How can it already be September 18th?

It seems like I am always asking questions like this: How can the summer be over? How can it be the end of the second week of classes? And, most important for this post, how can it already be just one week before I present at the FEAST conference? Earlier in the summer, I wrote an entry about this presentation; I “promised” that it would be the first in a series of entries in preparation for the conference. I wrote that entry on July 23rd. Now, on September 18th, a week before the conference, I am finally offering the second entry. I have been thinking about my paper (no, really, I have), but prepping for classes–putting together the syllabi, setting up the blogs, etc–took up a lot of my time in August and early September. Oh well, better late than never.

If you recall (and if you don’t, that’s okay, just look here to “remember”), my presentation is about the ethical possibilities in Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, particularly in her project of trouble (which I describe as making, being in and staying in trouble–hmm…isn’t that the name of this blog?). In my first entry, I wrote about why I think it is important to consider the ethical import of Gender Trouble. In this entry, I want to focus on my conclusion and engage in a ‘lil bit of musing about what my project is–that is, what I want to do with the idea of troublemaking/troublestaying as a virtue.

In the manuscript I submitted last February, here is how I conclude my presentation:

In concluding this presentation on Butler and the ethical value of troublemaking, I want to make my own ethical gesture towards troublemaking as staying in trouble. Thinking about troublemaking as staying in trouble shifts our ethical attention away from developing the practices or rules that should always guide our troublemaking and towards cultivating qualities of character that encourage us to approach a wide range of activities with a troublemaking (that is, critical, thoughtful and questioning) spirit/ethos. One potentially fruitful way to think about this troublemaking spirit is as a feminist virtue, that is, as an ethical way of being, a mode of relating to the world, a quality of character, a disposition, or an attitude that influences our ethical/political understandings and shapes our ethical and political development. Thinking about troublemaking as a virtue encourages us to ask after how we should live as troublemakers and what kind of (moral and political) selves we need to be in order to stay in trouble. And, it enables us to value troublemaking as an important quality of the moral self.

Having run out of time in my presentation, I want to end with two final questions: What would a feminist ethical project that emphasizes the virtue of troublemaking look like and how does this project differ from one that emphasizes the virtue of care? How might troublemaking as a feminist virtue shift our understanding of feminist ethics and feminist virtue ethics?

One big reason that this conclusion is so brief is because my presentation is limited to a certain number of minutes–I have 40 minutes total, but that includes discussion and I am very interested in what people will have to say about my project. But even though my conclusion needs to be brief, I want to develop it a little more in the following ways:

Why virtue? A key part of my argument is that we should look at troublemaking as a virtue. But, why? What does thinking about it as virtue offer us that thinking about it in other ways doesn’t? I like thinking about troublemaking as a virtue because of the emphasis, within virtue ethics and virtue-talk, on quality of character/attitude/ways of being. For me, troublemaking is not easily defined by a practice (or set of practices). It is a approach–a critical/attentive/curious approach–to life (to ideas, to beliefs, and to practices, etc). In this way, we can’t simply say that the ethical value of troublemaking is found in this or that practice. Instead, we can talk about how our way of engaging in a practice (are we aware of the limits of that practice, are we attentive to the effects of that practice on others, are we open to other ways of practicing) enables us to be more or less virtuous. This approach allows for a more expansive definition of what counts as troublemaking (it is not reduced to any practice or practices) and provides for the opportunity to think through how a wide range of practices might be or might not be troublemaking in an ethical/virtuous sense.

My vision of troublemaking as an ethical attitude is partly inspired by Michel Foucault and his discussion of the limit attitude in “What is Enlightenment?.” He describes this attitude, which he also calls the “critical ontology of ourselves” as “an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them” (319).

It is also inspired by Audre Lorde and her linking of the erotic with excellence and eros in “The Erotic as Power.” She writes: “For the erotic is not a question only of what we do; it is a question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing” (54). And, “in the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, hearkening to its deepest rhythms, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea” (57). Focusing on character and excellence enables us to think about ethical practices differently; it centers our discussion on self-making and the cultivation of a self who can learn to practice ethical (and politically transformative) troublemaking everyday–in a wide range of practices.

And my vision of troublemaking as an ethical attitude is inspired by Maria Lugones and her discussion of the playful attitude in “Playfulness, ‘World-Traveling’ and Loving Perception.” In describing a game she is playing with a friend–they are throwing stones in the water–she writes: “The playfulness of our activity does not presuppose that there is something like ‘crashing stones’ that is a particular form of play with its own rules. Instead, the attitude that carries us through the activity, a playful attitude, turns the activity into play” (95). So the determination that something is playful is not based on the type of activity it is. Instead it is based on the selves-at-that-moment who do it and the spirit/ethos of their individual and/or collective doing. In this way, suggesting that troublemaking is virtuous is based not on what the activity is (protesting, violent rebellion, talking back in class), but on how it is being done. But, wait. I want to offer another clarification here. The “how” it is being done is not just about intention (what one’s purpose is for engaging in the troublemaking), it is also about attention or, more specifically, attentiveness (how one is aware of the effects of that activity, how one notices and thinks through the implications of their actions in doing the activity, how one takes care of and is responsive to the others engaged in or affected by the activity). [note: this idea of attentiveness is inspired by conversations with Naomi Scheman and Rebecca Moskow].

Now, in thinking about troublemaking as an attitude or approach to one’s actions, I am not suggesting that becoming someone who engages in virtuous making of/being in/staying in trouble is as easy as “changing your attitude” (which is a critique that Kelly Oliver levels at Lugones’ playful attitude in her book, Witnessing: Beyond Recognition). When we link the idea of attitude with character and excellence and virtue, we can see that troublemaking as a virtue is not something that we easily and immediately are able to do. Instead it requires tremendous effort: training, repeated practice (habit) and the striving for a balance between being deficient and excessive in one’s troublemaking practices.

In “Locating Traitorous Identities: Toward a View of Privilege-Cognizant White Character,” Alison Bailey discusses the value of cultivating a virtuous character (in this essay, the virtue she is thinking about is traitorousness or being-a-traitor). Here is a helpful example she gives for understanding how developing this process works (and particularly how it involves more than just doing practices with a certain attitude):

The activity of virtue resembles the workout example. Just as a person does not become fit by doing a series of sit-ups and then declaring, “There, I am fit!” so a person does not become virtuous by doing a series of good deeds and then declaring, “Finally, I am virtuous!” Virtue and fitness arise in the process of continually working out or doing good deeds. We become virtuous when we have the practical wisdom [developed through this habitual practice], to act courageously to the right degree, for the right reasons, and under the right circumstances (38).

I think there is a tremendous amount of value to be found in thinking through how a person or persons could be trained to practice troublemaking in political and ethically responsible ways. Virtue ethics, with its emphasis on character, training, practice, habit, gives us the language and framework for thinking through how to do this.

Uh oh. I have enjoyed writing this entry, but it is over 1550 words long. That is about 1350 words longer than I need for wrapping up my presentation. Maybe I should approach this differently…later. For now, I’m done.

What is queering theory, part 2: Explaining the title

The subject of class for Thursday (9.17) is “What is queering theory, part 2.” We will be focusing our attention on Cathy Cohen’s chapter in Black Queer Studies entitled, “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” (also found in GLQ). For this reading reflection post, instead of writing a lengthy post on Cohen’s argument, I thought I might briefly discuss one possible way to reflect on the reading–I call it “explaining the title.” [note to students in queering theory: you might find this form helpful to use in your “direct engagement” entries]

Many authors, myself included, like to spend a lot of time (maybe too much) picking out a title that succinctly or cleverly or playfully describes what our central argument is. So, as I often tell students,  one effective way for recognizing, understanding and articulating the thesis of a reading is to think (and write) about that reading’s title. While this doesn’t always work (some titles are hard to explain or don’t necessarily get at the point of the essay), I think it works quite nicely in the case of this reading. In fact, I think Cohen’s repeated explanation of the title (in different ways) throughout the essay is a real strength of the article.

Here is my brief explanation of the three parts (“Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare queens,” “The radical potential of queer politics,” and the ? mark at the end) of Cohen’s argument. Cohen believes the radical potential of queerness and queer politics can be found in queer’s ability to bring a wide range of non-normative folks–whose relationship to power marginalizes them in many different ways that are not exclusively based on heteronormativity, (like the punk, bulldagger and welfare queen)–together to engage in “progressive transformative coalition work” (22). Her question mark at the end of the title speaks to her doubt about whether this radical potential can be realized within the term “queer” and queer politics because queer, as it is currently used by queer theorists and white queer activists, fails to consider the complex (and intersecting) ways oppression occurs. Another way of explaining this doubt is this: queer politics frequently fails to attend to the complex ways in which power relations work and, without an analysis of power (and how it travels based on gender, sexuality, race and class), the radical potential of queer politics cannot be realized.

In case you are interested, my summary is 157 words. Now, this explanation of the title is a good starting point, but it doesn’t get at how Cohen makes this argument. In engaging with this reading, it would be helpful to offer a few examples that Cohen uses to support her argument. Like when she talks about how some queer politics-as-it-is, as particularly manifested in “I Hate Straights,” is based on a “single oppression framework” (31) that fails to offer any intersectional analysis of how power works outside of the hetero/homo divide (32). Or when she discusses how ‘mall visibility actions’ fail to address a whole bunch of reasons (besides sexuality) that queers might be feel alienated and unsafe in the mall (33). Or, you could talk about how she explains her title through a brief history of how marriage is an oppressive institution for many not just because it perpetuates heternormativity, but because it shores up “white supremacy, male domination, and capitalist advancement” (39).

I will admit, it can be hard to sum up an author’s argument in such a short amount of space. How do you think I did?

Queer is what queer does? What is queering theory, part 1: some sources

Throughout the fall semester (which lasts until December), I will be posting reading notes for my queering theory class here. I will also be posting these entries on the blog for Queering Theory (found here).

For the next three sessions, our class will be discussing “What is queering theory?”. Today, we will begin with part 1 and readings by Cherry Smith, Elizabeth Freeman/Lauren Berlant, and Lisa Duggan (with Nikki Sullivan for some background). I have entitled this entry, “Queer is what queer does?” because all of the articles, in different ways, challenge the idea of queer as something that one is and develop (albeit tentative) definitions of queer and queering through queer practices of resistance and rebellion and queer approaches to politics/theorizing/living. In other words, these readings point to the possibilities for defining what queer is through what queer does.

Incidentally, I am struck by my title here and my choice to write “what queer does” instead of “what queers do”.  My title is no accident; it points to the troubling tendency within certain forms of queer theory to privilege “queer/queering” as Practices (of deconstruction, resistance, destabilizing) over situated practices that are done by persons who may or may not identify as queer. Ah ha! Here it is again: the tension between Queer/ing as a concept and queer/ing as specific practices done by actual people. How might it shift our perspective on and our engagement with queering theory if we moved from “queer is what queer does” to “queer is what queers do”?

1535386“What is This Thing Called Queer?”
by Cherry Smith

After opening her essay with a list of definitions of queer (from a range of sources), Smith outlines a queer agenda and key queer issues as articulated by queer direct action groups like OutRage. This group, formed in London, aims to assert the dignity of lesbians and gay men, fight homophobia, and affirm the rights of sexual freedom. They maintain a tenuous balance between “rejecting assimilation” and “wanting to be recognized” (278). OutRage, along with other groups, like Whores of Babylon, SISSY and PUSSY use extravagant actions that, while fueled by anger, are theatrical, fun and aimed at getting the media’s attention in playful and serious ways–like staging KISS INS or Queer Weddings.

Smith defines queer as “a strategy, an attitude, a reference to other identities and a new self-understanding” (280). As a strategy, queer is about disrupting the system. Queer activists, like those in OutRage, don’t want to work within the system and be accepted by the mainstream, they want to “‘fuck up the mainstream’ as visibly as possible” (279). As an attitude, queer “marks a growing lack of faith in the institutions of the state, in political procedures, in the press, the education system, policing the law” (280). As a new understanding, queer “articulates a radical questioning of social and cultural norms” (280).

Throughout the essay, Smith defines queer in terms of what it does and how organizations use it to resist systems of power that oppress gays/lesbians/queers. Here are some other actions that she mentions: sex-positive reclamation of words, outlandish acronyms, and promotion/visibility of queer sex practices (281).

Hmm…Smith highlights one key queer strategy of the 1990s: outing. Several of the other articles mention outing as well (especially the Duggan essay). Is this an effective strategy? What are the ethics of outing? What are some arguments for and against forcing others into visibility?

CITATION: Smith, Cherry. “What is Thing Thing Called Queer?” The Material Queer. Ed. Donald Morton. Boulder, CO: WestViewPress, 1996. 277-285.

1535386“From ‘Queer Nationality'”
by Lauren Berlant and Elizabeth Freeman

In this essay on Queer Nation and queer nationality which is also found in the anthology, The Material Queer, Berlant and Freeman describe queer as:

  • being deliberately incoherent
  • exploiting internal differences
  • refusing assimilation while asserting visibility
  • employing a wide range of tactics from identity politics, postmodernism, feminism, civil rights movement, peace movement
  • fueled with anger and rage
  • wanting to value and make visible queer sexual practices as “modes of ordinary identification and pleasure” (307)
  • reclaiming/reterritorializing public space (changing oppressive heteronormative spaces into safe queer spaces)
  • using surprise attacks and other aggressive actions to expose and “redress the more diffuse and implicit violence of sexual conventionality” (308)
  • drawing upon “embarrassment, pleasure, spectacle, longing, and accusation interarticulate to produce a public scandal” (309)

Huh? In discussing the practice of prayer and “queeritual” for Queer Nation, Berlant and Freeman write, “Queer Nation’s emphasis on public language and media, its exploitation of the tension between local embodiment and mass abstraction, forfeits the possibility of such taxonomic clarity” (307). Huh? What do they mean here?

Question: Berlant and Freeman write: “Being queer is not about a right to privacy: it is about the freedom to be public…” (306). What do queer theorists (and/or queers who do theory) think about public, private, visibility, assimilation? Does queer/ing theory allow for safe spaces? What kind of safety is possible when engaging in confrontational direct action? What kind of community/communities are created/fostered through organizations like Queer Nation that are “deliberately unsystematized” (305)?

CITATION: Berlant, Lauren and Elizabeth Freeman. “From ‘Queer Nationality’.” The Material Queer. Ed. Donald Morton. Boulder, CO: WestViewPress, 1996. 305-309.

51pd9o-HSYL“Making it Perfectly Queer”
by Lisa Duggan

In the opening paragraph, Duggan suggests that queer/ing theory and queer organizations (like Queer Nation) “carry with them the promise of new meanings, new ways of thinking and acting politically” (149). She devotes much of the essay to discussing how that “promise is sometimes realized, sometimes not” (149). Her essay is organized around several scenes of gay/lesbian/queer activism and resistance.

The first scene takes place in New York City at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and is centered on Mayor David Dinkins and his experiences of and reactions to  anti-gay violence as he marches with the Irish Gay and Lesbian Organization. In speaking out against this violence, Dinkins appeals to liberalism and tolerance and invokes the civil rights movement. Duggan argues that such appeals, while standing out as “movements of highly visible achievement” for gays and lesbians, are still limited in their success. The inclusion that they provide is only “negotiated on humiliating terms” and does not guarantee public civility (152).

Duggan contrasts this scene of liberalism with a second scene of militant nationalism. Taking place in New York City in spring 1991, this second scene involves posters of celebrities–most notably Jodie Foster–being outed as “absolutely Queer.” This approach, coming from “new gay militants” in ACT UP and Queer Nation, rejects tolerance and assimilation in favor of publicity, self-assertion, confrontation and direct action (153). Duggan argues that these militant tactics draw upon the ideology of nationalism and the idea of a nation of gays who share a common experience,  are easily identifiable, and are linked under a clear and united definition of gay/lesbian/queer. She writes:

Outers present their version of gay nationalism as radical but, like other nationalisms, its political implications are complex and often actually reactionary. These new nationalists define the nation and its interests as unitary; they suppress internal difference and political conflict (154).

In critiquing this position, Duggan also writes:

any gay politics based on the primacy of sexual identity defined as unitary and ‘essential,’ residing clearly, intelligibly and unalterable in the body or psyche, and fixing desire in a gendered direction, ultimately represents the view from the subject position ‘twentieth-century, Western, white, gay male’ (155).

Question: What does she mean here? According to Duggan, what are the dangers of outing?

The third scene takes place at a writer’s conference in San Francisco, again in 1991, and offers a challenge to the tension between academics and activists as they struggle over the question of essentialism-versus-social-construction (156). Here is how Duggan describes the tension:

In its most cliched formulations, this controversy is presented in one of two ways: valiant and dedicated activists working to get civil rights for gay and lesbian people are being undermined by a bunch of obscure, arcane, jargon-ridden academics bent on ‘deconstructing’ the gay community before it even comes into full visibility; or theoretically informed writers at the cutting edge of the political horizon are being bashed by anti-intellectual activists who cling naively to the discursive strategies of their oppressors (156).

Question: What is at stake with this debate? Is this the only way to think about social construction versus essentialism?

Duggan argues that the writers conference, which brought together a wide range of scholars, artists and activists constructed a queer “oxymoronic community of difference” (156)–a community that was not based on shared experiences or identities but on a similar difference from (and resistance to) the norm (157). This new vision of community challenges seemingly entrenched (within feminist and gay/lesbian politics) ideas about how community is created, the relationship between the academy and activism, and the necessity of invoking liberal and/or nationalist strategies of resistance.

Questions: What does a community like this look like? How does it function? What purposes does it serve? How does this third scene relate to the other two? What is Duggan’s purpose in offering it–is it a viable/promising alternative to liberalism and nationalism? Or, something else?

Duggan concludes her essay by reflecting on the challenges that queer theorists face as they attempt to live up to the promise of queering theory:

to engage intellectually with the political project in the best sense of ‘theory,’ while avoiding jargon and obscurantism in the worst sense of ‘academic’ (161).

to open up the possibilities for coalition across barriers of class, race, and gender, and to somehow satisfy the paradoxical necessity of recognizing differences, while producing (provisional) unity: Can we avoid the dead end of various nationalisms and separatisms, without producing a bankrupt universalism (162)?

CITATION: Duggan, Lisa. “Making it Perfectly Queer.” Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture. Eds. Lisa Duggan and Nan Hunter. New York: Routledge, 2006. 149-163.

Queer Blogging: Some Sources

It is the first week of the semester. In anticipation of my blog experiment in queering theory, we are reading several essays on queer blogging. While I have spent some time thinking about feminist blogging and have read a few articles about the (specifically) feminist possibilities of blogging for teaching/thinking/activism, I have not given that much attention to all of this in relation to queer/queering. For class today, we are discussing: Jill Dolan’s “Blogging on Queer Connections in the Arts and the Five Lesbian Brothers” (2005), Rahul Mitra’s and Radhika Gajjala’s “Queer Blogging in Indian Digital Diaspora: A Dialogic Encounter” (2008), and, if we have time,  Julie Rak’s “The Digital Queer: Weblogs and Internet Identity” (2005). Here are some notes/thoughts about the readings:

Dolan. “Blogging on Queer Connections…”
In this article, which was written in 2005, Dolan discusses her experiences creating and writing in her feminist/queer/arts blog, The Feminist Spectator. The article is divided into three parts. First, Dolan offers some reflections on why she started her blog. Second, she provides, with only a few minor revisions,  an entry from her blog on a performance in New York City by the Five Lesbian Brothers (here is the original entry from her blog). Third and finally, she offers some concluding thoughts (responses and reflections) on her blog entry and on blogging in general.

Initially I chose this article for us to read for a couple of reasons. First, Dolan offers some brief reflections on why blogging is a useful way to write and think which can be helpful as we try to understand how and why we will use the blog in the course. And second, she provides us with an example of blog writing that doesn’t fit the popular image of blog writing as confessional and purely personal (okay, perhaps we should interrogate what we mean by “personal” a bit more…how do we think about personal/”person”/body in relation to Mitra/Gajjala?).

Here are the reasons Dolan gives for why she started her blog:

1. Immediate critical (thinking) writing: A blog allows her to write in a timely fashion (as opposed to waiting 6 months or much more for an academic article or book to be published). And it allows her to write about performances that don’t usually get much attention. The idea of immediate critical writing is something that I also like about the blog. I really appreciate the fact that I can read an article (like this one) and immediately post my critical reactions to it on my blog.

A note of caution: The critical aspect of this process is crucial. Effective blog writing, for Dolan and for me/my course, goes beyond immediately posting every reaction to an idea or article. Effective blog writing requires critical reflection and the filtering and shaping of your reactions into a coherent and focused response.

In her concluding remarks, Dolan cautions against the dangers of immediate writing in her own blog. She writes:

I’ve found, in my very maiden adventures in blogging, that its immediacy lends it to an aura of risk. That is, rather than running my ideas through an intermediary like an editor, I offer them here with much less outside manipulation and consideration. The freedom of such a venue in which to write appeals to me; at the same time, I worry that I’ve been intemperate, already, in my writing here (505).

I agree with this caution. In previous entries, like here, I have talked about the dangers of immediacy, especially for students who are all fired up at 2 AM after reading a particularly problematic article for class. Here was the tentative conclusion that I came to in that entry:

The trick, I think, is to find a way to balance the benefits of immediate access (to expressing ideas, to connecting with others) with the necessity of posting thoughtful, responsible and accountable entries.

Perhaps one way to create this balance is to find ways to remember that blog writing is always for an audience…an audience that we are (whether we recognize it or not) accountable to and responsible for. I briefly talk about blog audiences here.

2. Freedom. Dolan wants to start her blog so that she can write as much as she wants. In her past experiences writing more immediate reviews of non-mainstream performances for small papers/dailies, she was limited to a very short word count. This prevented her from going beyond the “slash-and-burn, 200-word consumer reporting that too often characterizes arts coverage” (August 25, 2005). Because she wants to “stage a more deliberate, extended, generous kind of conversation about things I see at the theater, at the movies, or on television” (August 25, 2005), she wants to be able to write much longer entries.

I like her point here, but I wonder: Does limiting the number of words necessarily lead to a less thought out entry? Is it possible to engage “deeply” and critically with a topic in 200 words or less? On this trouble blog, I have experimented with this possibility (see here). Does it work? I am not sure, but there is something helpful about learning to communicate an idea/concept succinctly.

3. An outside/outsider space. Drawing upon her training and experiences, Dolan wants to write a blog that deals with gender and race and that is written from a queer perspective. Her blog is aimed at those outside of mainstream media. A blog allows her to stay on the outside, to not be (as) concerned with any “mainstream readership” and what they might think or understand about her queer musing on gender/race/identity.

Questions: Is a blog an outsider space? A queer space? If so, how? Is it always outside? Do you see any ways that a blog can/does perpetuate dominate ideologies or participate in oppressive systems?

4. A specific (friendly) audience. Consider what Dolan writes about her ideal audience:

I was looking for a forum to read friends, colleagues, and other sympathetic readers interested in a discussion about the meanings of the arts in this moment in U.S. culture. I think, in fact, I was looking for a place to preach to the converted through a more in-depth discourse about the interrelationship between the arts, identity, and culture (492).

Questions: Is this the type of audience we want to create for our blog? What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing for sympathetic readers? Dolan links the idea of a friendly audience with “preaching to the converted.” Are these two always connected? Is it possible to write for a friendly (that is, not hostile but respectful) audience that is still critical of your ideas and comments? Should the blog be a safe space or something else?

Later in her opening comments, Dolan indicates that her blog is meant to be widely accessible and aimed at “any reader/spectator/practitioner” or “citizen/scholar/artist” who is committed to the arts (493). I really like this term, citizen/scholar/artist, and her description of what she wants to do in her blog.

What do you want to do in our blog? Who do you want to read it? What audiences are you writing for/to/with?

Mitra/Gajjala. “Queer Blogging in Indian Digital Diasporas”
This essay is a “dialogic encounter” between two scholars (one a grad student, the other an associate professor at Bowling Green State) who do research on and participate in “queering in the Indian digital diaspora” (400). The tone is very different from Dolan and so is the focus. Whereas Dolan looks at her own (individual) experiences of creating and writing in a blog about performance and art, Mitra and Gajjala weave their own performances of blogging (by interjecting entries/comments into their essay) together with other bloggers’ entries and comments and with theorizing about queer Indian identity/blogging, power, and blogs as spaces of situated practice.

Situated Practices: Dolan is focused (almost exclusively) on writing about her own blogging as the (somewhat situated) practice of an individual critical thinker/spectator/graduate program director in the U.S. who writes about peformance and writes to others who value/engage in exploring arts and their meanings in U.S. culture. In her concluding remarks, she does offer a few cautionary words, but her overall tone reflects hope and excitement about the possibilities that blogging opens up for citizen/scholar/artists like her. Mitra and Gjjala are focused on providing a space for thinking about/reflecting on both queer blogging and “the negotiation of online queer Identity” (402). Their intent is not to celebrate the blog as a liberating space for oppressed populations to express themselves, but to examine “how queer/GLBT presences are manifested in blog spaces” (402). And they want to present/perform their own researching and writing of their article as the situated practice of queer bloggers/researchers who are (re)negotiating institutional power in relation to dichotomies of public vs. private, offline vs. online and person (as identity/Queer) vs. practice (non-normative sexual practices).

Personal and the Person: Dolan is interested in distancing her own version of blogging, what she calls “ruminations” and “think pieces” on arts and culture, from the personal (that is, confessional and self-revelatory) online journal writing that she imagines dominates much of the blog writing currently online. Mitra and Gajjala are interested in paying careful attention to how queer performativity as public gets separated from queer sexual practices as private. They are wary of the validation of the Person (as a Queer identity/Subject) over practices (of that queer person) and the promotion of the web as queer because it allows disembodied performances where no one knows who you are or what you do (401). They write:

In this article, we post this question implicitly while further examining the implications of the private and public separations that lead to the separating of sexual practice from queer practice so that particular queered speech and performativity are placed in the public space and expected to stand in for queer formations while specific situated queer practice is shifted to the invisible private space still not to be revealed for fear of consequence (411).

In considering this question, they want to attend to the specific ways that persons (particularly queer Indian bloggers) negotiate power online and offline. They devote the second half of their article to a discussion of three different ways that the dichotomy (public/private; Person/practice; online/offline) gets constructed and reinforced: 1. offline marginalization–can they be “out” and visible as queer? acceptance as Queer as long as queer acts are invisible (414-415), 2. online queer representation–issues of access to technology, to language, to proper queer behavior (415-417), 3. Being anonymous–confession and highly individualized construction of self and readership online (417-419).

Blogging and the Individual: This brings us to the individual and to Julie Rak’s article, “The Digital Queer.” In addition to giving a helpful overview of the history of blogging, Rak provides a detailed discussion of the rhetoric of queer blogging (this is something that Mitra and Gajjala take up explictly at the end of their article). Her main argument: blogging = some form of liberalism which = the Individual (their value and rights) + freedom of expression (172). In this equation, bloggers are individuals who are able, through technology, to freely express themselves and communicate to a wide range of others. They can do so anonymously (173), and while deliberately and carefully negotiating the public and private (173-174). Their blog posts are intended to honestly and accurately represent who they are; the blog allows them to be “real” (174-175). Their blog posts also enable them to connect with other, like-minded bloggers.

Rak sees two problems with this liberal ideology for queer blogging/bloggers. First, in representing themselves as a “real” individual who deliberately negotiates the web, bloggers are reinforcing their own (blog/queer) identity as essential and fixed. This identity gets further reified through the process of categorization and the classifying of specific blogs as “queer.” Rak writes:

The act of classification is a social act in the blogger community that works to create recognizable subjects who do not shift. Therefore, queer blogging does not feature the kind of subjectivity described in queer theory or in cyberculture studies as these areas have been influenced by postmodernist ideas about identity (177).

Second, the reification of Queer (as an identity, as a category for blogs) flattens out the differences between those who identify as queer and engage in queer practices. And it focuses (almost exclusively) on the practices of one version of queer experience–living in the U.S., American, English-speaking, located in large urban area, left-wing or liberal in political beliefs. For Rak, it seems, queer blogging is a privileged activity (179-180, also cited in Mitra/Gajjala, 420). This particular queer experience also seems to be conservative in terms of sexual identity, sexual practice and writing style. None of the blogs that Rak read experimented with representation in a “postmodern” way (what does she exactly mean by this?) (179).

Rak concludes her essay by discussing how the technical process of categorizing/classifying blogs through keywords contributes to the lack of differences among/between queer bloggers.

Questions: What are the politics of keywords and tag clouds? Are they useful or problematic or both? How could we use tag clouds to organize our blog in ways that don’t overemphasize similarities at the expense of differences?

How can blogger/bloggers experiment with the representation of themselves in a “postmodern” and/or queer way? What might a “queer” subject (not just in terms of content but in terms of subject formation/representation) look like?

Blog Assignment: An Experiment

So, the semester begins next week and I am in the process of actually crafting (as opposed to only thinking about) a blog assignment for my Queering Theory course. Since I have spent so much time this summer using the blog, I have decided to really go for it and make the blog an integral part of the course. Here is my description of the blog assignment as it appears in my syllabus:

Class Participation 20%
Blog Entries 20%
Blog Active Engagement 20%
2 Presentations (2 @ 10% each) 20%
Final Wrap-up 20%

Assignment Description
The bulk of your assignments this semester (blog entries, blog participation, 2 presentations and your final wrap-up) will be organized around the development of and participation in our class blog. Once we have worked out the details together in the first and second weeks of class, I will distribute and post on our blog a more detailed handout.

By the third week of course you will be required to pick one of the suggested topics related to queer and queering theory. These topics are listed at the end of this description. You will be responsible for tracking this term throughout the course of the semester. By tracking I mean that you will be required to pay particular attention to your topic as you are reading, discussing and thinking about queering theory. You will be required to post weekly entries in which you critically reflect on your topic and: a. how it is addressed in our readings or discussions or b. how it is relevant to current events or c. how it is represented within popular culture (television shows, movies, music, on the internet). You are encouraged to be creative in your tracking of the term. You can draw on a wide range of sources and post your blog entries in many different forms.

In addition to posting your own entries, you are required to actively read other blogs and other students’ entries. Your active engagement will come in the form of commenting on other blogs, creating links within your own entries, and incorporating comments from other entries/blogs into your in-class participation.

Each of the suggested topics is explicitly related to the readings for one class session. You are required to do one brief (roughly 10 minute) presentation on your topic on the day that we are explicitly reading about and discussing it. You are also required to do one (slightly) longer presentation on your topic/blog participation in the last week of the course. Details about your presentation (including the date of your first presentation) will be listed in the detailed handout.

Finally, you are required to submit a final wrap-up on your experiences tracking your chosen topic and on helping to develop and participate in the blog. This wrap-up can come in the form of a lengthy blog entry (or series of entries) or a separate (more formal) reflective essay. Please see me if you have other thoughts on how to organize/develop/articulate your reflective thoughts on your topic and your experience with the blog.


This trouble blog serves, at least partly, as an inspiration for the assignment. I have found tracking the term “trouble” through readings, popular culture, and current events to be extremely helpful in organizing my thoughts and enabling me to engage in critical thinking from a feminist and queer perspective. Hopefully, the students will also find it useful to track their terms throughout the semester.

I have decided to work out some of the details, like how many entries and what kind of entries, with the students in the first couple of class sessions. But, how? In the past, I have found that giving students too much of a say without guidelines or structure to be too overwhelming for them (whether they are first years just starting college or grad students who are almost finished with their course work). So, I need to give them some concrete options for how to complete the assignment (that’s something that I will be working on today).

Note about active engagement: In the third entry in my feminist pedagogy and blogging series, I raised the question of how to create assignments that assess the amount of engagement (active or silent) that students are having with the class blog and with other related blogs. I think I have come up with some tentative strategies for assessment in my syllabus description that will enable students to demonstrate their engagement in a number of different ways. Again, here is my description:

In addition to posting your own entries, you are required to actively read other blogs and other students’ entries. Your active engagement will come in the form of commenting on other blogs, creating links within your own entries, and incorporating comments from other entries/blogs into your in-class participation.

As I have mentioned in earlier entries, the usual way in which to assess (and encourage/demand) student participation in other students’ entries is to require a certain number of posts per semester. Last year in one of my courses, I required that the students do 10 blog assignments altogether, with 5 of them being comments on other students’ posts. This approach was fairly successful; it generated a lot of participation by students and helped foster a strong sense of class community. But after reading Sarah Hurlburt’s comments about the invisible/silent reader here (and which I discuss here), I began to wonder about what other possibilities might exist for encouraging students to actively participate (and really read/reflect on others’ entries) on our blog. I am excited about my above description because I think it does offer alternative ways to participate. Instead of requiring students to always comment on each other’s blog entries, they can demonstrate that they have read (and have really thought about) them by incorporating ideas/thoughts from those entries into their own entries (with proper citing, of course) or into their comments in class. Hopefully this will expand the opportunities for students to actively engage and lessen their anxiety about coming up with an insightful comment.

My own experiences writing in my blog this summer, particularly my failure to post very many comments on other blogs that I have been reading and my dismay at the shockingly poor quality of  blog comments on many blogs and news sites (especially newspapers–hey, Star Tribune, I am talking to you), prompted me to really think about the usefulness of comments. Do they create community? Well, they can but often don’t. Do they demonstrate a rich engagement with the ideas of the original entry? Sometimes, but not always. Should they be the only way to engage in a blog as a reader (as opposed to a writer)? No. At some point, I would like to write more about how comments function (and fail to function). Until then, here is an interesting take on blog/web comments and the failure of internet discussion.