Untitled Thesis Project: Intro (draft!)

[Note: This is a first draft of the intro to my thesis. I am not sure if I like it, so I’m hoping to crowdsource this for critique and comments. Anything you might be able to suggest would be appreciated, even if it’s just a “Hey, not bad!” or, “Really? You’re an idiot!” Either, or anything in between, would help. Thanks.


From a theoretical perspective, it is perhaps easy to say the blog [ADD DESCRIPTION], both as a medium and social practice, is “nothing new.” Indeed, traces of its antecedent forms can be found throughout the cultural and technological history of the interdisciplinary field of media studies: The pre-Internet science fiction fan communities studied by Henry Jenkins; Marshall McLuhan’s “global village”; the proto-hypertextual memex of Vannevar Bush; Walter Benjamin’s recognition of “readers ready to be writers” in the age of reproducibility; Kittler’s mechanization of writing in the discourse network of 1900; the coffeehouse culture of Jürgen Habermas’s public sphere; the collective production of manuscripts in the transitory period of McLuhan’s pre-typographic man; the group-centric orality found in the work of Eric Havelock and Walter Ong. The case for the blog as “nothing new,” it turns out, is actually quite easy to make.

Yet, dismissing the blog in this way would be misguided, because, despite the parallels found in historical media forms and practices, the blog is, if not something unique, certainly something culturally significant, particularly in the way bloggers have engaged in the political process. The first widespread use of blogs began less than a decade ago, and since then, the political blogosphere has played a major role in three national elections, and perhaps has changed forever the institutions and practices of the field of journalism.[NEED TO CHANGE THIS TRANSITION, CLARIFY] Even more significantly, blogs have made an impact from the “bottom-up,” through free, open source software [CLARIFY WHAT OPEN SOURCE HAS TO DO WITH THIS, OR REMOVE], a participatory movement that has grown organically from the grassroots (political bloggers, in fact, refer to themselves as the “netroots”). It is a movement constituted through the collection of comments stored within the blog’s database, held together by social bonds created in cyberspace, a unique form of subjectivity and sociality that is the foreground of this thesis.

The following work, then, examines the virtual world of the blogger, arguing that both the medium and practice of blogging create an “orality” that, in turn, engenders a community. This community’s potential is rooted in its virtuality, just as the blogger’s subjectivity is rooted in his or her cyborg existence. But the notion of cyborg, as this thesis will argue, is not rooted in the exotic or the fantastic; it is unlike anything portrayed by scholars such as Haraway or Hayles. Instead, the cyborg nature of the blogger is revealed through the pervasive ordinariness of blogging, one that centers around practices such as checking in on the news, and conversing with others online, discussing not only politics, but cats, gardens, and struggles with drug addiction – in short, the mundanity of everyday life. It is through this mundanity that networks of relations form, networks that give rise to a new kind of politics, a hyperpolitics made possible only when the medium of the blog becomes “boring,” and part of the everyday practices of the blogger.


5 responses

  1. “Hey, not bad!” I think your argument about mundanity is quite useful — I’ve been having similar conversations with colleagues and friends who are prone to bemoan the blogosphere (and Twitter, Facebook, etc) as the “death of communication and community as we know it.” The very ordinariness of these forms of communication is what is most compelling about them. One question: since much of blogging is in the realm of a kind of citizen journalism, so you deal with that realm at all? Public journalism movements are problematic but also potentially compelling for your work, as they get at issues of professionalism, hierarchies of knowledge and taste, etc.

    Good work. I’d love to see more some day.

  2. Hi Jonathan — thank you (!!!), I really appreciate the feedback.

    I don’t at all deal with citizen journalism…my thesis is really more focused on virtual community, specifically the community over at Daily Kos (hmm…do I need to mention that fact in the Intro?).

    I do reference the journalistic efforts of Daily Kos (for example, the involvement they had in helping to out Jeff Gannon in the White House press pool), but it’s really just a footnote.

    It’s something, though, I’d like to take a closer look at, someday!

    Thanks again!

  3. PS, I completely agree that Twitter fits into this model…mostly what I’ve read about Twitter is exactly what you’ve said, how it’s the end of communication, senseless pithy statements about what we’re doing, etc.

    Have you read Clive Thompson’s piece in the NYT mag about twitter? (link)

    He gets at twitter’s “sixth sense,” which is also another interesting way of thinking about its potential…

  4. McLuhan Prophecy | Reply

    You’re on to something. More exploration of the nature of the “orality” will be useful. Your POV is fairly conventional. How does the epidemic of loneliness and depression interrelate to social networking, for example. Does anything in the e-world matter at all? And using McLuhan, what will the stuff you’re exploring flip into after it’s usefulness is over?

  5. Thanks for your comment.

    I do go into this idea of orality further…it’s how I draw out the sociality that’s present within a virtual community.

    My thesis will clearly state what happens in the e-world *does* matter…I use Pierre Levy’s work, and his (and Deleuze’s) notion of “virtual.” In his sense, what’s virtual is what’s useful…in the virtual, lies great potential. One way it’s actualized, for example, is in the collective intelligence of an online community.

    But as far as drawing out things like loneliness and depression from social networking, that’s not where I’m going. In fact, I think blog communities actually *help* people with those things, not cause (if that’s indeed what you’re suggesting).

    What I found in the orality that’s created online is often people helping each other with things like loneliness, and helping people find a “space” in which they feel like they belong.

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