The 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.