Post 2 of #GPC@25: Mothers’ blogs: researcher’s analysis as valid use or abuse? by Nadia von Benzon

GPC@25The second post of our GPC@25 blog series is written by Dr Nadia von Benzon from the Lancaster Environment Centre at Lancaster University. In this post, Nadia considers the rise in popularity of ‘Mummy blogs’, the increase in the use of blogs as research data, and the implications of both for doing feminist research.

To find out more about how the journal is marking it’s 25th year, you can read Editor Pamela Moss’s post here. Please also follow us on Twitter and Facebook and include the hashtag #GPC@25. If you’d like to contribute to the series, please contact us at gpcat25@gmail.com.
Blogs written by mothers, also referred to as Mommy blogs, take a considerable share of the blogging market. According to www.marketer.com there are 4.2 million mothers blogging worldwide, making up 15.9% of the total blogs available online. These blogs vary widely in purpose and content, with a growing popularity in ‘honest’ blogs in the UK such as Slummy Single Mummy and the Selfish Mother. For social scientists, the blogosphere presents a smorgasbord of data, ripe for the picking. It goes almost without saying that the development and by now extensive use of qualitative research methods with social media and online technology means that we can without a doubt effectively use these blogs as data as we interrogate the experience of motherhood. However, the question remains over whether we should.

The arguments against this practice relate to well-rehearsed discussion over the imbalance of power inherent in a researcher taking the words and ideas of someone without their explicit informed consent. In the case of blogging, the author will be aware that the content they publish is public, and in blogging there is no protection from the law against the use of their words and ideas by other parties (although images remain the property of the artist and may not be used for profit without the express permission of the creator). However, academics, and particularly those identifying as feminists, will typically not deem acting legally as sufficient to assure themselves they are doing the right thing. In utilising blog content as data, we are potentially using an author’s content for a purpose they did not foresee, and sometimes this may include exposing their ideas and perhaps critiquing them in front of a new, potentially wider, often international, audience. Moreover, the public accessibility and searchability of the internet, means that it may be nearly impossible for the researcher to protect the identity of the blogger whose content they are analysing.

On the other hand, the internet offers huge, and growing potential for researchers to access unheard or hard-to-reach voices. Cyberspace allows easy access to minority and disparate participants – in the case of my recent research, mothers whose children are ‘unschooled’ – who might otherwise be hard to find. It allows for research across time zones and international borders from the comfort of the researchers’ desk chair. Further, using blogs as research data allows the participants to communicate in their own voice. In using blogs the research has been produced for a purpose that suited the participant, in a manner that was not influenced by a researcher’s agenda or the authors’ perceptions of the researcher’s agenda. Whilst there are a host of reasons why blogs may not represent a truly authentic voice, whatever that might be, they at least do not include the researcher’s influence until they are sampled and analysed.

However, there is another, and perhaps more controversial, argument in support of the use of blogs in research which relates to the author’s rights to be recognised as a cogent agent in the research process. As scholars, we do not hesitate to cite the work of other authors who have run the peer-reviewing gauntlet to publish in academic journals or books. Similarly, we cite without questioning the ethics, the work of professional authors and journalists who themselves may have written for the Times or the Huffington Post, without the expectation of being analysed by an early career geography lecturer. Therefore, is declining to use blogs on the ground of author vulnerability, not in fact a paternalistic and highly hierarchical approach that deems these mothers’ published contributions to public knowledge less purposeful or less thought-through than other authors? Tentatively, I suggest that to avoid the free use of mothers’ blogs as valuable data sources is to deny these woman, often already marginalised as primary care givers, and as non-males, their agency as writers who have wittingly chosen to publish their ideas in a public forum.

Additional publications:

von Benzon, N. (2017), Unruly Children in Unbounded Spaces: School-based nature experiences for urban learning disabled young people in Greater Manchester, UK, Journal of Rural Studies, 51, 240-250:   http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0743016716301619
von Benzon, N. (2016), Confessions of an inadequate researcher: space and supervision in research with learning disabled children, Social and Cultural Geography, 1-20:  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14649365.2016.1257148

 

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Post 1 of #GPC@25: Cities as catalysts of gendered social change? by Dr Alice Evans

GPC@25

Welcome to the first post in our new blog series called GPC@25; a special series of blogs that will be posted throughout 2018 to mark Gender, Place and Culture turning 25 and to celebrate the development and scholarship of feminist geography. We are delighted to open the series with a contribution by Dr Alice Evans from Kings College London. In this post, she offers insights into her ethnographic research in rural and urban Cambodia and Zambia and explores the way in which cities can catalyse gender equality and social change.

To find out more about how the journal is marking the occasion, you can read Editor Pamela Moss’s post here. Please also follow us on Twitter and Facebook and include the hashtag #GPC@25. If you’d like to contribute to the series, please contact us at gpcat25@gmail.com.

Support for gender equality is rising, globally. People increasingly champion girls’ education, women’s employment, and leadership. Scholars have suggested several explanations for this trend: (a) the growing availability of contraceptives; (b) domestic appliances; (c) cuts in men’s wages and the rising opportunity costs of women staying at home; and (d) seeing women in socially valued roles. These theories are plausible. But can they account for rural-urban differences?

Across Asia and Africa, urban residents are more likely to support gender equality in education, employment and leadership than their rural compatriots. This holds even when controlling for age, education, employment, income, and access to infrastructure. Likewise, in the 2016 US elections, city-dwellers were more likely to support Hillary Clinton (controlling for geographic region, education, income, age, race, and religious affiliation). Why is this?

gpc

To explore these possibilities, I undertook ethnographic research in rural and urban Cambodia and Zambia: interviewing migrant workers; farmers; fishermen; traders; students; teachers; office-workers; politicians; and government officials. My data suggests that cities can catalyse gender equality because they: (1) raise opportunity costs; enable (2) exposure to alternatives; (3) association; and (4) proximity to services.

First, cities often raise the opportunity costs of gender divisions of labour: higher living costs; more economic opportunities for women (in services and manufacturing); and the contemporary precarity of male employment. This shift in perceived interests has triggered rising support for female employment – in both Cambodia and Zambia.

Second, cities enable exposure to alternatives. People living in interconnected, heterogeneous, densely populated areas are more likely to see women in socially valued, masculine domains. Seeing women mechanics, breadwinners and leaders increases people’s confidence in the possibility of social change: inspiring others; catalysing further experimentation; generating a positive feedback loop.

Third, cities enable association with diversity. People may shift their norm perceptions (beliefs about what others think and do) by chatting and sharing ideas in cafes, markets, and offices: seeing others condemn inequalities, demonstrate zero tolerance of abuse, and champion women leaders.

Nsenga (41, circular migrant, fish wholesaler): In the village, there are no educated women for girls to look up to, so they don’t aspire for employment.

Annie (45, widow, circular migrant, fish wholesaler): But here in town, there are nurses, teachers, doctors. Girls think, ‘if I am educated then I can be a doctor’. Here in town children see everyone going to school but in the village, they just see two people…

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Nsenga: Here in town a woman may stop school to give birth, then she will be desperate to return to school and finish. But in the village, they just give birth and it’s all over. It’s because of early marriage. There’s nothing else they see and aspire for [translated from Bemba].

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Alice: What do you think of Phnom Penh? [speaking to trainee flight attendants]

Son: I meet new people, we share our experiences. But in rural areas, we just stuck with the old ideas. The idea is stuck because we don’t go out. [Here in the city] I feel wonderful. Seeing women dress up beautiful, earn their own living.

Bopha: I saw a woman driving a tuk tuk.

Son: Now it’s common.

First author: How did you feel, seeing her?

Bopha: I feel strange. Why don’t she find other job, like seller or company? I’ve never seen that before.

Son: It really impressed me, because what a man can do a woman can do…

Chanda: It shows men I can do it.

This process is much slower in rural Cambodia and Zambia. Rural remoteness and homogeneity curb exposure to alternatives, dampening confidence in the possibility of social change, deterring deviation.

Fourth, urban women are closer to health and police services – so potentially more able to control their fertility and secure external support against gender-based violence. But if these service-providers are unhelpful, then proximity is clearly no safeguard.

Urban experiences are also mediated by macro-economic context, the sectoral composition of job growth, and occupational status. While Zambian market traders learn from a bustling diversity of assertive women, home-based workers are more socially isolated. There are also limits to Cambodian factory work: long hours, berated, harassed, and closely controlled. Breaks are brief: gulp a sugary drink, guzzle a plate of rice and fatty meat, compare bundles completed, then hasten back for the bell.

While cities are no panacea, they are accelerating progress towards gender equality.

Intrigued?

Read more!

Evans, A. (forthcoming) ‘Cities as catalysts of gendered social change: reflections from Zambia’, the Annals of the Association of American Geographers.

Evans, A. and Swiss, L. (2017) ‘Cities, gender equality, and social change in Africa and Asia’. Working paper.

Dr. Alice Evans, Lecturer in the Social Science of International Development, King’s College, London

Twitter: @_alice_evans

This blog post was first published on ‘From Poverty to Power

Celebrating 25 years of Gender, Place and Culture: a note on our celebrations and the ’25 blogs’ series, by Editor Pamela Moss

GPC@25It is wonderful that Gender, Place and Culture is celebrating 25 years of publication. As part of this celebration, throughout the year, Gender, Place and Culture will be a sponsor for lectures and sessions at multiple conferences. There will be a series of reviews of some of the influential books within the discipline that give some insight into how feminist geographies came to be. We will also publish a number of journal articles that show how they have transformed the wider discipline of geography, what issues are important to feminist geographies now, and what the future may hold. If this is something that appeals to you, you can find out more about it here.

The introduction of this website for Gender, Place and Culture has also opened up a new venue for publishing. In addition to announcements and calls associated with the journal, the blog has been an opportunity to write about the things feminist geographers immerse themselves in every day – what is done well and what can be done better!

In celebration of turning 25 and in honouring our commitment to showcasing the contributions of feminist geographers in the field, Anna Tarrant and Lisa Dam have commissioned a new set of blogs to be published throughout the year that speak to the interests of feminist geographers – whether it be a reflection on the ethics of research practice, on a moment in the history of the discipline, or on how to survive the challenging times we live in. We invite you to keep up with us as we post a new blog (hopefully more!) roughly every month.

We know that the field is flourishing. And it has been mostly about you – your research, your scholarship, your reviews, your commitment, your feminism, and your interest in feminist geographies! If you have an idea that you want to blog about this year in order to contribute to our celebrations – let Anna and Lisa know at gpcat25@gmail.com.

This blog is yours!

Call for blog post contributions: Help us celebrate 25 years of Gender, Place and Culture!

In 2018, Gender, Place and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and we’d like to mark the occasion by hearing from those of you who have an interest in all things feminist geography! We are therefore looking for expressions of interest to contribute blog posts to our website!

We seek 25 blogs for 25 years. The posts will be released approximately twice a month throughout 2018. And, if we receive more than 25 blogs, we’ll post them more frequently! As well as being shared via our Facebook and Twitter feed (please share with anyone who you think might be interested!) using our special #GPC25 hashtag, the blogs will also be featured on this site and a new GPC@25 website that is currently under construction.

What we need now

All we need at this stage is: 1) title/subject and 2) a short statement of a sentence or two outlining the broad topic. We will decide on the release date of the blogs nearer the time. So at this stage you are only committing yourself to delivering a 750-word blog/essay in principle.

What should I write about?

You may already have a great idea but as a guide, the theme is “Feminist Geographies at 25”. Blogs might reflect on the following ideas, but do not need to be limited to them:

  • Key interventions made by feminist geographers;
  • Histories of feminist geography;
  • Doing feminist geographies;
  • Key themes or issues;
  • Feminist geographers that have inspired your work;
  • Impact of the journal in your work;
  • Calls to action;
  • Why you wanted to be published in Gender, Place and Culture; and

Comments on current events are also appropriate, especially when related to aspects of feminist geography.

Who can write for the site?

We welcome submissions from geographers of all career stages – researchers, scholars, master’s and doctoral students, post-docs, undergraduate students, and community activists. We would especially like to encourage doctoral students and early career researchers to contribute.

Where do I submit my idea and my blog?

Submission ideas should be sent to our dedicated GPC@25 website email address (GPCat25 @ gmail.com) by 31st August 2017. These will ideally be posted in the first half of 2018. A second submission date will be set later. Blog ideas will be vetted and selected that reflect the broad interests of feminist geographers. Once your post has been selected, Anna Tarrant the social media coordinator for Gender, Place and Culture, will get in touch with you to provide an approximate timeline for delivering the blog. We would expect that most contributions be sent to us in the space of 2-3 weeks.

If you have any questions, please ask. Ideas do not need to be fully formed at this stage and we are happy to provide further guidance/advice if necessary.