I’m becoming increasingly interested in the “category” function of blogs. I’ve noticed that as this blog evolves I have had to keep adding categories, which in turn have helped point me in new directions for further research.

This has been particularly true in my Ph.D blog which at the moment is all about exploring the key terms of my research and finding an appropriate typology and framework.

The gradual emergence of key categories is a major tenet of grounded research methodology and in thinking about blogging as a research method it would be interesting to look at the connections between blogging and grounded research. The notion of a category in grounded theory method is much more rigorously produced than blog categories but I think there is certainly value in using some of the thinking about categoires that grounded theorists have done to help us understand better the function of categories in research and academic blogging.

Honoria Madelyn Starbuck for her disertation on internet correspondence art develops a model that links grounded theory research method with the artistic practice of collage. She writes:

In both grounded theory and collage techniques there are a number of things happening simultaneously. Pieces of the whole are moved around and put next to each other and moved away from each other to find their final relationship in terms of the composition.

Interestingly Blogger doesn’t seem to easily provide categories as part of its set-up and this is a major disadvantage of using this free system for student blogs.

Blair gradually softens language

The Guardian navigates changes in Tony Blair’s language about Saddam and WMDs:

How PM’s language changed

Saddam Hussein’s regime is developing weapons of mass destruction, and we cannot leave him doing so unchecked
April 10 2002, House of Commons

There are literally thousands of sites. I have no doubt that they will find the clearest possible evidence of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction
June 4 2003, House of Commons

I don’t concede it at all that the intelligence at the time was wrong. I have absolutely no doubt at all that we will find evidence of weapons of mass destruction programmes
July 8 2003, evidence to Commons liaison committee

But I have to accept, as the months have passed, it seems increasingly clear that at the time of invasion, Saddam did not have stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons ready to deploy
July 14 2004, statement on the Butler report

The information, some of it, the intelligence on which we founded our case, has turned out to be wrong
September 26 2004, BBC Breakfast with Frost

The evidence about Saddam having actual biological and chemical weapons, as opposed to the capability to develop them, has turned out to be wrong.I acknowledge that and accept it
Yesterday, Labour party conference

Bush and Blair

The Guardian’s Ros Taylor makes an interesting comparison between Tony Blair’s and George Bush’s rhetorical strategies.

And there was a great deal of Bushery about today’s speech. Like the US president, Tony has developed a winning habit of acknowledging his opponents’ views, plucking them out, and flicking them far away into the bushes of the Rose Garden. “People say I’m …” opens George. “I know people say …” echoes Tony. Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.

This may well be the case but after a quick sail through the text of Blair’s speech to the current Labour Conference, what struck me were the differences of style. Blair punctutaes the speech with humour and rhetorical questions that creates a humour and a sense of inclusion that often seems to be lacking from Bush’s presidential pronouncements.

I need to do a close reading of the speech and compare it Bush’s convention speech.

Some more pertinent and funny comments from Taylor:

God may move in mysterious ways, but the Labour party – well, Tony knows just how to elicit their forgiveness. It’s part belief, part a base appeal to their love of power. “I’m like any other human being,” he told delegates, “as fallible and as capable of being wrong.” The difference, of course, is that when Tony’s wrong, he’s still fundamentally right….

“It’s been hard for you,” he said. “Like the delegate who told me: ‘I’ve defended you so well to everyone I’ve almost convinced myself.’ That’s loyalty for you.”

This was startling stuff, when you thought about it. Tony was thanking a delegate for lying on his behalf. Still, that’s what it takes to be a Blairite – the courage, not of your own convictions, but of Tony’s: the belief in a higher cause, and the readiness to endure the dirty fighting, the sexed-up dossiers, the unsavoury bedfellows along the way. He denied that the battle is a religious war. But it sure as hell sounds like a crusade, and a damned uncomfortable one at that.

The rhetorical strategies of Bush, Blair and Howard and how these played to the American, British and Australian media would make for a very interesting study. Maybe this is an alternative point of comparison rather than the historic comparison of the cold war.

The Jesus Factor

Just watched PBS’ doco on Bush and his faith, The Jesus Factor, which screened tonight on SBS.

Liberal evangelical activist, Jim Wallis’ has an interesting analysis of the trajectory of Bush’s faith:

When I met the president and began talking with him, and listening to what he was saying, I felt that he was sort of a self-help Methodist — meaning, someone whose faith had made a difference in his personal life. Solved some drinking issues and some family issues, and changed him. Gave him purpose. That’s part of Methodism. Always has been. Kind of a 12-step God — you know, changing my life….

Then Sept. 11 came. I think his role changed dramatically, his notion of himself and his place in history, and he became commander in chief of the war on terrorism. The self-help Methodist became now almost a messianic American Calvinist, speaking of the mission of America, and even of his perhaps divine appointment to be president at a time such as this.

This raises some deep and unsettling theological questions, I think, whether there’s a confusion now in the role of church and nation — the body of Christ, the Christian community, what its role is versus the role of the nation.

Wallis is prepared to admit that “calling” and doing “God’s work” is the task of any committed Christian but it is the divisive certainty of Bush’s mission that disturbs him:

But when one believes that you’ve been appointed by God for a particular mission in history, you have to be very careful about that, how you speak about that. Where is the self-reflection in that? Where is the humility in that? Are we asking whether we are being accountable to God’s intentions and purposes? Or are we asking for God’s blessing on our activities? They’re very different things.

I think when we are so sure that God is on our side, and that those who are not with us are against us, or even with the terrorists, that’s taking another step. I believe God is in our world, in our history, in our lives, in our choices. To ask what God’s calling is for me is a fair question, a necessary question, for any Christian. That’s not a problem.

But when we place God on our side of things, that we are now ridding the world of evil — that’s very dangerous, that one nation has this role to rid the world of [evil]. What about the evil we have committed, that we are complicit in? The richest nation in this global economic system, in which 2 billion of God’s children are poor [and] live on less than $2 a day?

Well, there are things to look at ourselves here, if we’re presiding over that global economy. Does this language allow us to look at ourselves, or does it give us a kind of certainty, and a sanction, and even a sense of divine righteousness for our political position? Are we blinded to things that we’re otherwise not willing to look at?

Richard Land the director of the Southern Baptist Convention points out that Bush’s public religiosity and sense of mission is part of an ongoing mainstream religious tradition In American politics:

George W. Bush is standing squarely in the middle of American history and American tradition, and believing in American exceptionalism. Does that mean that America is God’s chosen people? No. No. Does it mean that we believe that an angel still rides in this storm, as they did at the founding? Yes. Yes.

I believe that. I believe that the United States of America has a divinely given responsibility to hold up the flame of freedom, and whenever possible, to advance it. I don’t make any apology for that. That’s part of who I am as an American. Just exactly what does the left think that John F. Kennedy was talking about, when he said, “We’re going to let tyrants of the world beware. We’re willing to go anywhere, bear any price, assume any burden, defend [against] any foe, support any friend, in defense of liberty?”…

But I can’t imagine that there would be a president of the United States in my lifetime — and I was born during the Truman administration — that would not have given some religious context to the events of 9/11. We have to understand that America is a very religious nation. I know this disturbs and perplexes the New York Times, but it is a fact. When the Pew Trust does a study, for instance, they find that [for] somewhere between 65 percent and 70 percent of Americans, religion is very important in their lives. You compare that with Canada where it’s 28 percent, and Great Britain, where it’s 17 percent.

And Doug Wead, a Bush family friend and evangelical political consultant, makes a fascinating comment about the real and the calculated in Bush’s religiosity:

There’s no question that the president’s faith is real, that it’s authentic, that it’s genuine, and there’s no question that it’s calculated. I know that sounds like a contradiction. But that will always be the case for a public figure, regardless of their faith, whether they’re Islamic, or Jewish, or Christian….

Gandhi once said, “He who says that religion and politics don’t mix understands neither one.” I would say that I don’t know when he’s sincere and when he’s calculated, and a reporter for FRONTLINE doesn’t know. George Bush doesn’t know when he’s operating out of a genuine sense of his own faith, or when it’s calculated, and there must be gray areas in between. I think he operates instinctively.

For example, in the Iowa debate, when he said Jesus was his favorite philosopher, it’s very questionable whether that helped him. It didn’t help him, especially in Iowa, especially not by very much. … It happened too late, and it was too shocking to have a great impact on the Iowa caucus. It may have a cumulative effect today. It may be remembered by evangelicals along with other things, and may make them more likely to embrace him in 200[4].

The religious war

Very explicit quote from an LA Times Article posted by Brian Flemming on his blog “slumdance”. The Times registration wont let me track the original.

“George sees this as a religious war,” one family member told us. “He doesn’t have a PC view of this war. His view is that they are trying to kill the Christians. And we the Christians will strike back with more force and more ferocity than they will ever know.” Critics charge that the president is blindly engaged in a crusade, propelled by a belief in Armageddon that will end in a geopolitical disaster. One has compared his faith to the fundamentalists of Islam. Another calls it downright “frightening.”

Flemming also posts a fascinating two columns of direct quotes contrasting Bush and Co’s Christian rhetoric with descriptions of Abu Ghraib.

The new iron curtain

In more rhetoric that draws parallels between our current sense of crisis and the cold-war Pakistan’s President Musharraf warned the United Nations General Assembley of a new ‘iron curtain’:

The president said the causes of terrorism had to be tackled, pointing to international disputes such as the “tragedy of Palestine”.

“Action has to be taken before an iron curtain finally descends between the West and the Islamic world,” he said.

“The major powers of the West have yet to show movement by seriously trying to resolve internationally recognised disputes affecting the Muslim world.”


In a marvelous hypertext essay Adrian Miles both elucidates and models the hypertextual.

His reflections dance around the rhetoric of the link . He argues that use value and realism have over-determined our understanding of the way the link works or should work in hypertext writing. Miles points to a more open way of conceiving links and hypertextaulity:

Links are moments of risk in writing and reading.

When writing in a manner that we might characterise as ‘hypertextual’, that is, a writing in which the materiality of hypertext is not confused with the convenience of electronic dissemination, the link always remains open as a point of possibility….

The link does not require, need, or even recognise a codified set of rules for what may or may not be linked, either in terms of origins or destinations. To this extent the link always presents itself as a virtual outside to the codified norms of language, that is to grammar, syntactic organisation, and rhetoric.

For the reader, the link is also a moment of risk. This risk is that of comprehension and of readerly control. To follow a link is to surrender, in that moment of choice, control to a system whose logic of operation and connection remain unknown. A link is, then, in such a system, little more than a roll of the dice, and just as the dice may have a small set of outcomes (let’s say one in six), the particular outcome remains unknown in each instantiation. A link always operates like this, and for the reader this excess is a bet made with, and for, each link followed. That its force has been colonised by an existing model of writing [realism] is not surprising, as these qualities of the link move it outside of the system and processes of writing as we have ordinarily conceived them to be and so remain largely invisible to such systems.

Miles argues that hypertext works by analogy not traditional argument and negation; that it is more akin to a visual language than to traditional forms of writing.

This is a fascinating paper and is well crafted to show the delightful risks and gifts that hyperlinking can produce. It points to a different way of doing academic writing and warns that if we must just import our existing models of writing and criticism into online/digital environments then we are missing a great opportunity.

Miles work is much more developed than the type of structure that you would produce in a blog however it provides an interesting theoretical background for thinking about academic blogging as both a writing and research space. For one hypertext essays tend to link within whereas blogs tend to link out to other sites. However if we conceive of a research blog as a continuing hypertext essay we might work to thoughtfully linking backwards and forwards to our own as well as other’s posts.

Part of the freedom of blogging is its currency and its security as a space where anything from brief notes, first thoughts and links, to more worked-up essay style postings can live together. However we can also actively mine this archive and draw it together in the way that an artist gradually shapes a collage through the addition of other elements that juxtapose in some meaningful or surprising way with the forms that are already present.

Young and gay in Tulsa

An extraordinary piece of long narrative journalism in the Washington Post: In the Bible Belt, Acceptance Is Hard-Won.

Michael Shackelford slides under his 1988 Chevy Cheyenne. Ratchet in hand, he peers into the truck’s dark cavern, tapping his boot to Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings” drifting from the garage.

Flat on his back, staring into the cylinders and bearings, Michael fixes his truck like he wishes he could fix himself.

“I wake up and I try so hard to look at a girl,” he says. “I tell myself I’m gonna be different. It doesn’t work.”

Michael is 17 and gay, though his mother still cries and asks, “Are you sure?” He’s pretty sure. It’s just that he doesn’t exactly know how to be gay in rural Oklahoma.

It has its fair share of clichés but it is a beautifully crafted piece of journalism that allows us into Michael’s life as well as the life of his less than accepting mother. It reminds us that “while the rest of the country is debating same-sex marriage, Michael’s America is still dealing with the basics”.

There are no rainbow flags here. No openly gay teacher at the high school. There is just the wind knifing down the plains, and people praying over their lunches in the yellow booths at Subway. Michael loves this place, but can it still be home? What if the preachers and the country music songs are right?

Well worth a look.

More evaluation research

This evaluation report from a University of Arizona course, Learning, Reading and Culture, provides interesting feedback on the blog experience

The survey used was an informal instrument to see how the blog was viewed as a part of this course. Thirteen students (of 17 present) responded to a survey that was distributed on the last night of class with the University Student Evaluation Forms for the course. Most respondents had not had experience in Web publishing. Only one person indicated that she had participated in “something like a blog” before. Six individuals indicated that they wanted to continue using blog551, although in point of fact, no messages were posted the following semester. Responding to a question about whether they would use a blog in a future class (either teaching or taking), five said “yes,” and three indicated “maybe.” Students in LRC551 were asked what they liked most about using the LRC551 blogs. Comments included: “It was an opportunity to participate,” it was “easily accessible” and “user friendly.” The blog “extended class discussions …without taking class time.” It was a “‘safe’ way to participate.” One student noted that she liked being able to “participate in writing, not necessarily verbally.” Asked how they might use a blog themselves, responses included: “as a journal,” “for notes,” and “to post examples.” One student wrote that she saw it as a way to introduce “new technology as a way to study new literacies.” Another suggested using blogs as “a way for scholars to discuss articles.” Several mentioned that it could be a “place for students” that could promote “interactivity.” A small number of students were negative on the value of blogging as a good way to learn or to participate in class. One student wrote that blogs invaded her privacy.

And the evaluation from another U of A course, Decision Making for Information Professionals, is even more interesting:

The end-of-course survey revealed that although the vast majority (95 percent) of students responding were novice blog users, 90 percent agreed that the “Technology News Web log was a good way for me to learn more about technology.” Twenty-nine percent reported that they joined another blog since the course began, 70 percent of the students planned to join at least one blog in the coming six months, and 76 percent “would like to continue using the Technology News Web log.” One student commented that the best thing about using a blog was its “casual sharing of information.” She wrote: “I almost got the feeling I was sitting in a coffee shop somewhere and the person next to me poring over the newspaper casually said, ‘Hey, did you hear about this new thing that just came out…?'” This is the sort of sense of place that we do not realize fully with threaded discussion forums, e-mails and chatrooms.

This notion that a blog can sustain a sense of place that does not occur within a discussion board context is a very interesting insight. This relates to some thoughts I have been having about the blog as a “publication”. Both blog as “place” and blog as “publication” require the development of a strong sense of identity. In journalism we talk about magazine identities which are really personalised brands that combine the different elements of content, design, visual style and more amorphous things like the “attitude” of the writing. I think that the best blogs build this very strong individual sense of identity.

This may seem very individualistic and contrary to my previous posts about blogs as conversational/collaborative spaces, but I don’t think this is really the case. A well developed publication identity actually encourages interaction because the familiarity encourages a sense of comfort and identification.

This ability to create a particular sense of blog space, to create a specific publication identity has implications for many course related blogs but is particularly important for journalism and writing students. Blogs may be a good way of helping them to develop a real sense of individual style and purpose, which are often the type of amorphous but essential qualities which are overlooked in the traditional curricula.