the dreaded “I’m scared of my book/dissertation so I don’t even want to open the .doc file ” problem, which is what REALLY causes trouble.

During my diss, if I made my 2000 word count I considered myself done for the day and rewarded myself with a trip to the library to take out more YA books, an iced coffee, or what have you. Those of us writing while still working or juggling other projects probably can’t skive off like that, but the idea is there: you don’t need to work on something for 12 hours a day, day in and day out, to make it happen.

(Some people do hourly goals, but I find it’s too easy to spend that time rewriting a few pesky sentences or staring off into the distance.)

2. While you’re working on your daily goal, do not do anything else. This includes: Facebook, Twitter, cleaning your kitchen, wandering over to the refrigerator to see if anything tasty has appeared there since the last time you looked, reorganizing your iTunes library, taking a pair of shoes to the cobbler, falling into a Wikipedia k-hole, etc. There are a lot of tools you can use for this purpose. SMC affiliate and all-around nice guy (Dr.) Fred Stutzman wrote a piece of software called Freedom which will cut off your internet access for X amount of time so you can write. There’s also a great Firefox extension called LeechBlock, which will block a list of websites for an allotted block of time. I use it to block Tumblr, Go Fug Yourself, and anything else potentially fun from 10-12 and 1-6 every day.

3. Use the Pomodoro Technique to keep yourself focused. A pomodoro is a tomato, in this instance, a tomato-shaped kitchen timer. (I do not use a tomato. I use a Windows desktop gadget called “Work Break Cycle Timer”. I’m sure there is something sexier for the Mac. You can also use your cell phone.)

picture of a tomato-shaped kitchen timer

Set the timer for 15 minutes. Work straight until those 15 minutes are over. Then take a FIVE MINUTE break– here’s your opportunity to check that fridge again. Then get back to work. 3 pomodoros = 45 minutes of work. You can extend the amount of work time as your concentration progresses. If you get in the zone and don’t want to stop, don’t. This is super useful if you’re terrified of a certain task and will do anything to avoid working on it. 15 minutes isn’t very long, and usually that’s enough to make you realize that it’s not that scary and you can do it.

4. Stay positive and have faith in your abilities. After writing a few chapters I noticed a cycle:

– Research.
– Research. OMG what an idea, I am a genius.
– Writing.
– Writing.
– Writing. OMG this is a disaster. My ideas are ridiculous. This chapter is a tangled mess. I am a failure.
– Writing.
– Writing.
– Writing. OK, this is decent. I’m happy with it.

You need to get through the “OMG this is a tangled mess” phase. Just trust that you’re smart enough to figure it out. Because you are!

5. Carry around a notebook or a piece of paper, and sleep with it next to your bed. I woke up out of a dead sleep in the middle of the night and wrote down the entire outline for my third chapter. I had an idea for a thesis statement while crossing the street. If there’s something bugging you, you WILL figure it out. It just might need a few days to percolate. Talking problems out also helps. I often find that just by trying to clarify my thoughts to someone else, they become more clear to me, as well.

6. Finally, I switched from Word to Scrivener for this project. Scrivener is a program specifically designed for writing novels, non-fiction books and screenplays. I am probably one of the only Word fangirls out there, but Word kept hacking up my manuscript because it was too big. Scrivener is good for moving around sections, reorganizing stuff, writing things in the margins, and they finally released a Windows version (I’m also a Windows 7 fangirl). Scrivener is a bit fiddly, and I’d recommend reading the tutorial. I’m also not very excited about its Zotero integration (e.g. there is none), but I’m willing to overlook this because it’s so much better than my old method of Word + a million “notes” files + OneNote.

So GOOD LUCK! And with that I’m going to spend the next hour working on the book.

Hello from new RA at MSR

I’d like to introduce myself as a new RA at Microsoft Research’s Social Media Collective. I’ll be around for the next year, and hopefully interesting posts and updates will accompany that. I’ve also added a link to my *new* blog in the sidebar (no posts yet but stay tuned!). Hopefully I’ll be using that space to share whatt interests me in the world of media, and especially social media. A bit about myself professionally: I just finished my MA at New York University’s department of Media, Culture, and Communication. My research interests focus primarily on the ways in which new media redefine intimacy, sexuality, and cultural understandings of the body – particularly in the context of an increasingly rationalized society in which we find ourselves moving closer to a world of Cyborg Citizenship (to borrow from Donna Haraway!). My thesis, entitled Mediated Matchmaking: The Romancing of Second Selves was born out of an interest in the intimate, online worlds we create, and why we create them. What leads us to examine personality as a measurable trait? Why do we believe that matching can be optimized through the use of algorithms? How does this speak to new understandings of human-machine interaction and, in turn, human-machine intimacy? These are the questions at the heart of my work. I mean to approach these topics with an open mind and boundless curiosity – not to criticize, not to condem, but also not to condone. I want to understand what I see happening around me, among my peers, in my culture, in my WORLD. When I tell people what I am interested in researching, I often am asked questions about whether or not online dating is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The truth is that I don’t know the answer, and I don’t think it is an answerable question. I am not critical of online dating (which I prefer to refer to as mediated matchmaking) because I myself have used it and have found it appealing for its unique attributes: optimal matching, a searchable database of other singles, control over my own self-image. Despite having been a user of such sites, I am also fully aware of the micropolitics at play in the various sites: the complexity of the relationships users have with the machine. All of these experiences have lead me on a quest to find out more about social life in the age of the internet: an age in which our interactions with machines are as important as our interactions with others. These are the reasons I am thrilled to be here at MSR, surrounded by people who find themselves asking the same questions, asking questions I never would have thought of on my own, approaching all of these topics from different angles, and entering into conversations with each other and with classic theorists to come closer to understanding the world in which we are living. I’m happy to be here, happy to meet all of you, and looking forward to an exciting year!

Location-based social media in Boston

photo by ogilvypr

As part of the Social Media Collective this summer, I’ve been working on a couple of projects involving location-based social media, Foursquare in particular. For one of these projects I’ve been interviewing a range of Foursquare participants, as well as a variety of Boston area vendors who utilize Foursquare for their respective businesses. I’ve been gathering information and working to understand how and why managers of Foursquare’s “claimed venues” and their patrons use location-based services; how information sharing occurs over these social networks; how participants understand their own participation and the audiences for their actions; as well as attitudes about location announcement and locational privacy over these networks. There has been a significant amount of important research about sharing, privacy strategies and concerns, context collapse, social status, and illusions of control within social media networks — several of these publications have come out of the Social Media Collective at MSRNE. I want to expand on these studies by considering what changes and what remains the same once location and physical place are explicit parts of these social networks.

Location-based social media like Foursquare have been praised as premiere trends in social networking and criticized as systems that allow unwitting users to reveal too much information over a social network. Discussions about the benefits of location-based services (LBS) for commercial enterprise, as well as concerns over the intentional, accidental, or automatic disclosure of location have become central to policy debates, industry analyses, and popular practice and discourse. While many people and businesses are continually opting-in to location-based social media, several disparate imaginations of how location announcement can be profitable and purposeful or risky and dangerous are circulating. Although conclusions are being drawn about “why location matters”, relatively little is known about how people actually use location-based social media — especially concerning the physical/digital relationships and information flows between venues and the people who check-in to them.

So, when I found out that Boston’s “Social Media Day” was devoted to conversations and perspectives on the “evolution of location-based social media and content sharing”, I couldn’t stay away. The moderator and audience posed several interesting questions that echoed some of the themes in my study: what’s important or meaningful about location; how do you understand users attitudes about disclosing personal information; why would or should a business find location disclosure useful? One of the most interesting moments (aside from realizing that the majority of the crowd was probably too young to catch the moderator’s Phil Donahue reference! — see Twitter feed #smdaybos) was when the subject of privacy and privacy protection was broached. A rich spectrum of opinions about privacy protection were voiced among the panelists: privacy should be a major consumer concern and businesses should work hard to protect privacy; if you opt-in to social media then privacy is probably not a major concern; even if privacy is a concern, you’re still subject to the policies of social media companies and other entities beyond your control; maybe you’re not concerned about privacy because you really don’t know what’s happening with your data. All are fascinating perspectives that I’ve come across in my interviews as well.

However, a telling moment was when one of the panelists (who, like the majority of the other panelists, deals in location data to some extent) asked the audience to raise their hands if they had privacy concerns about disclosing their location. There were a lot of hands in the air. Surprised by this result, the panelist added: “I’m surprised because I’m not [concerned], and I’m in the business. I’m surprised by the number because I figured we crossed that path.” This sort of tension between business logics, realities, practices, and strategies, and those employed by consumers in regard to location-based social media is what I’m particularly interested in — not solely in regard to privacy and surveillance but in respect to the meaning of location announcement, the use of location data, and the desires, fears, and expectations surrounding location and social media as well.

I’m still working on analyzing and collecting interviews, so I’m going to hold off on offering any conclusions or suggestions just yet. But as I interact with more Foursquare participants and more vendors who participate in location-based social media, the stories they tell about reading and understanding location announcement converge and diverge in meaningful and unexpected ways. Both categories of Foursquare users tend to tell stories about location as some sort of “context” for “connection” — but often these stories tend to be very different. (Genevieve Bell’s presentation at Where 2.0 [especially around 7:20] gets at this idea as well, although not in regard to Foursquare). Additionally, ideas about who’s “listening” to location and who’s responding to information about location, when, why, and how has been brought up by several participants as both a strategy for interaction AND as a point of concern. Perhaps as a bit of a teaser for the final paper, I’ve found that: monitoring customer location isn’t always unwanted (nor is it always about monitoring the customer); announcing location doesn’t always mean you want to be heard; and rendering information about location as physical when it’s meant to be virtual (and vice versa) is as much about place as it’s about power.

As the use of location-based social media is becoming more pervasive among commercial enterprises as well as consumers and the public at large, I think it’s increasingly important to understand perspectives from all the parties operating within these mediated, location-based networks. If policies regulating privacy and commercial use of location information are going to be drafted, and vendors and consumers are going to continue to interact over location-based social media, we need to understand they ways in which they understand their own participation on these networks. Needless to say, I think ethnography can help with that.

If you’re a business that uses Foursquare or other location-based social media, or if you participate in location-based social media and would like to be included in this study, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks!

Rethinking Homophobia(s)

Dear SMC readers: I work at the intersections of queer studies, digital media, and ethnography. Sometimes I like to dip deeply into the disciplinary wells of one area and serve it up to the other audiences I hope I engage with my research. The review below highlights some of the best work coming out of queer anthropology right now. I hope you’ll think about how it squares with/applies to your own musings on all things social and digital. Enjoy!

When Psychologist George Weinberg used homophobia—a fear of same-sex desire—to diagnose the collective loathing that met the rise of homosexual rights in the late 1960s, the implicit remedy seemed to be: get to know gay and lesbian people and everything will be ok (a take on immersion therapy, perhaps). But, today, when acceptance of gay and lesbian people feels like a no-brainer to some, particularly among those who consider themselves progressive (dare I say hip), the analytic purchase of homophobia falls short. Homophobia is, for example, unable to robustly address the geopolitics of queer-bashing, unpack the particularities of violence unleashed on bisexual or trans-identifying people of color, or shepherd gay and lesbian rights activists and allies through a thicket of profoundly complicated concepts like “marriage” and “human rights.” In other words, the explanatory promise of homophobia, its appeal to a kind of blind, idiosyncratic disgust, cannot carry the weight of such a complicated, intersectional world. And, just as importantly, attributing rejection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer rights to individual ignorance, fear, or hatred, means we miss the chance to see how norms of love and sexual desire cut to the core and sharply organize a range of institutions, practices, and contexts. Homophobias: Lust and loathing across time and space, by David A. B. Murray, helps us imagine a more complicated paradigm that moves homophobia beyond the interpersonal and irrational to a place of collective and deliberative debate and interlocking systems of oppression.

Continue reading “Rethinking Homophobia(s)”