Category Archives: As A Scholar

why I fight

And when I say fight, I mean research and write. For me, fighting (in the sense of working to accomplish something) is particular to who I am–a scholar, a writer, a teacher. As many of you know (or will discover from reading my blog), my research deals with psychological trauma. I research trauma because I believe that the people who have experienced trauma matter. That they deserve to have their voices heard. That their experiences have not been in vain.

While watching a rerun of one of my favorite television shows, Criminal Minds, something important occurred to me. My research focuses on those who experience what I call “personal” traumas. All trauma is personal, so when I say “personal trauma” I mean people who have experienced trauma as a result of individual acts of violence like sexual assault, childhood abuse, and domestic violence. One of the reasons that I focus on them is because of the stigma that is still associated with these traumas. For a long time all traumas and their aftermath, PTSD, were stigmatizing. Soldiers returning from war were seen as malingerers rather than as victims of the trauma of war. Since Vietnam PTSD has become a recognized psychological disorder and since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is greater public awareness of psychological trauma and with that awareness comes less stigma. However, it is important to note that the lessening of stigma does not alleviate the pain of trauma. The pain is real; it remains a living memory that haunts the individual who has experienced it. People who experience trauma during “public” acts of violence, like war and terrorist events such as 9/11, are more accepted as “real” sufferers. Their stories are less taboo, and their experiences tend to be validated more. Validation certainly helps. In fact, validation and awareness help to alleviate some of the sense of alienation felt by those who have experienced trauma. In spite of that, the reality of the trauma and the suffering that it engenders does not go away.

The fact that I focus on personal traumas and thus do not focus on the trauma of war compels me to write this post. While I am not researching and writing about soldiers and veterans who blog about trauma, their experiences are not unimportant to me. In fact, one of the reasons that my dissertation deals with blogging about trauma is due to reading the blogs of soldiers and talking to them. My original dissertation idea actually focused on veterans. I wanted to study narrative ability in people who’ve experienced trauma, and I hoped to conduct my study through the VA. Unfortunately, my qualifications do not include a PhD in Psychology, and the IRB isn’t keen on letting rhetoricians study protected populations. As a result, I returned to an earlier research idea conceived when I began stumbling on trauma blogs. I was researching blogging and continuing my research on trauma when the two somehow converged. I became interested in this counterpublic (to use Michael Warner‘s term) who were loosely connected through their strategic use of blogging. The subgenre of the trauma blog became the research topic for my dissertation, yet I chose to exclude the blogs of those traumatized as a result of war or terrorist attacks. Partly this was practical, I needed to limit the number of blogs that I used in my analysis. The other reason for this choice was more ideological in nature. Drawing attention to those who speak out about traumas that are still highly stigmatized will hopefully lessen the stigma or, at the very least, draw attention to these survivors brave enough to speak out.

In the future I hope to apply the same research strategies to the blogs written by veterans.

rememory: it was not a story to pass on

The following is an Animoto film representing Toni Morrison’s concept “rememory” as presented in the novel, Beloved. “Rememory” is the idea that past experiences are never really gone. Like traumas, they are types of living memory, and as Morrison’s character, Sethe explains, you can “bump into” someone else’s rememory.

Create your own video slideshow at animoto.com.

Create your own video slideshow at animoto.com.

Rock is dead. Long live paper and scissors.

While searching YouTube for short documentaries, I came across the following video “Rock Paper Scissors” . I was fairly convinced that this was a mockumentary, but to be sure, I searched for the Rock Paper Scissors Society mentioned on the site. It’s a relatively large website with quite a few posts, and as I went through the site, it seemed credible. Still, I wasn’t convinced. You all know how many seemingly professional websites lack real credibility. More research was necessary. A short google later, I’m listening to an excerpt from NPR’s Morning Edition and the topic of said excerpt? You guessed it. RPS. Or more specifically it was about the winner of the World RPS tournament.

I’m not sure what I can say about this from a theoretical point of view. If anyone else has any ideas, feel free to share. I mostly just thought that it was an interesting example of how one defines a game. I would never have considered “rock paper scissors” as a game; although I suppose it is. I just never thought carefully about it. It is, however, my preferred way to make a decision. (And I wish I was kidding; but I’m not.) Beyond using it to decide where to eat, who gets the front seat, and what to name my first born child, I haven’t given “rock paper scissors” much consideration. Obviously, some folks have. So, here’s what I wonder: there are folks who think that LARPing is pretty insane; I’m trying to be open minded but I find this to be pretty crazy; where do you folks stand on this topic? It seems that RPS is pretty much the simplest game that you can have (other than maybe thumb war?) and to me, it seems strange to have such an investment in RPS to the extent that you travel across the world to compete in a tournament. How does the complexity of a game determine its significance? I mean; are these folks gamers as we define those who LARP or play WOW or the Wii? (Oh, I thought of another simple one–flipping a coin.) Are these games? Is there some overarching characteristic that a game must have? I mostly asking because I’m thinking about the restrictions that many want to put on the definitions of writing and texts. Is this analogous? Am I just crazy to be even making this a topic of discussion? Smiling

Well, will you look at that? I guess I had something remotely theoretical to say (or ask).

blogging and work

Another post from my former New Media class. This one inspired my post on gender and documentation.

So many blogs, so many drupal sites, so little time. Ahem, do you ever have those moments when you realize that you’ve forgotten to do something (for several weeks)? Well, welcome to my moment and the moment finds me thinking about the nature of blogs. Now I know from my various readings and discussions that blogs started as online diaries. From there it was a short walk to social and political commentary, but what I’m wondering is: when did blogs become work? For some of us (myself included) our relationship to work is complicated at best. For example, it’s early Friday evening and my plans are:working on one of my web projects and grading student papers (oh, and writing this blog entry). Coffee and kitty cats are included in this scenario (and probably a little Veronica Mars), which only further complicates the matter. Lots of folks have been writing and talking about the way that work has permeated our personal lives, so that many of us never really leave work behind. I think that this is even more complicated for graduate students, educators, freelancers and other folks without distinctly set work hours. My laptop, my wireless connection, my Blackberry–all of the accoutrements of my postmodern existence enable me to work whenever and wherever I wish. It makes for a beautiful amount of freedom and flexibility while simultaneously altering how those words are defined. Free time isn’t something that has much meaning for me, making me reflect on how others, both current and past, relate(d) to the concept of free time. If I look to my personal, familial past, I cannot remember any time when my mother didn’t seem busy but I discard that as evidence because my mother is a workaholic (thanks for those genes, Mom) and it wasn’t really that long ago. What if I look back a few more decades and think about the lives of my grandparents (or at least the bricolage lives that I have built out of family stories). My grandparents were children of the Depression. Free time connotes a kind of frivolity that they could not afford. Although I don’t agree with Adorno’s assessment of hobbies as necessarily work, in the case of my grandparents the comparison is fairly apt. In her free time my grandmother worked on writing her novel (which under different circumstances might have been her profession). My grandfather hunted, but not for pleasure. He hunted so that they’d have food to eat. Of course later in their lives, when they were financially stable, there was time for leisure.

Financial stability is key to this discussion. Leisure is the luxury of those who have the money to afford it. Even as I talk about how “we” are blurring to boundaries between work and life/leisure, I am aware that “we” constitutes a particular population performing a specific kind of work. It’s easy for me to talk about the effect of technology on work and leisure because I belong to the “we” that constantly appear in the media (okay, I couldn’t resist, but to clarify: in magazines, on the news, in blogs such as this). This “we” is often represented as a totality when in fact those of us for whom the boundaries between work and life have blurred in this particular way, comprise a fairly small percentage of the world’s population.

It’s a truism that categories never really have definition in the sense of clearly defined/delineated differences between one category and the others. Binaries (as Morgan R. mentioned today) are indeed myths but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t useful as locations of inquiry. The tension that exists between (and around the concept of) binaries provides us with a space for investigation. It’s the only way to approach the world and still retain your sanity: all aspects of life have the potential to faciliate our learning, even (and sometimes especially) those things that cause difficulties in our lives. So, back to binaries. I’d take it even a step farther and say that binaries can be seen as locatable points on a much broader spectrum. I’m sure that the distinction between work and leisure has never been as clear as nostalgia may make it appear to be. I know that this isn’t a new phenomenon but the specifics are a sampling of the already new that when combined seem to create something whose parts may not be new but the whole that they comprise is a new combination of those parts. Can the whole be new even when its parts are not? I guess it all comes down to definitions. If something is only new when all of its parts are also new, then nothing is ever new and the term ceases to have much usefulness. Maybe its time to revise the way that we define “newness.” Or does its usefulness lie in reminding us of the kind of ambiguities that any discussion of “progress” includes?

I’ve been making a big deal about how nothing is really ever new. Even blogs can be seen as a hybrid of diaries, letters and commonplace books. Yet even though these are not new per se, the ways that they have evolved from older technologies and media have significantly affected the way that we experience our world. Our commonplace books can be shared across continents not merely within a household. Still all of the media that I identify as the progenitors of the blog are typically associated with personal lives. Blogs began as personal but have since expanded to include blogs for social commentary as well as those created for business. Companies who enlist bloggers to promote their products are continually increasing, so much so that there are blogs like this one that contain job postings for bloggers. Blogs have even become a source of income for the casual blogger thanks to Google ads and similar. The sales blogs can be clearly categorized as work. The blogger who blogs for personal satisfaction who also uses her blog as a source of income still fits on the leisure/life end of the spectrum. It’s blogs like Donovon Lange’s work blog. Lange identifies himself as a software engineer who works on Microsoft OneNote and he makes a distinction between his work blog and his personal blog; however, his work blog is maintained during his leisure time. (Or at least is not officially part of his work at Microsoft.) He doesn’t have to keep this blog; we can assume that he does so for his own personal reasons. Yet he still feels the need to make the distinction between Donovan the software engineer and Donovan the person.

My blog is blurry at best. When your work is what you love to do, how do you know when work ends and life begins or is it ever that simple? I blog for my own personal satisfaction; I have my students blog as part of their course requirements and my responding to these blogs easily falls into the category of work; I am also required to blog Technically, this is my free time and what I’m doing is work. I’m fulfilling a requirement of my work by writing this but I’m enjoying it too. How important is it that I reify these boundaries and binaries if I’m okay with the blurry edges?

struggling with ethical dilemnas

I find myself in an interesting situation this morning: considering the ethics of what I do.  Much of the time my work is with vulnerable populations.  However, the majority of my research participants self-disclose online, which means that they have already agreed to divulge information about their personal experiences.  That being said, I find rich information, regarding experiences of people involved in traumatic situations, in my face-to-face life as well.  The challenge is: how much of their information can I disclose?  Obviously, I would leave out identifying information unless I had their explicit permission to do so.  However, is it ethical for me to quote them without permission?  My conclusion, influenced by the advice of a colleague, is to hold off on sharing information privately disclosed prior to gaining permission.  The challenge, then, is how do you ask someone who is maybe not as familiar with blogging, if you can quote them on your blog.  This, I feel, is relevant to my research because my particpant bloggers are divulging sensitive information and should they divulge information regarding others in their blog without permission, am I being unethical including it in my research?

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