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“Who The Fuck Do You Think You Are?” Academic Engagement, Microcelebrity and Digital Sociology from the Far Left of the Matrix of Domination

Abstract

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Academic engagement envisions digital media as a democratizing agent, ignoring inequality regimes. I conceptualize digital texts as embedded in a system of structural inequality, digital logics and social media architecture. Considered in this framework, academic engagement can inscribe inequality across new media, particularly vis-à-vis attention economy frameworks.

Introduction

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 4 I am a sociologist. That means many things but for the purposes of this analysis it means that I am inclined to count and to think in terms of groups and structure. It is also helpful to know that I have been writing and publishing online and in traditional media for over a decade. I did so first as an unaffiliated representative of one, namely myself. Later, as my professional and personal roles shifted I have written as an embedded authority in higher education, media, and cultural institutions. As an actor, my identity, authorial voice, and legitimacy has shifted across, time, space and context. But, my identity as a black woman is stable[1]. As academics have been called upon to participate in public discourse, we have not fully conceptualized or counted the costs of public writing from various social locations.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 3 Academic capitalism promotes engaged academics as an empirical measure of a university’s reputational currency[2]. Calls for academic public-ness have been critiqued for obscuring neo-liberal transformations of intellectual labor into market capital that separates the “real” academic superstars from the rank-and-file academic proletariat[3]. Others make a populist appeal to democratized knowledges, encouraging academics and scholars (I use both to signal that one need not be an academic actor to be a scholar) to tear down institutional barriers of access[4]. The capitalists and populists make a similar assumption: they assume that when writing for publics, actors are individuals simultaneously embedded in institutions and dislocated from stratified status groups. But, when women writing publicly have pushed social media sites to create mechanisms to report accounts for making rape threats, they have made the implicit claim that microcelebrity and attention doesn’t operate the same for all status groups[5].

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 1 Although I am a woman it is because I am a black woman performing a particular type of expertise for large, multiple publics my experience of negative comments differs from the dominant gendered narrative of online abuse. For example, I have never received a single rape threat. Instead, increased scale and multiple publics (generated by both digital writing and social media) have elicited comments and threats specific to my illegitimate claim to intellectualism, e.g. expert. It’s why, “who the fuck do you think you are” is a common refrain among the thousands of negative comments on my blog, As a public writer, academic and black woman my location at the bottom of a racist, sexist social hierarchy mitigates the presumed returns to academic public engagement specifically and makes a case for reconsidering the theoretical assumptions of microcelebrity more broadly.

Microcelebrity and Academic Engagement in the Age of the Corporate University

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 3 Academics are being encouraged by institutions, publics, and some media elites to be more visible in the public sphere. From the institutional perspective, it makes sense to encourage your academic superstars to represent a university’s brand in widely read publications. Within the context of what Gaye Tuchman and others have called the corporate university[6], public engagement leverages attention into brand awareness which, in turn, somehow contributes to greater prestige in the competition for prestigious students. The “in turn” part of transforming awareness into prestige is always a little fuzzy. That is likely because the process of making prestige is itself tautological: a university is prestigious because prestigious students attend and prestigious students attend universities because they are prestigious. The populist appeal for academics to engage the public imagines a democratization of specialized knowledge. This appeal is also unfolding within the organizational context (I will use the term “logic” in the organizational theory sense to mean situational schemas that rationalize norms, behaviors, etc.) of the corporate university. Just as the proliferation of digital tools engenders a feeling of “free” and “public” access to vast amounts of information, profit logics demand that publishers, professional societies and all manner of those with claims to intellectual property erect borders to define “us” from “them”. How else will “us” profit from “them” but to clearly demarcate whom is who? Populist and capitalist positions for greater academic engagement with the public both aim to leverage a type of academic microcelebrity in service to their respective ideological goals. Alice Marwick calls microcelebrity a negotiation practice that:

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 1 “[I]nvolves creating a persona, performing intimate connections to create the illusion of closeness, acknowledging an audience and viewing them as fans, and using strategic reveal of information to maintain interest” (2010; 2012)

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 1 There are multiple overlaps between academia, public discourse, and digital media. Not only are academics developing these microcelebrity practices in the cultivation of brands but also they are doing so using the digital tools from which the microcelebrity concept is derived. Engaged academics are not confined to traditional mainstream media. They are encouraged to use democratizing tools like twitter, Facebook, and blogs. There is a sense that one can cobble together a common public by overlapping various social media platforms and audiences. Many of my colleagues are doing a fine job of problematizing the intersections of private social media and the university[7]. The larger project from which this essay is drawn is part of that emerging conversation. But, this essay focuses specifically on the context of microcelebrity as I have experienced it from a specific social location as a racialized, gendered person who is reconstructed by multiple publics as performing expertise. The account is specific but not singular. Theoretically, I argue that microcelebrity assumes a uniform read of actors as “experts” that is stable across platforms and publics. This rendering of microcelebrity and actors does not acknowledge the ways in which actors are embedded in status groups or how audiences read expertise through the intersecting planes of structural inequality. When a black woman is performing expertise through pubic writing, she is doing so from what I call the far left corner of the matrix of domination. Of course, I draw here on black feminist thought, which conceptualizes race, gender, class and sexual identities as expressions of intersecting structural and social processes rendered visible in every day life[8].

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 1 Using content from hundreds of public essays, comments, and organizational network ties, I also make a methodological case for digital texts as sites of social inquiry. An analysis of these digital texts finds that when a black woman writes publicly, publics demand of her a particular performance of authenticity and intellectualism. The multiple demands of her performance are not only about her professional role as academic actor but her social location as a member of a gendered, racialized group at the bottom of the U.S. racial hierarchy. Inequality regimes mitigate the returns to attention and microcelebrity in the digital attention economies. When digital texts are understand as socially constructed texts produced within institutional practices and bound by the architecture of social media architectures, they can be examined for evidence of organizational logics, institutional histories, and social relations of power.

What’s a Nice Sociologist Doing Online? The Case of An Academic Blog

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 A new media class probably is not supposed to happen at a public historically black college (HBCU). For a host of historical, social, and economic reasons rooted in institutional racism, black colleges in the United States typically have less funding, fewer political ties, and paltry institutional endowments to seed emerging disciplinary programs like new media[9]. My new media writing class was housed in an English department and spearheaded by a new professor. The course covered writing for different publics as a rhetorical practice but it also included attention to institutional processes like Creative Commons copyright and digital attribution. The course continued a historical practice among HBCU faculty of embedding dual curriculums in traditional institutional disciplines. In this way, students who are less likely to be exposed to emerging knowledge discourses because of structural inequities become part of an underground railroad of resistance in institutional settings. By the end of the course, my professor encouraged me to purchase my own domain. Her concern was for authorial control that would signal to readers that my content should be treated according to the media and academic logics where citations and attributions are normative. I used a pre-paid credit card to purchase my domain and the website followed me to graduate school.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 My earliest posts were guided by class assignment prompts. They include meditations on race, education and identity. I have since made about half of those earlier posts private. That decision was absolutely shaped by the shift in my professional identity from student to doctoral student to public writer and back again to the quasi-academic role that has now ascribed to me. Those early posts were more likely to include specific references to my family members, peer groups, and geographic location. As a student, my content was in many ways protected from the scrutiny of microcelebrity. Methodologically, the digital texts can be viewed through event history analysis. Theoretically, the shift in content and voice maps onto the unintentional cultivation of microcelebrity that was partially an effect of my academic identity and network ties.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 3 Marwik and others have primarily observed the intent and effect of microcelebrity. It can be a tool to develop a personal brand, to leverage attention to generate income of job prospects, and to distill media and public attention of social movements. I consider microcelebrity’s cause-and-effect from my multiple attenuated status positions. My agency to create, perform or strategically reveal information is circumscribed by my ascribed status positions. As my professional and public-facing identities shift, my master identity remains embedded not just in niche social groups, movements or ideologies but also in inequality regimes. My master identity exists within unequal structural power relationships that define the utility of cultivating attention and exchange relationships that convert attention into a resource with presumed value.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 The shift in my authorial voice and control across time and role transition is a prime example of how attention operates variably by attenuated status identities. My transition to graduate school generated role conflict and identity negotiation common to most graduate students but that are particular to black graduate students. Numerous studies in the U.S. and the U.K (where racialized group conflict is more likely to be specific to blackness as it is understand in the U.S. context) report that black graduate students are often not integrated into their departments[10]. One study on race, gender and the graduate student experience found the effects of gender and race matter, as “African American women appeared to be the most isolated and dissatisfied” (Ellis 2001). They report social isolation, enclosure of critical informal knowledge networks, hypervisibility and low expectations for their intellectual abilities. My posts about that early period of transition were inextricably linked to social processes of underrepresentation of minorities in high status institutional organizations, logics, and cultures.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 6 That isolation and dissatisfaction informed my choices about what and how I would write on my blog. As the context of graduate studies sought to transform me through professionalization processes steeped in historical white male Euro-centric renderings of “graduate student-come-scholar”, I sought venues wherein I could retain that of me which I did want to be transformed. There is nothing particularly onerous about being a black woman. I rather enjoy it. It comes with a social-cultural-linguistic history in which I have developed over 30 years of expertise. It grounds me in a body politic and an intellectual tradition that rightfully locates whatever is onerous about my identity in the systems of power that define and constrain me against my will. Public writing became a venue for retaining parts of myself that I would not submit to institutional transformation.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 But channeling those parts of myself in public writing did not escape institutional and structural ascription. That ascription brought with it a unique set of challenges that are analogous to those of other graduate students, other academics, and other writers but that exists singularly at their intersections. Again, it is important to consider the organizational context within which I write. My professional identity is embedded in an institutional relationship, i.e. my academic department and university. Roles in those contexts are ordered hierarchically. The “graduate student” role is arguably near the bottom of that hierarchy. That position attenuates the power, social networks, and capital (cultural, social and economic) at my disposal to buffer the effects of microcelebrity. Those effects include increased scrutiny not just of your person or your cause but, given that my legitimacy is rooted in my academic role, that scrutiny also often includes critiquing my academic bona fides and intellectualism.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Were I white or male or of a higher class, it is possible that I could leverage the adage that all press is good press. The negative effects of microcelebrity are transformed into positive attention when made legible through bodies and identities more closely aligned to the assumed “natural” embodiment of rationality, intelligence and ability. That is to say that the difference between a black woman muckraking with an academic library card can be read differently than muckraking by white elite graduate students at new media outlets like Jacobin or in the public rendering of Evgeny Morozov. The social locations of these persons conforms to the natural embodiment of intellectual critique that affords them credibility rooted in academic legitimacy even when they are not yet or still academics. But, as the literature on social isolation of black women in academic communities attests, there is a conceptual framework for legitimate intelligence that situates gender x race as negatively correlated with expertise. To extend this conceptual causal chain to the digital context, microcelebrity would interact with gender x race x expertise in ways that mediates the assumed value of attention in an attention economy. Put simply, all press is good press for academic microcelebrities if their social locations conform to racist sexist norms of who should be expert. For black women who do not conform to normative expectations of “expert”, microcelebrity is potentially negative. Race and gender not only shape the direction of causality but the rendering of attention as dichotomous. When attention is theorized in the context of unequal power relationships it is a continuous variable that maps onto racist and gendered hierarchies. The difference can be seen in how my content changed as microcelebrity increased attention (e.g. traffic, comments, and diffusion to other new media platforms). My public writing position shifted in response to the volume and content of feedback from various publics: non-specialist readers, specialist readers, and academics.

Mo’ Numbers, Mo’ Problems: Scale, Microcelebrity and Complex Publics

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 At the time of this writing my website has 219 posts that are viewable by the public and 19 set to private. The publication dates range from January 14, 2012 to June 6, 2014. In that time, readers (inclusive of spam accounts) have posted 5,550 comments, 1, 382 of which remain in a moderators queue. The blog has had 2, 743, 127 views in that time with an all-time daily high of 203, 195 views in a 24-hour period. My most active month of 429, 362 visitors occurred in October 2013 with a six month total of 310,416 visitors in 2014 on track to best the previous year’s total given people remain at all interested in reading my content. I have 2,947 blog followers from twenty-four countries in North America, South Asia, Africa, and South America. Most of my traffic is driven from social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, and Digg in that order) with significant showing from external blogs like Shakesville.com and Feministing.com. Some content “jumped” platforms7: eleven posts written for my blog were eventually cross-posted to new and traditional media platforms. It is impossible to track the ways posts became remixed and diffused through sites like tumblr and reddit, which are designed specifically for those purposes. But, linkbacks from those posts and a general search reveals that it has happened often.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 I share these numbers to give an idea of scale and publics. One of the consequences of scale and attention is that it produces multiple publics. Scale is actually the dependent variable of interest among both capitalist and populist appeals to academics to increase their public engagement. Theoretically, we assume that multiple publics represent increased attention. Increased attention is conceptually understood as a positive relationship with either productivity metrics (if you prefer the capitalist take) or social good (if you prefer the populist approach). But, that relationship is based on an idea of a normative, stable identity of “academic” or expert that conforms to the rendering of expert in the imagination of multiple publics. Being black and female problematizes those assumptions and scale magnifies them. At my blog, engaging multiple publics has introduced a greater number of informed, respectful readers. Many email me or send me comments about how they appreciate reading a perspective so different from their own. As one reader put it, “I’m as different from you as probably anyone can be. And I don’t understand all you say. But, I always walk away with something I’d never thought about.” That’s the impact populists hope for and capitalists aim to measure. But, those comments are in the minority at my blog.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 As publics multiply and increase in complexity, I find that there are a greater number of renderings of my legitimate claim to expertise. Those renderings are absolutely about my race and gender (obvious in my avatar images and not at all obscured in my writings). Whereas white women tend to report a significant number of rape threats when they write publicly[11], I find that the overwhelming threat issued in my comment section and inbox are threats to my academic credibility. I have received 11 death threats, 19 threats of what could be considered general bodily harm, and exactly zero rape threats in three years of writing to hundreds and thousands of readers. My most contentious and most commented upon posts deal directly with racism, sexism and normative beauty ideals. Those subjects are similar to what many white bloggers and public writers write about. Whereas they are threatened with rape, I am most often threatened with appeals to my institutional affiliations and credibility. In a twitter dialogue about this essay, Natalia Cecire noted similarly that her blog comments as “indignation that [she] would dare to have a Ph.D. or talk in public” (2014). She goes on:

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Cottom Image 01

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Cottom Image 02

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 For the research project that generated this essay, I code these “just who the fuck do you think you are” comments (so named for how frequently that sentiment is expressed) by discursive signals of the logic used by the commenter. They span readers I code as: specialist readers, non-specialist readers and academic readers. The context and tone of the threat is specific to each groups logics, but the basis of the threat is the same. For example, a specialist reader is one coded as a frequent commenter, a blog follower, who also follows and engaged with me across more than one social media platform. Their comments most often use the sociological language or broad academic concepts in responses. They discursively signal they are “insiders” by talking about social theory specifically or appealing to generalist expertise, as in “I have long had an interest in Roman slavery”. Negative comments from specialist readers include assuming that my adviser is “black like [me]” or arguing that I am in “black studies” to locate me in a context of low expectations of intellectual rigor.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Non-specialist readers have generally read a single post out of the context of my blog’s organizational logic and corpus of work. They mention that they were directed to the post through a Facebook post or similar content sharing mechanism. These commenters increase when a post goes viral or jumps social media platforms. Negative responses from this group most often condemn intellectualism generally (e.g. “liberal commie colleges”) but also specifically my location as a black woman in a university. These comments most often reference affirmative action and threaten to contact my University. The latter is particularly interesting as it supposes that their dissent will carry more weight with an organization they view as sponsoring my content than will my own formal institutional affiliation.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 While the assumed authority of specialist and non-specialists is often grounded in some fictive value of amorphous whiteness, academic audiences appeal most directly to their formal institutional affiliations. Academic readers are narrowly defined here by those who use their .edu email addresses and/or institutional titles in their comments. All but one of the negative comments from academics included in this analysis (n=119) imply that they know senior academics, have more elite affiliations than do I, and that they will use those ties to reveal me as not an intellectual inferior so much as a junior scholar. I would argue that conceptually the two designations are similar in their implication that I do not have the power to exert dominion over my intellectual capabilities through writing for a public. It is an indirect appeal to power that has the same motivation: separating who I am from what I am legitimately allowed to know.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 1 Even the death threats allude to some sense of killing me at my university, in my department or during a public lecture. One writer says that s/he “will fuck me up in front of [my] students so they know what shit I have been teaching them.” Another commenter wants to “blow [my] brains out”. A larger project analyzes the content of posts, comments, and institutional contexts of all the data from my blog. Preliminary analysis reveals that negative comments outweigh the bad (although close to evenly matched) and negative comments are more numerous and abusive for content that has been shared across multiple media platforms. And, the violent insult of choice focuses not on sexual violence but on attacks to the perceived incompatibility of my person with my institutional legitimacy. Really angry commenters want to have me fired, sanctioned by the university, and my brains violently excised from my body.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 1 In all, there are twenty-nine references to divesting me of my actual brain matter. A content analysis of all 5,550 comments (published and in queue and not including those filtered out by a spam plug-in) finds that three-fourths of comments that can be coded as “negative” most often: call into question my academic affiliation, the merits of a university that admitted me, and explicitly or implicitly cites affirmative action as the reason that I am in a PhD program. The comments are most contentious, violent and personal on posts that have platform jumped. If we conceptualize platform jumping as a metric of increased number and complexity of publics, more publics means more attacks to the rendering of the writers identity that is most universally reviled as inferior. The stability of my black female identity, and its near uniform ascription as low-status, anti-intellectual, and non-expert, would operate most consistently across multiple publics.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 1 From benign disagreement to death threats, the source of ire is overwhelmingly with the institutional legitimacy that constructs me as “intellectual” or “expert”. While non-black women public writers have commented on dismissal of their intellectual acumen (thus the phrase “mansplaining”) and expertise, the near total focus on my institutional ties and morbid fascination with alleviating me of my actual brain seems to be specific to the ways in which publics similarly read the source of my violation. It is not specifically in my gender or in my race but in the incompatibility of my race and gender with normative renderings of who should be an expert. Anecdotal evidence with other black women academics who write publicly report similar experiences. Dr. Anthea Butler has experienced one of the more coordinated attacks to unfold across social media platforms. When the tenured University of Pennsylvania professor spoke from her expertise as a religion scholar, a conservative social media swarm orchestrated a multi-day, multi-platform attack on her legitimacy and professional status. The website socialseer.com offers an informative event analysis of how that attack unfolded. Butler’s comments were aggregated and posted by a conservative media watchdog site. The readers are encouraged to use the power of social media to amplify their negative responses to what they perceive as liberal media bias. When the site has focused on black women scholars, its attacks have been specific to their social location and particularly vitriolic. It is an example of how microcelebrity works conversely when social media platforms converge with powerful status positions:

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 1 You might think that this is just a reaction to her comments; many people strongly disagreed with them.  But to think that this was an organic reaction would miss the hand of an outside force: Twitchy.com, a website run by Michelle Malkin, whom Wikipedia describes as a “conservative blogger, political commentator and author”.  Twitchy.com is conservative and features Malkin’s style of snarky rants about the left served up with over-the-top faux outrage. Like in Spinal Tap, Twitchy is always set at 11.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 In 2014, a new media outlet approached scientist D.N. Lee to contribute an essay for publication. Lee is African American and a woman and at the time had a significant public writing platform at Scientific American. She had also developed a following for connecting science, science writing, and minority youth cultures across several social media platforms. When Lee inquired of the publication about payment for the essay, the publication’s actor called her an “urban whore”. Of the insult, Lee said:

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 It wasn’t just that he called me a whore – he juxtaposed it against my professional being: Are you urban scientist or an urban whore? Completely dismissing me as a scientist, a science communicator (whom he sought for my particular expertise), and someone who could offer something meaningful to his brand.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 The insult was racialized and gendered. Lee bills herself as an “urban scientist”. The “urban whore” slur worked on multiple levels. It delegitimized her self-titling. But, given “urban” is a racialized slur derived from the cultural denigration of space, place, class and race as inferior it also moved her into an inferior social space. Whore, of course, being a gendered insult derived from puritanical normative boundary-making between acceptable femininity and unacceptable. More interesting than the initial attack perhaps is the institutional response. Lee’s blog at Scientific American was removed from the website for two days while editors vetted the appropriateness of Lee’s response to the slur issued during the context of her routine professional activities. Attenuated group status operated here on three levels: it created a space for Lee’s person to be attacked within the logics of her professional networked identity; it defined the specificity of the verbal attack; and it defined the legitimacy of her official institutional affiliation as marginal.

The Question is, “Who Are YOU?” Method, Theory and Praxis in Digital Texts

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Individuals experience microcelebrity and attention differently relative to the status groups in which they are embedded. With greater publics and attention, one’s social location becomes more salient to the risks and returns to attention. But, scale and attention can also nudge us towards conceptualizing digital media content as meaningful socio-cultural artifacts. I speak of numbers because, again, I am a sociologist and I count things. But, also, the diffusion and growth of my blog is the organizational context for how my individual writings are linked to patterns in new media proliferation, networks, and simultaneously responds to calls for greater academic engagement with the public while running afoul of several critical academic norms. Considering the scope and embeddedness of my blog in these processes and structures is one way that I link my analysis of digital autoethnographies to historical and social debates about identity, neoliberalism, and inequality. When I make a blog post it is an asynchronous medium. The audience is largely hidden from me. Changes in search engine algorithms have even made many of the “key search terms” that readers use to find my blog invisible to me. For over a year at the time of this writing, “unknown search terms” has been in the top five of searches that drive readers to my blog[12]. The structure of my digital platform (wordpress) and digital mechanisms (Google’s encryption of search terms) and personal choices about comment moderation (I erected a moderation layer in 2013) all shape the extent to which my populist public writing medium cannot be fully disembedded from institutional new media practices and normative structures.

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 In this way, the trend to dismiss digital writing as narrow fields of “me-search” misses the complexity of the medium and ignores the diversity of those writing. Humanities scholars have been out-front in seriously considering digital artifacts as texts and data. My experiences suggest that sociologists miss an opportunity to mine emerging representations of groups, inequality, and communications when we view digital content as individual representations. All texts are socially-constructed. Digital texts are not only embedded in social construction but in political and technical systems that reinscribe power, identity and relational exchanges in texts. As I have shown, the corpus of texts from my blog allowed an event history analysis of content change that was embedded role negotiation, status ascription, and legitimation. The architecture of the platform where I published allowed authorial control of content but could not control context collapse or social interactions. When geographical proximity in social relationships can now be reimagined as space reconfigures the assumed role of place and proximity in all kinds of social relationships.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 1 Mark Carrigan and others have called for a “digital sociology” that will explore “the opportunities which digital tools afford for rethinking sociological craft”[13]. The call is heavy on tools – the platforms, architecture, and cool gadgets that visualize patterns – but I caution that things and patterns are but a small bit of the promise of digital sociology. If we consider first the disciplinary value of sociology and the theoretical frameworks of digital second, we arrive at a much more satisfying future for the intersection of digital and social. The question of who the fuck am I instead becomes a methodological process of interrogating who are you, each of us who produce digital texts and the context within which we produce them. C. Wright Mills’ appeal to a sociological imagination is useful here to consider. Digital texts embody the intersections between history and biography that Mills thought inherent to understanding social relations. Content from my blog is a cheap example. I have access of the entire data set. I can track its macro discursive moments to action, space, and place. And I can consider it as a reflexive sociological practice. In this way, I have used my digital texts as methodologists use autoethnographies: reflexive, critical practices of social relationship.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 The potential of digital texts goes beyond autoethnographies. Political communications produce digital texts to exert influence over civic bodies and futures. Studying those communications in the context of their organizational logics, historical context, and digital platforms is a sociological endeavor in the methodological tradition of event history analysis. Digital texts are constrained by normative choices embedded in platform modalities. I can self-define as queer on Facebook but my gender and race on Twitter is largely an ascriptive process, aided by character limits on bios and the prominence of profile images. These connections between digital structures, logics and status group ascription are, again, ripe for sociological inquiry in the organizational studies tradition. I could imagine a critical sociology of private and public ownership of content that differently privileges some status groups over others. I think here of the ways in which institutional affiliations among white feminist groups have clashed with unaffiliated black and Hispanic feminists on social media. What is the value or effect of institutional embeddedness in platforms marketing as populist? These are questions squarely in the tradition of critical race theory, black feminist theory, and queer theories. Viewing digital texts as conceptual and methodological tools allows us to explore these kinds of questions in ways that do not obscure groups or inequality, but centers them in analysis.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 1 Theoretically, I have argued that attention economies benefit from attention to group processes of inequality, particularly ascribed status groups. Status groups necessarily engage historical, economic and social processes that can be difficult to disengage in aggregate “big data”[14]. Observing the texts produced from different social locations within the matrix of intersecting oppressions is a theoretical framework for understanding digital texts as sociological processes of identity, group, organizational and political processes. Methodologically, texts can be interrogated as embedded representations of institutional practices, normative behaviors, and organizational logics. Internet studies scholars and critical humanities have done the most work there methodologically. But, sociology can contribute a systematic methodology of qualitative textual analysis (discourse, content and organizational studies) to further our understanding of the social in the digital. Finally, I have argued that racialized gendered positions complicate both capitalist and populist appeals to democratized knowledges. We must attend to the ways in which social inequities, historical and contemporary racism and sexism, and the precarity of women and African Americans in institutions makes them vulnerable in knowledge production that traffics in digital attention economies.

References

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Cecire, Natalia. “I get a little of the sexualization, but mostly indignation that I would dare to have a Ph.D. or talk in public.” 8 June 2014, 8:48 AM. Tweet.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Edwards, Willie J., Ingrid Bennett, Norm White, and Frank Pezzella. “Who’s in the pipeline? A survey of African-Americans in doctoral programs in criminology and criminal justice.” Journal of Criminal Justice Education 9, no. 1 (1998): 1-18.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Ellis, E. “The impact of race and gender on graduate school socialization, satisfaction with doctoral study, and commitment to degree completion.” Western Journal of Black Studies 25.1 (2001): 30-45.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 Fleming, J. (1984) Blacks in college (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1984)

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Herbold, Hilary. “Never a level playing field: Blacks and the GI Bill.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 6 (1994): 104-108.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Liebschutz, Jane M., Godwin O. Darko, Erin P. Finley, Jeanne M. Cawse, Monica Bharel, and Jay D. Orlander. “In the minority: black physicians in residency and their experiences.” Journal of the National Medical Association 98, no. 9 (2006): 1441.

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 Marwick, Alice E. “I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience.” New Media & Society 13, no. 1 (2011): 114-133.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 — “Status Update.” (2013). Yale University Press: New Haven, CT.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 Nerad, M. & Miller, D. S., “Increasing student retention in graduate and professional programs,” New Directions in Institutional Research (1996)

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 Nettles, M. “Success in doctoral programs: Experiences of minority and white students,” American Journal of Education 98 (1990) 494–522.

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 Tufekci, Zeynep. “Big Data: Pitfalls, Methods and Concepts for an Emergent Field.” SSRN (March 2013) (2013).

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 — ““Not This One” Social Movements, the Attention Economy, and Microcelebrity Networked Activism.” American Behavioral Scientist 57.7 (2013): 848-870.

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 Turner, C. S. V. & Thompson, J. R. “Socializing women doctoral students: Minority and majority experiences,” The Review of Higher Education 16 (1993) 355–370;

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 Willie, C. V., Grady, M. K., & Hope, R. O. African-Americans and the doctoral experience (New York: Teachers College Press, 1991).

Endnotes

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 [1] I could include a note about my class and status position but they are so greatly attenuated by my master identity that I find it most useful to this analysis to speak about gender, race, and space. Consequently, I will use my identity as a black woman to speak to a specific social location that includes sexual orientation, class, geography, and national identity.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 [2] Antonio Caselli’s essay on leveraging social media for impact represents a capitalist orientation to public engagement: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2012/01/25/leveraging-social-media-impact/

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 [3] The website Cyborology is a good place to begin with this line of critique. See David A. Banks http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/06/13/cyborgs-and-academic-capitalism/ and Jenny Davis on Christian Fuchs: http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/03/20/review-social-media-a-critical-introduction/

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 [4] Groups like Open Society that supported initiatives like the digital freedoms project have promoted the democratized knowledge ethos. Their mission statement captures the populist approach: http://digitalfreedoms.idebate.org/digitalfreedoms/access-knowledge

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 [5] In 2013, several affiliated and non-affiliated groups called on Facebook to modify its laissez-faire attitude about rape threats posted to the major social media site. See: http://digitalfreedoms.idebate.org/digitalfreedoms/access-knowledge

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 [6] See: Gaye Tuchman’s “Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University” on market logics and accountability regimes. Also, Gary Rhoades and Shiela Slaughter at: http://www.aft.org/pdfs/highered/academic/june04/Rhoades.qxp.pdf

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 [7] See Natalia Cecire: http://nataliacecire.blogspot.com/2014/01/humanities-scholarship-is-incredibly.html ; Melonie Fullick: http://www.universityaffairs.ca/speculative-diction/author/melonie/ and Robin James http://its-her-factory.blogspot.com/ and Corey Robin just to begin.

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 [8] Of course, I draw on Patricia Hill Collins here. Her “matrix of domination” is a theoretical framework for structure read through social locations. It’s also has nomenclature synergy with “matrix domination” in ICT literature. I would also direct readers to consider Kimberlee’ Crenshaw’s reading of legal systems as analogous in many ways to digital infrastructure.

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 [9] For academic work on historical disadvantage and HBCUs see Hilary Herbold’s “Never a level playing field: Blacks and the GI Bill.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 6 (1994): 104-108. Also see the case of public appropriations for black colleges in North Carolina as a study of a larger phenomenon in Diverse Issues in Higher education: http://diverseeducation.com/article/118/

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 [10] The gist of this body of work is that black graduate students generally and black female graduate students specifically experience social and professional isolation in academic programs. That isolation negatively impacts their health, efficacy and professional mobility. See: Fleming, J. (1984) Blacks in college (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1984); Nerad, M. & Miller, D. S., “Increasing student retention in graduate and professional programs,” New Directions in Institutional Research 92 (Winter 1996); Nettles, M. “Success in doctoral programs: Experiences of minority and white students,” American Journal of Education 98 (1990) 494–522; Turner, C. S. V. & Thompson, J. R. “Socializing women doctoral students: Minority and majority experiences,” The Review of Higher Education 16 (1993) 355–370; Willie, C. V., Grady, M. K., & Hope, R. O. African-Americans and the doctoral experience (New York: Teachers College Press, 1991). Publicly accessible includes: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/network-to-help-end-isolation-of-black-phd-students/2012208.article and http://www.diversityweb.org/Digest/f00/graduate.html

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 [11] See From The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/01/when-misogynist-trolls-make-journalism-miserable-for-women/282862/

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 [12] See discourse on Google’s encryption of search terms for more context on why and how this has developed: http://www.buildyourwebsite.co.nz/2013/10/whoa-the-unknown-search-terms-just-went-way-up/

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 [13] What is Digital Sociology?” Mark Carrigan http://markcarrigan.net/2013/01/12/what-is-digital-sociology/

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 [14] See Zeynep Tufekci here on methodological tensions in big data http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2229952

Version of Record: McMillan Cottom, Tressie, (2015). “Who The Fuck Do You Think You Are?” Academic Engagement, Microcelebrity and Digital Sociology from the Far Left of the Matrix of Domination. Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, No.7. doi:10.7264/N3319T5T

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