blogs and blogging: private, personal, intimate?

I went to Lilia’s presentation in Amsterdam yesterday. It was great – I learned a lot that was totally new to me (both from the presentation and from conversations afterwards) and I learned how typical most of my goals and ambitions are for this blog. 🙂
One of the more intriguing conversations I had afterwards was with one of the faculty of the Virtual Studio, which is the group that sponsored the talk. Katie (from UCSD, knows at least two of our professors) pegged the presentation style, ethnographically, as “confessional.”
The notion of an enclosed space in which to confess brings to mind Matt’s question about the space/place constructed by a network of blogs/bloggers – “where” is it, and “what” is it as a research object similar to or different from other electronic media? He expanded: “How are blogs constituted differently than other types of media, electronic media &emdash; is it the absence of topic, forum, space &emdash; a spaceless place? Where the private becomes public? How does blog constitute a space or a place? And what does that have to do with the work or the identities you’re trying to capture?” Tangent: Matt is also faculty at the Virtual Studio, a research organization, similar to the place Lilia works – they get to do research of their own choice – within, no doubt, the scope of the particular organization. Awesome!

I, with my limited imagination, 🙂 a) didn’t see any other way to approach the work of one’s own blogging than as confessional and b) didn’t hear an implicit evangelism to persuade others to blog. Wrong on both counts? 🙂 Lilia’s link to cogdogblog on Why DON’T academics blog? definitely has a recruitment feel: “blogging is much more than writing your own stuff (if that was the case, it is just publishing), but also participating in other blogs, linking to them, commenting in them. It is very much participatory, reading, thinking, communicating, and writing.”
Of course, the private/public distinction is right up my alley. Matt had a concern with apparent openness (say, Microsoft’s willingness to allow employees to have their own blogs in which they post criticisms of Microsoft) as good PR and basically a way to reinforce hegemony. The question may be whether the criticism is actually “private” in the sense of being “hidden” or not. Then, the next question is, does blogging serve as surveillance (one of Katie’s alternatives to a confessional lens) and/or does making insider criticism available to the outside transform its resistant qualities into a form of collusion? Is it possible for blogs to exist as a sort of third alternative following James Scott?
I’ve been shy on the “participation” side myself by not reading many other blogs (although I’ve had occasional bursts of initiative), because I’ve been more interested in playing with the connections between a blog as computer-mediated communication and communication of the interpersonal, face-to-face type. In other words, as a forum of individuals who do know and interact with each other in the so-called “real” world, deliberately extended into a public which invites anonymous others to participate. Maybe there is simply a better technology? For instance, I want to follow up on the Ocotillo Project.
btw – not all languages have a word for the specific concept of “privacy”, indicating the problematic assumption of a unilinear meaning based upon a (western rationalistic?) notion. Patricia Williams challenge this too – calling the confusion of private and particular a conflation. I’m not sure if Williams goes on to articulate this conflation as a result of capitalism, but Habermas does – looping into a debate about the constitution of a boundary regarding what is “private”, “public”, or too “intimate” for a blog. My attempt to mix the two (or three!) has been particularly challenging for some of those whom I know. Some, for instance, rarely tell me they don’t want to be written about here but often complain to others so that I get the message indirectly. The humane thing to do might be to just honor individual’s expressed personal preferences, yet that also flies in the face of academic freedom and intellectual rigor. Some have told me directly; and I want to respect that but then that requires a deliberate descriptive skew (I can do better, here, with practice, I think.) I’m constantly challenged on the basis of ethics – in a few instances, overtly. (One was posted anonymously in the blog but it appears to have been erased when all the spam comment got cleaned out a few months ago. 🙁 My apologies to the author.) However, I’m not doing experiments or reseach per se except in the sense of publicly reflecting on the comments, events, interactions, experiences that have an influence upon me and fit in, someway, with my thoughts and passions. In other words, this is an extension of my living.
The beauty of autoethnography, I think, is the way it can turn the mirror of ideology on ourselves so that we become exposed in our collusion within various systems – making it harder (?) to hide from “the double bite of ideology” (Briankle’s phrase). If a group of folk with similar passion for this kind of social deconstruction engaged openly and publicly with each other about the intellectual matters of the day without limiting the engagement to prefigured criteria of historically constituted “academic” or “scientific” knowledge, then we might be able to push understanding of the ways some of the less attractive or downright ugly aspects of human behavior keep getting in the way of social justice goals such as feeding everyone on the planet.
So – there I go, with my own mode of “confessional” and its implicit wish for a community of collaborators. 🙂 Intellectually, what I’m doing is making visible the cognitive links among the stimuli that occur within my own mind.

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