Category Archives: As A Scholar

Signal Versus Noise: Why Academic Blogging Matters

Signal Versus Noise: Why Academic Blogging Matters: A Structural Argument. SAA 2011

Introducing “Writing/Fighting to Survive: The Rhetorical Strategies of Trauma Bloggers”

As I reconstruct my dissertation–rewriting, revising, conducting a new research study–I’ve been considering many of the questions that reappear in my personal research journal. Since my research isn’t just my research, I can’t really make my research reflections fully public. Some of the things that I reflected on were concerns for specific participants (I include this here because I am conducting a new research study to complete my dissertation and have an entirely different set of research participants) or feelings that were at the time too personal to share with my blogging audience. I’m beginning to test out these boundaries now for several reasons. First, blogging is good for me. Seriously, it’s like vitamin C (and not the sunshine and vitamin C that I joke about being in clove cigarettes) and warm chamomile tea followed by a slug of peppermint oil to wake up your brain. As Father Ong (That’s Walter J. Ong, S.J. to all of you non-Purdue, non-rhet/comp geeks like me) so aptly put it “the writer’s audience is always a fiction.” So, while writing in my research journal, I am writing to a fictional audience just as you, my dear blog reader, are a fiction in your own way, writing in my blog makes the audience less fictional. Sure, I imagine you when I write and until I hit the “post” button that’s all you are–imagined readers. But the great thing about blogging is that in the moment that my post changes status from “draft” to “published,” you emerge from the ether along with my pixelated thoughts and voila–real readers who write back. And this brings me to…

Here’s a piece of my dissertation introduction for your edification. Feedback is appreciated.

When I wrote my master’s thesis, I began with a story of my own pain, relating it to the purpose and context of my subject matter. I did this because stories matter. They are how we construct ourselves within the world, how we determine self worth, how we deal with the vicissitudes of living, and most importantly for me, they provide insight into our motivations. Just as motive is important to understanding our life decisions in a broader context, it is important for the scholar in understanding what she chooses to research, to the writer in understanding what she chooses to write about and how. My research deals explicitly with these motivations that compel the trauma blogger to write about their experiences. It seems only fitting that I do the same.

I was first diagnosed with primary PTSD and chronic depression at the age of nineteen. These two diagnoses did not define me but rather put into words what I was experiencing. After a lifetime of painful medical conditions and procedures as well as emotional and physical abuse, my psyche was damaged, so much so that I feared it might never heal. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to meet an amazing therapist who guided me in understanding and working through the traumas that had so disrupted my ability to live fully in this world. In addition, I had a caring psychiatrist who carefully worked with me to find a drug regimen to balance out the neurochemical problems that contributed to my disorders. Many people with PTSD and depression are not as lucky as I have been and/or need to supplement the professional help by engaging in therapeutic techniques that they develop in response to who they are. The people discussed in my research have chosen writing as the vehicle for their therapy, more specifically they have chosen blogging.

Like the bloggers that I discuss, I needed to develop my own techniques for dealing with my trauma. Unsurprisingly these techniques were rooted in my previous experiences of dealing with problems. First, I researched; I read everything I could find on PTSD. I read clinical studies, psychological theories, research into the causes and effects of PTSD, narratives, and literary theory. I became consumed with learning about trauma, convinced that if I could only understand it, I could defeat it. Since then I have written about and researched trauma extensively; I have posed theories about trauma and language; I have analyzed works of literary fiction and nonfiction; and after I became a blogger, I began studying the writing of trauma bloggers. My academic and scholarly nature lead me to deal with my trauma in concert with my professional development. However, throughout all of this I discovered that what helped most was not the research and reading but the writing about it. Like these trauma bloggers, writing became my therapeutic outlet. Yet my writing did not fall into the traditional rubric of therapeutic writing; it was and is primarily academic in nature and doesn’t fall into the genre of therapeutic journalling. In spite of this, I have found it to be more rewarding than writing about the specific experiences and perhaps more importantly, it feels safer. Those feelings of safety are often what allow victims to write about feelings and experiences that they cannot speak of.

My own experience inspired the questions that I explore here. What has motivated these bloggers to write? More specifically, why did they choose blogging rather than private journals? Why have they chosen personal blogs as opposed to the support forums that are plentiful? And when they sit down to write a blog entry, why do they do it? What experiences motivate them to take the time to sit and write and publish their thoughts? And I don’t mean the traumas that are the origin of their PTSD; I mean the experiences that directly precede the act of writing the entry. How do they respond to the experience in content and form? Do they write about the experience, the emotions that the experience engenders, or do they externalize like me and write about what they learn through the media and reading? I want to know what the writing means to them and if it helps. I want to know the answers to all of these questions, but to answer them I need to start at the beginning—the motivation.

As Kenneth Burke has noted “motives are shorthand terms for situations” (p. 30, Permanence & Change). In making this claim, he is explaining that motives are more complex than we usually perceive them to be. Motives are situations that we recognize through a pattern of stimuli and response that have occurred with enough frequency that we have generated a word for them. For example, my motivation in writing this is what I would describe as a desire to help myself and others. My “desire to help” is actually my response to a situation in which I see a pattern. Specifically, there are people who are hurting and who deserve to have their voices heard; I want to have my voice heard; I want to do my part in helping these people; and I am best equipped to help through my training as a rhetorician and scholar. So, there is a situation that involves both stimulus and response that I have translated into the words “a desire to help.” The motivations of the bloggers that I am discussing are no less complicated. Understanding the situational context of their writing helps me to understand what interactions constitute their defined motives which then helps me understand their writing. To clarify, the writing in this context is the response, and I am trying to identify the stimuli and understand the response and by making connections between stimuli and response understand motive.

So, the reader may have a question here: why do motives matter? An excellent question deserving of an explanation. I refer back to Burke to answer this. In examining motive I am actually looking at three linked concepts: orientation, motivation, and communication. Trauma victims’ orientation has been disrupted by their response to trauma. It’s really not dissimilar to being lost. The structures or landmarks that you use to determine your position are no longer there; you are disoriented and to find your way you must find those structures. “Orientation is a bundle of judgments as to how things were, how they are, and how they may be.” (14) Orientation is a means of understanding the world, when it is lost or disrupted, so is the individual sense of self and well being. Motivation is directly related to one’s orientation. The stimuli and response to a given situation (and the naming of it) are understood through prior experience. For the traumatized their orientation, influenced by trauma, results in response to stimuli that can be harmful in a multitude of ways. Because their response doesn’t always make sense in the way that we might normally understand it, they can’t attribute a word for it. They can’t give the situation a name. Thus, they cannot communicate their experience and that is what makes traumatic experiences traumatic—the disabling effect that they have on our ability to communicate. Communication is how we make connections to others. Ultimately these three concepts are circular. Communication helps us to reestablish orientation. Being able to communicate the trauma and experiences returns the ability to situate that bundle of judgments that is our orientation. Since my argument here is that writing allows us to process information differently and in some ways more effectively than other forms of communication, I need to understand the motive for writing as opposed to talking and the efficacy of blogging as the means of communicating these experiences. I also am trying to determine how blogging may move the blogger toward more stable orientation.

who/what am I now?

So, I’m having a bit of an existential crisis. I was inspired to write this post after reading Liana Silva‘s “How Do You Define an Academic?” on the Inside Higher Ed University of Venus blog. For me, the big question is: what am I now that I’m not teaching and no longer have a campus to go to? Technically, I’m still a Purdue PhD student since I haven’t completed my dissertation and am registering for research hours, but I’m now living in South Carolina. I’m working on my dissertation and various journal articles that I hope to publish. I write and read daily. I’m still conducting research. But I don’t have any F2F interaction with other academics in my field, and I earn my living by doing various freelance work. For the first time in almost a decade, I don’t have students to teach, classes to attend, or an office on a college campus. I’m adrift. My sense of identity has been linked to academia for so long that I feel unmoored in my new non-role. At least I feel like it’s a non-role. As an instructor and then professor, I always knew the answer to the inevitable question: what do you do? Since I make my money as a freelance writer/editor/consultant, I suppose that’s the socially acceptable answer. But it doesn’t feel like me. If I identify myself as a teacher, I have no answer to the inevitable: where do you teach. Identifying myself as a writer leads to the “so what have you published” question.

Can I be an academic if I’m no longer firmly rooted in academia?

finding the right/write words

A challenge when writing is always finding the right words to express oneself. When writing about the experiences of others, this becomes even more of a challenge. Add to those challenges the word choices made when writing scholarship that anlayzes the thoughts, experiences, and behavior of others, you find yourself in a quandary of diction that necessarily leaves out important information. As Kenneth Burke has famously noted: “Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality” (Language as Symbolic Action, 1966, p. 45). Extending this point Burke argues that it can be useful for us to develop new terms that might reflect a different aspect of reality. Ultimately this alters our point of view and allows us to view situations differently and perhaps make observations that would otherwise go unnoticed.

My specific problem is how to talk about those who have been traumatized. The words typically used to describe those who’ve been traumatized are “survivor” or “victim.” A recent interview with a woman who had breast cancer described herself as a “fighter” rather than a survivor. But “fighter” doesn’t seem like the right word either. I guess it comes down to how we define ourselves. Yet for the life of me, I can come up with a word that shakes the preconceived labels already in use. Even as a someone who has been traumatized, I’ve been unable to find a word that works. I would call myself both a victim and a survivor. For me I’ll always be both. A victim of violence that left me traumatized and could have left me dead. I’m not being melodramatic. Situations involving domestic violence (not just the spouse battering kind) frequently result in death, either by the hands of the perpetrator or by their own hand. Sometimes death seems like the only way out of the horrific memories or the current reality. Fortunately, I now look at myself as a survivor but a part of me will still always be a victim, as disempowering as that feels, it’s a reality that I’ve yet to escape. Still, in spite of my own experience, I have yet to come up with a word that hasn’t already been used and that still reflects my experience adequately. Words are tricky things.

I’ve been considering this issue for some time given that  it’s an essential part of my dissertation. My temporary solution–to refer to them as the traumatized. Long term solution is that I’ll ask my participants how they define themselves. It seems only appropriate given that I advocate participatory research. In future research, I’ll add it to my questionnaire. At this point in my research I’ll need to work the email angle. For now, this is what I’ve come up with for my dissertation. So, here’s a little portion of my draft:

One of the challenges in writing about trauma (and in fact in all writing) is the selection of terminology that best reflects the writer’s perception and coincides with how the reader will understand the term. In this circumstance it is important that I define my choice of terminology and the tensions that exist in selecting them.  As Kenneth Burke notes: “Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality” (1966, p. 45). I am conscious of the fact that the terminology I choose to use here will reflect my selection of reality and will thus deflect from other points of view. The best thing we can do, then, is be conscious of the choices that we make and remember (and supply our reader with the transparency) that these terms are our interpretation of reality.

My conflict here is multi-layered. Not only do I need to recognize that my choices are an interpretation, I find it difficult to actually interpret the reality with the terms available to me. I am uncomfortable using the word “victim” because I feel as though it is a further violation of the person who has been traumatized by placing them in the position of a passive object who has been acted upon. A victim is someone that something happened to, who has been acted upon. The traumatized have already been stripped of their agency by the victimizer and resulting trauma; how can I further strip them of that power? But there is a certain reality to the term victim; it does reflect an important fact—someone hurt them So, why not call them survivors? This is a further difficulty. True, the traumatized have survived their traumatic experiences in the sense that they have not died. However, survival is more than not being dead; it’s about living. As I’ve explained, the traumatized are unable to live fully in the present. They are possessed by their traumatic memory; the trauma is still acting upon them. Surviving means healing. By referring to people who have been traumatized as survivors by virtue of the fact that they did not die is a deflection of the reality of trauma’s effects. The term “survivor” deflects attention from the harm done by the traumatic experiences. So, if I choose to use the term “victim” for some of those who have been traumatized at what point do they become survivors and do I have the right to make that determination?

My interpretation of this reality is that speaking is survival. By not remaining silent, trauma victims reclaim their agency; they live. While this certainly doesn’t ensure that they heal, it does mean that they are surviving. The trauma isn’t controlling them entirely; they are beginning to process the memories, to loosen their hold. The trauma bloggers that I discuss are survivors, even more so they are activists. By giving voice to the existence and experience of trauma, they are creating an awareness of traumatic experiences and the damage of trauma to the psyche.

Ultimately victim and survivor, as terms, form an either/or binary that obfuscates the complexity of trauma. Not only does it force the individual to be identified as either the acted upon or the actor, it also neglects the spectrum that might exist between these two states of experience. Healing is a process and thus “becoming” a survivor is a process. Using one term or the other deflects the attention away from the lived experience of coping and living with trauma—attention that I am not willing to lose. So, unable to develop a term reflective of how I view those who have experienced trauma, I will simply refer to them as “the traumatized.” While this term still places them in an object position, it lacks the negative connotation of “victim.” Happily, when speaking specifically about people who have both experienced and blog about trauma, I can use the term “trauma blogger.”

following my own advice

I haven’t had much time to blog lately because of all of my dissertation work. For a while I found that the blogging was helping my writing process, but then I got a little freaked out about the possibility that the blogging was taking me away from my work. Of course I’ve been feeling guilty about not blogging. Part of that is because I want to be true to my readers (though they may be few) and another part of the guilt is that I actually enjoy blogging. Then there’s the fact that I study bloggers. Perhaps the most important reason is that I continually encourage my students to write informally as a way to prepare themselves for formal writing. I require students to write low-stakes, informal reading responses and post them to their class blogs as a means of practicing. Writing is one of those activities that improves only through much practice, an opinion that I continually emphasize to my students. Yet I have been failing to follow my own advice, a practice that I often complain about when others do so. If you’re going to preach it, you should practice it. While I’ve been writing drafts of blog posts, I haven’t been completing or publishing them, a practice that would cost my students grade points. So, I vow to spend time (at least weekly) writing (and completing) posts for my blog. If nothing else, I’ll post about my dissertation. Perhaps that will alleviate the guilt I feel on both ends.

jargon and more jargon equals inaccessible knowledge

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Bad Writing and Bad Thinking – Do Your Job Better” provides much-needed commentary on the quality of writing in academic scholarship. I have often argued that scholarly writing tends to be inaccessible to all but a chosen few and even those of us who can understand it still hate to read it. It’s particularly ironic when scholars in my field–rhetoric and composition–publish poorly written articles. While we teach our students to pare down their writing and use active rather than passive voice, in our own writing we tend to ignore that advice. I’m even more appalled when I read scholarly articles and books that specifically address accessibility yet are entirely inaccessible to a larger audience. When I’ve voiced this criticism to fellow academics, the frequent response is that our work is written for a specialized audience who should be familiar with the terms and writing style that we use. On the surface it is difficult to argue against this point, but the subtext is less defensible. Rather than “specialized terms and writing styles,” read “obscure terms and poor writing.” In spite of this, many of us who are not already established scholars are penalized when we write accessibly. Even though our thoughts and writing are intelligent and carefully considered, our failure to adhere to obscure jargon is held against us. It’s a sad state of affairs when those who teach writing write so poorly that only a small percentage of the population has even the slightest clue as to what we are talking about (and even that percentage dreads reading what we’ve written). Kudos to Rachel Toor for writing this article!

bell hooks and the challenges of teaching in higher ed

Though the month is nearing its end, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge some of the amazing African-American thinkers and visionaries who have influenced my life. It’s unfortunate that we need to designate a month to ensure that topics that should be covered year long get mentioned.  Many have argued this same point, including someone I greatly admire–bell hooks. An African-American feminist teacher, hooks has inspired me with her progressive pedagogy and her unfailing willingness to venture into waters that many scholars avoid, such as the topic of love. I had the great pleasure of meeting her at the 2004 NCTE convention in Indianapolis and the even greater pleasure of discussing how love is ignored as a scholarly and pedagogically relevant subject. Her work on feminism, pedagogy, racism, and diversity have nourished me in my academic career. Her consistent commitment to accessibility has not only proven inspirational but has encouraged me to maintain my own commitment to making academic work and theory accessible to those outside of academia. hooks’ works are consistently easy to read and understand, accessible to multiple audiences, even as they express complex ideas and theories. Unlike theorists who preach accessibility while writing jargon-laden articles and books, bell hooks practices the kind of accessibility that she preaches. She manages to convey complex ideas to a broad audience without sacrificing quality, something that I also try to accomplish in my work as a teacher and scholar.

Since I am particularly fond of student generated media, here is a short YouTube video created in honor of bell hooks. (Point #7 is particularly relevant to Black History Month.)

A recent talk that bell hooks gave at Burton Street Community Center and Peace Gardens in Asheville, NC is also on YouTube. In her talk, she discusses community, technology, gender, and race and reads from one of her children’s books Be Boy Buzz. She ends her talk with the following: “In Buddhism we talk about the fact that the earth is my witness. So, we are here today to witness together the need to build community on all levels, to remember that community is not one-dimensional, to remember that we can come together in many different fronts and be together and belong.”

hooks’ scholarship and perspectives on community have been instrumental in my dissertation research. They have continued to encourage my belief in participatory research and education. Her book Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom profoundly influenced my own pedagogical approaches and introduced me to the Pauolo Freire’s “liberatory pedagogy.” I have continued to follow her work with great interest.

In a discussion with The Media Education Foundation, hooks talks about how “popular culture is where the pedagogy is; it is where the learning is” revealing how her interest in analyzing pop culture arose out of her experiences in the classroom. Students had difficulty understanding concepts of difference and otherness and how these were relevant to their lives, but when discussed in the context of films or tv shows, the students were better able to grasp the concepts. Part one of her discussion is included below:

An additional point that I appreciate here is her insistence upon the importance of critical thinking for all people and how the ability to think critically is an important tool that can make a difference in the lives of everyone, regardless of their material wealth or class status.

The most enabling resource that I can offer as a critic or an intellectual professor is the capacity to think critically about our lives. I think thinking critically is at the heart of anybody transforming their life and I really believe that a person who thinks critically who, you know, may be extraordinarily disadvantaged materially can find ways to transform their lives that can be deeply and profoundly meaningful in the same way that someone who may be incredibly privileged materially and in crisis in their life may remain perpetually unable to resolve their life in any meaningful way if they don’t think critically.

In addition hooks speaks against this idea that certain students should only be taught what are considered “practical skills” that they can use to get a job and make money. She doesn’t claim that this is unimportant; she simply emphasizes the importance of critical thinking as a tool and the right to learn it. Having taught in the Ivy League and at open admissions universities, hooks notes that the distinction between the students at the two types of schools is mostly based on their perception of their future:

My students were equally brilliant when I taught in Harlem as when I taught at Yale or Oberlin, but that their senses of what the meaning of that brilliance was and what they could do with it, their sense of agency was profoundly different….They don’t have that imagination into a future of agency and as such I think  many professors do not try to give them the gift of critical thinking. In a certain kind of patronizing way education just says all these people need is tools for survival, basic survival tools, like their degree so they can get a job and not in fact that we enhance their lives in the same way we’ve enhanced our lives by engaging in a certain kind of critical process.

The points that hooks makes here are some that I have struggled with myself. It’s crucial that we find the balance between equipping students with the skills that they expect to learn in order to find a job. The reality is that most students enter higher education with the objective of attaining a job, specifically one that is higher paying than the one they would get with a high school education. When I chose to go to college, while I certainly expected to get a job, my primary motivation was to learn knew things. I was lucky to have already been instilled with a belief in the importance of critical thinking and perhaps more importantly with the belief that it was my right to learn these things. (hooks mentions that Yale students feel entitled to that kind of learning in a way that her Harlem students do not.) I was also privileged enough that for me higher education was a given; I never doubted that I could and would go to college. Many of my students at Purdue have had similar experiences though it seems that most of them entered college with attaining a well-paying job as a primary objective. As educators we are faced with the challenge of meeting the wants and needs of our students as they perceive them and as we perceive them.

Ultimately, I believe that teaching critical thinking skills and the more “practical” on-the-job skills expected by our students are not incompatible goals. As educators we have the responsibility of providing students with the education that they want while maintaining our goals as teachers. Much of the challenge that arises here has much to do with not wanting to assume that we want to teach our students is more important than what they want to learn. The important point to recognize is that we have been educated and trained to know (or determine) what “global” tools that they need to learn the more specific or “local” tools. Teaching students how to think critically is a way of teaching them how to learn new things on their own. If we equip them with the global tools that they need in order to make learning a lifelong enterprise, we give them the gift of education and not just training. At the same time, if we are to successfully teach them the global tools, we must demonstrate how these tools can be translated into learning the skills that they seek. The important thing to recognize is that we can’t teach them all of the skills that they need for the workplace and the world, but we can help them learn the tools that they can use to continue to learn those skills beyond our classroom. The point that I am trying to make is that we cannot and should not choose critical thinking over workplace skills or vice-versa. Instead we should create curricula that enable the learning of both. It’s analogous to the way that we teach revision in writing. Students work from global concerns such as content, clarity, organization, etc. to more local concerns such as grammar, punctuation, and editing. A grammatically correct piece of writing is of little use if it is not clearly written, well-organized, and contains well-researched and carefully considered content. In the same way, skills are only effective if they are accompanied by an understanding of how the skills can be used and are learned.

Comments on the Huntsville Tragedy

At this point most of us in academia* know about the tragic events at University of Alabama last week when Amy Bishop, professor of Biology, opened fire during a Friday afternoon faculty meeting killing three professors and injuring three others. The Chronicle of Higher Education has covered the matter extensively with readers posting a range of comments in which they have speculated and responded to the violence that seems to be becoming so prevalent in the world of higher education. (Note: School shootings in secondary ed have been going on for some time, long before Columbine, which was more highly publicized because it was not an inner city school.) Since speculation has attributed to Bishop’s tenure denial this year, the shooting has raised questions about academic culture. Some have argued that the stress of tenure is partly to blame while others have wondered about how we care for mentally ill faculty and still others have firmly resisted making connections between the circumstances of Bishop’s work life and the shooting.

Let me begin my own commentary by saying that the tenure process is not to blame for this shooting. While few things in this world easily fall into black and white (the gray areas are far more prevalent), there are times when homicide can be understood. [I’m feeling chills of discomfort even here. I seem to be at a loss for words as to how to describe my feelings here.] A child whose parents have abused him or her mercilessly can suffer from PTSD (or a range of other mental disorders) causing him or her to dissociate and murder the abuser. I know that I am treading on shaky ground here. As I write this, I am still torn by my belief that murder is never right, never the answer. My next position is also shaky, given that I have just claimed that homicide can be understood. Still, I must say that many people do not receive tenure, and they don’t all go into faculty meetings and start shooting. By that same token, not all children who are abused kill the abuser. So, I don’t want to say that just because other people who don’t attain tenure don’t become shooters that Bishop’s failure to attain tenure could not factor into what she did. To be clear, this does not justify her actions. Ultimately, we will continue to have more questions than answers about her motivation and psychological state. Hopefully, her psychological evaluation will provide insight into why this obviously disturbed individual killed and injured her colleagues. All factors considered failing to attain tenure does not justify homicide.

In spite of some of the arguments that academic culture and tenure requirements can be blamed for Bishop’s actions on Friday, perhaps we can gain something by discussing the culture of academia– not as a justification for homicide, but as a part of our lives that might benefit from careful consideration, perhaps even a bit of excavation.

I have long been of the opinion that the culture of graduate school does not encourage self-care but in fact rewards behaviors that are unhealthy and even dangerous. How many of us have complained about the little sleep that we get while being secretly proud of our dedication? We work through the weekend, late into the night, at the expense of sleep. We fail to eat regular meals and crowd our schedules with additional projects and committees. Being busy demonstrates our ambition and dedication to our work, even when it comes at the expense of our health and relationships. I am completely guilty of buying into this culture and even having pride in my capacity to deny myself. In fact, it comes naturally to me. I’ve always been dedicated and obsessed with my work. It has been my life for so long that I almost forget that there are other things in the world. I inherited my mother’s workaholic gene. Yet this dedication that is so prized when demonstrated through our busy lives, sleep deprivation, and singular obsession with our work has often been to my detriment. Those who know me are aware of my health problems, which are extensive and at times have been disabling. There have been countless times where my obsession with work (and demonstrating the dedication that I have) has been extremely detrimental to my health, often resulting in set backs that I could ill-afford. As an epileptic, I must have a certain amount of sleep and avoid stress as much as possible. Two of the biggest factors in triggering seizures are stress and sleep deprivation. I know this and have tried to get enough sleep and avoid stress. (The latter of which is kind of a joke when you’re on the job market.) Yet even knowing all of this, last March I was working feverishly on a project, not getting enough sleep, and feeling the mounting stress of dissertation work and the upcoming job market. As a result, I ended up in the hospital emergency room, having my clothes cut off of me, and getting fourteen stitches above my left eye. I had a seizure and fell on my face, the cause of which, my doctor adamantly insisted, was my stress and sleep deprivation. This seizure could have caused me to lose an eye; the head trauma could have killed me; I was lucky. Every time I look into a mirror and see the arching scar above my left eye I am reminded of this. Yet even with this powerful reminder, I don’t always get enough sleep and the stress of dissertation and job market is such that I am losing my hair. My point in revealing all of this is simple: I can’t do this alone. I still live in a culture that praises lack of care and views care of self as indulgent. Continue Reading →

Remixing or Plagiarism?

The New York Times reports on a case about plagiarism in literature. In her novel Axolotl Roadkill, German author Helene Hegemann has taken large portions of her text from a previously, lesser known novel, Strobo. In an interview with German publication, The Local, Hegemann claims that her work challenges our previous ideas regarding originality and that it is about the “displacement of this whole copyright excess through the laws on copying and transforming.” Hegemann also states that:

I myself don’t feel it is stealing, because I put all the material into a completely different and unique context and from the outset consistently promoted the fact that none of that is actually by me.

I’m not certain of the veracity of that claim given that she also claims that she did not understand the protocol for appropriate attribution of sources. Not having read the novel, I don’t know if this was somewhere within the text or not. Unless of course she was referring to this line by one of her characters: “Berlin is here to mix everything with everything.” Ironically this claim is also taken verbatim, and without attribution, from the blog written by Strobo‘s author, Arien.

While I am a proponent of remixing and sampling in the context of multimedia, I also believe in using appropriate attribution in those contexts. In addition, the remixing of a single work or sampling from a variety of works to create something new (like a mashup) should serve a specific rhetorical purpose and be presenting in a context that is not identical to the original work. In my own practice and in my teaching, I follow the standards for fair use as defined by The Center for Social Media at American University in their publication Documentary Filmmakers Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use. Their video Remix Culture is a great representation and follows their Code of Best Practices for Fair Use in Online Video.

Check out the  Remix Culture video here:

apparently I am researching a myth

According to a recent book by Susan Clancy, The Trauma Myth, childhood sexual abuse is not traumatizing. In fact, according to Clancy, children may even enjoy it. Let me begin with this caveat: I have not actually read Clancy’s book. I read the Salon.com interview discussing her book. While Clancy is clear to point out that sex with children is a crime, her primary argument is that it does not result in trauma or PTSD. This is the “myth” she is referring to. According to Clancy

Most victims do not understand they are being victimized, because they are too young to understand sex, the perpetrators are almost always people they know and trust, and violence or penetration rarely occurs.

My first response to this is: of course they don’t understand that they are being victimized, they’re children and since, as Clancy notes, the abuse is usually perpetrated by people (and I would add “adults”) that they trust, they may very well think that it’s normal. Not consciously knowing that one is being victimized is quite distinct from the reality of being victimized. Many children who experience physical abuse at the hands of parents are also frequently unaware that they are being victimized. Quite simply, if it is the norm in their household, they assume that it is the norm in all households. Does this make the abuse less “wrong” or traumatizing? Furthermore, I wonder how Clancy defines “violence.” I would argue that all acts of sexual abuse are violent by nature. Perhaps these children aren’t being beaten, but they are certainly being coerced and forced to do something that they cannot freely consent to.

According to her interview, Clancy does believe that childhood sexual abuse is harmful but that the resulting psychological state is not traumatic. She cites the fact that few people seek treatment for the abuse in adulthood and that most of them first describe the experience as “confusing,” which she says is “a far cry from trauma.” She also notes that shame is part of the reason people don’t come forward about their sexual abuse. This is one of the few points that we agree on. However, Clancy argues that the shame isn’t so much a result of the abuse but rather that victims don’t see their responses as consistent with what they see portrayed in the media and pop culture. In other words, their response to the abuse isn’t identical to cinematic representations, etc. I disagree. The shame does not come from the fact that their responses may be different from those of others (although that may be a factor; I can’t say since I’ve seen no research on this) but is instead the result of feeling as though they are somehow to blame for the abuse.

I’m trying to not have a knee-jerk reaction to her argument, but knowing what I know makes that difficult. I’m sure that this is something I share with other researchers and survivors. Unfortunately, many of the comments posted on the Salon site reflect agreement with her argument. Certainly there are those who disagree and they have posted their refutations, but I am saddened by the number of people who dismiss the traumatizing effects of childhood sexual abuse.

In all honestly, I will probably not read Clancy’s book. I have neither the time nor inclination. This is a song that, sadly, I have heard before.

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