Posts Tagged ‘Foucault’

Discourse as a verb

February 24, 2010

I’m thinking more seriously about my methodology as I begin my research on how a teen blogger conceptualizes audience when writing online. I am using a sociocultural perspective of literacy to frame my study and so I’m thinking about how I conceptualize discourse. This is one of those words that you see everywhere in scholarly work but can get sticky because there is a variance of usage.

For my study, I am using the term discourse in the sense of language-in-use. Drawing largely from Foucault, I see discourse as functional–as a verb, a set of actions, and as something we use language to DO. In my study discourse will be considered as reflective of the mental processes I’m looking at which are the ways that teens are conceptualizing their audience as they write in online spaces.

To be clear, this is different from a textual analysis. I’m not looking at the processes that make a unit of language take shape and have meaning but what the teens are DOING. They are using images, video, layout, language, etc TO DO SOMETHING and I’m interested in who they imagine as their audience when they do.

So in my case, discourse analysis is a way to make visible language and literacy events in the blogs–specifically the “conversations” that happen both via blogroll/commentary/hyperlinked blogs AND in the heads of the bloggers, since I see the blog as one side of a one-to-many conversation. Who are they talking to, what about, and why?

Discourse analysis makes sense as one piece of my approach for a study of audience awareness of teen bloggers because blogging is social media (well, sometimes–depends on how it’s taken up!) And I’m considering writing as a social interaction–response to a real-imagined audience.

The discourse in this case is NOT neutral and CREATES an audience.

Of course, as represented by my graphic, I am considering discourse within the sociocultural frame. It is important to mention that I don’t see offline/online as discrete. Shoutout to danah boyd: “[Teenagers’] participation is rarely divorced from offline peer culture; teens craft digital self-expressions for known audiences and they socialize almost exclusively with people they know” (p. 3 in her dissertation). As Miller and Slater (2000) assert: “We need to treat Internet media as continuum with and embedded in other social spaces…they happen within mundane social structures and relations that they may transform but that they cannot escape into a self-enclosed cyberian apartness” (p. 5). I view the Internet as embedded within teenagers’ lives and as taking significance only through its use. The teenagers though are socioculturally situated. They are teenagers, who blog…and I will even need to clarify that “teenager” is a sociocultural construction! And that blogging is just one practice within the “ecology” as Jenkins says of their literacy practices.

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Rethinking audiences in writing online

February 23, 2010

I’m planning to begin researching the way a teenage blogger conceptualizes her audience when writing online. This study necessitates some thinking about the concepts of authorship and audience in blogging.

I argue that the blog fosters a unique relationship between author and audience mainly as a result of the way that the blog structures communication. The kinds of communicative structures blogging platforms support include asynchronous communication by way of comment boxes and response to blog posts by other bloggers via interlinked blogs (in other words, the possiblity for interaction by potentially vociferous audiences), the ability of the Internet to allow for wider, possibly global dissemination of texts to invisible, anonymous, and heterogeneous audiences and at the same time a combination of known, offline audiences as well. None of these characteristics are new, but in the kind of combination made possible by the blog, they are unique to this platform (Fornas, et al. 2002; McMillan, 2002).

Although blogging as a part of so-called “Web 2.0” applications is thought of as an artifact of “participatory culture” as defined by Jenkins (1994, 2006), audiences have been thought of as participatory before blogging or Web 2.0 audiences. Levine (1991) reminds us that audiences in the 19th century and Elizabethan theater can be characterized as “…more than an audience; they are participants who can enter into the action on the field, who feel a sense of immediacy and at times even of control, who articulate their opinions and feelings vocally and unmistakably” (p. 167). These audiences could structure the course of a performance through their vocal feedback delivered as a performance unraveled.

Furthermore, while some have argued that later audiences for television were passive and less subjective consumers of mass culture (Chomsky), other theorists have disputed this notion (Foucault, 1980, holding that the discourse dissipates the power) and research has been done about the participatory nature of even television viewing (Hall, 1974, Morely, 1980; Ang, 1991).

In this case, I hold audience to be of two parts. For a blog, there is both a real audience which are those who actually read the blog (these readers might be known to the author online or offline or unknown “lurkers”) and an audience which exists in the mind of the blogger.

Ang’s analysis relying on Foucault’s notion of discourse to examine audience is useful to me in my attempt to describe how authors are conceptualizing their audience, this audience that exists within their heads. Ang argues that television producers view their audiences as somewhat homogenous and able to be classified and controlled through the use of particular discourses which position them as consumers in order to sell them products and services. However, the audiences constructed by these discourses do not exist organically and the real audiences for television programs end up a mismatch which are more agentic than the television producers attempt to make them.

Like Ang, I believe that blog authors construct a certain picture of the audience that they envision in their head through the discourse they use in their blog text. By uncovering the discourses of the audience developed by the blogger, I think we can know more about how the blogger conceptualizes her audience.

However, because blog audiences are not only discursively constructed but also exist in the “real world”, I will examine the blog comments and interview bloggers about evidence they have of “actual” audiences for their blog.

In addition to the theoretical basis hitherto described, this approach is also based on work by Ede and Lunsford (1984) wherein they challenged the previous dichotomous approaches to audience, audience addressed and audience invoked. Those in the audience addressed camp believed that tailoring writing to a specific audience is not just a real possibility but also the key to strong, successful rhetoric. Those who believe in the audience invoked, on the other hand, see audience as a “constructed fiction” (Ong). Ede and Lunsford argue that neither of these approaches is the reality of the rhetorical situation when it comes to audience. In the case of a blogger’s sense of who their audience is, I would agree with Ede and Lunsford that audience should be viewed as both real and concrete as well as existing within the mind of the writer.

What am I overlooking in my theoretical framework? I would appreciate any feedback.