Hearing Women’s Voices: Digital Communities and Feminist Ethics

Here’s a paper I wrote recently, Hearing Women’s Voices: Digital Communities and Feminist Ethics.

[Edit: now available in HTML format here.]

The intro:

Introduction: Community and Ideas of “Space”

“Online community” is a highly contested concept. Are text interactions “authentic”? Are digital friendships real? Can collections of electronic conversations and relationships truly constitute a community? In what ways can conflicts be resolved?

Online community debates are beset on one side by entrenched ideas of geographic determinism, moral panics, and assumptions about a lack of “authenticity”, and on the other by technological determinism and transcendental utopianism. These dichotomous ideas miss the blurred boundary between online and offline life, and the multiple, mixed meanings in the spaces between. Inquiry into online community also risks an ahistorical approach, so I will chronicle ideas of online community with a longer-term view.

One of the key issues in the emergence and creation of community is the production and enforcement of norms, the ways in which conflicting ethical imperatives are discussed and resolved. In this paper I will look at the history of online communities and online community research, definitions of community, methodological approaches and limitations, and some issues around the emergence of norms and ethical systems online. As a case study, I will examine one conflict between traditional ethics and feminist ethics that occurred in and around a popular feminist blog in 2006. This conflict threw into relief participants’ differing interpretations of online rights and responsibilities.

I find this putting this sort of work “out there” really confronting. My personal-growth project over the last few months has been to tackle that feeling head-on, reminding myself of Bokardo’s 9 Lessons for Would-be Bloggers. This is the first time I’ve tackled any sort of academic philosophy, or started to explore ethics outside of the strictly traditional-individualist framework. I hope there’s something there of interest for some readers.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism

Tags: ,

4 replies

  1. I finally got off my arse and read this through, and I’m so sorry I didn’t do it when you sent me an earlier copy.
    The examination of community is quite fascinating. I’ll have to read it through again, several times, to absorb it all. Reading through all those comments about the Alas sale was quite confronting.
    Quite amusing coincidence that xkcd posted that map of online communities (see previous post) so soon after you finished this paper, and not so amusing that the whole Kathy Sierra incident coincided with your final work on it.

  2. And the whole conversation, consequent to the incident, on negotiating community and agreeing on/enforcing community norms. There seems to be a particular interest in the zeitgeist around this subject right now.
    I became quite absorbed in the methodology side of things, and I’ve love to see more academic work on that. As you could see, I’m definitely leaning toward the side that says an outsider examination of digital community, without access to any of the non-public communications, has major flaws. But what I’d really like to see is some authors tackling the methodological issues more explicitly, as at the moment they seem to pick an approach and stick to it, without really examining the potential flaws of the approach.
    Ethnography, of course, comes with its own special minefields too.

  3. Great stuff, Lauredhel! Like tigtog, I’ll need to reread the community stuff a bit more, though your application of Gilligan is great.

  4. Thanks Ariella! The community stuff is a bit – hm – concise, isn’t it? A rather large body of work condensed into a quick survey. I was condensing over 7500 words of notes into a <5500 word paper, and it was a challenge. I wanted to leave myself some room to focus on the ethics side of things.

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