Saturday, October 20, 2007

Blogging and public engagement(s)

I am very belated in posting a response to the Writing and Society session at the University of Western Sydney last Friday on "The Uses of Blogging". Luckily, Judith Ridge at Misrule has posted a lovely long account of the session, and Pavlov's Cat has commented, too. It was a most enjoyable afternoon; and as Dr Cat says, a pleasure to sit behind the seminar table with a friend. Well, I guess that's not such a novelty: I do get to do that with the medievalists, on occasion. But great, all the same, to see Kerryn in such excellent form - even while she was busy incubating a ghastly virus that attacked her a day or so later. We also got to hang out in gorgeous Potts Point, with views of The Opera House and The Bridge from the hotel's wonderful rooftop garden (if you ever get the chance to stay here, do!); and eat meal after meal of delicious, fresh and delightful food. I also met up with two friends: first for dinner at Darling Harbour, where we were sat and watched a spectacular Sydney storm. It was like watching a dishwasher in action through the plate glass of the restaurant over this small area enclosed by glass buildings: sound and fury and foam and light; and then the sparkling rinse of rain on the water. And second for Saturday breakfast in Potts Point. Stewed rhubarb two mornings in a row: bliss!

Some of the most interesting and thoughtful questions to come up in discussion, though, concerned the problem of blogs and their ilk in educational contexts: if students are encouraged to write and post in pedagogical contexts, how do they learn the difference between that kind of writing and more formal contexts?

We were also asked to talk about blogging and being ‘public intellectuals’. I admit I haven't really thought of myself as such, but over the last few months I have been doing a little more reviewing and writing for the newspaper.

Since coming back from Sydney, I’ve written an op-ed piece that I think will appear in the Sunday Age tomorrow, on the pink consumerism associated with breast cancer awareness in October. In the essay I am very critical of the idea of ‘shopping for the cure’, the direct association of femininity with consumerism, and especially the shopping for clothes and jewellery, and the very girlish model of femininity that has become so pervasive in our culture. Of course there are some wonderful projects and images of women associated with breast cancer fund-raising, and I tried to acknowledge those in the essay. But I find, now, I am quite nervous about the possible reactions. I’m not sure I have a thick enough skin to be a ‘public intellectual’.

Still… on Thursday night I went to a lecture by Brian Castro, who talked passionately about the need to voice criticisms of an Australian society that was becoming increasingly market- and consumer- driven. So I felt emboldened and encouraged to write as I had done.

On the other hand, I have found, even in the context of my very good health news (and thanks to all who have sent their congratulations and cheers), that I still do sometimes get overtired and overwhelmed. Sometimes I feel being sick has made me more resilient and stronger at the core; sometimes I feel it’s made me define real limits to what I can do. Perhaps it’s time to pull my head in a bit now and get down to some work.

9 comments:

WhatLadder said...

Ooooh, denied! I wanted to hear more about the uses of blogging - I have been finding my blog very useful indeed.

So agree with you about the pink consumerism. My male office mate was given a bag of pink M&Ms (he is the author of an excellent policy about cellphones ringing in class and the provision of chocolate), and we were talking about his feeling uncomfortable eating them and whether that was silly or not.

Louise said...

I, too, have been feeling uneasy about all the pink bits to buy...they could at least have chosen a more magenta hue...

Your fantastic article led me here to say thanks, and I hope you're able to contribute similar public comment again.

Marg B said...

Hi, I'm visiting from the Sunday Age article and just want to say thanks for writing about the whole pink consumerism issue.

Last week the Coles supermarket catalogue had a double page spread dedicated to 'pink label' products - Tim Tams, tomato sauce, paper towels and more; one gets the impression that from the manufacturers' point of view it's just another promotional opportunity. I got shot down at work for voicing those views; as if by saying I was uncomfortable with the marketing of products that direct funds to breast cancer research, it meant I was somehow not supporting fund-raising for breast cancer research (which is definitely not the case!)

I look at those pink Tim Tams and feel nauseous and decide that if I'm going to donate to breast cancer research it will be via a direct donation rather than by buying a packet of biscuits that filters a mere 10 cents to the organisation. Even so, I end up buying one of those ribbon badges because it is the easiest way to donate and I believe - or hope - no multinational is getting rich off them.

It's hard to know what the answer is. There is no doubt that sales of all these products have raised needed funds and unmeasurable amounts of publicity; in this day and age with competition for scarce dollars the National Breast Cancer Foundation should be applauded for hitting on such a successful campaign. But somehow those pink Tim Tams still leave a rather nasty taste in my mouth.

Philip said...

Beautiful article, Stephanie, and I can't see how anyone could take issue with your balanced account of things nor - indeed - with the perspective from which you describe them...

Tookie said...

A very well thought out article, Stephanie. Having walked the same journey as yourself in the last 12 months I have become much more aware of all things pink. I swear there wasn't as much pink goods last year! But just to share: I walked into the local chemist last week where the theme for the day was breast cancer awareness, complete with pink balloons, pink ladies and displays of products with pink ribbons. Naturally I felt compelled to purchase something for breast cancer research and spied a sort of pink box containing lip balm in amongst all the other promotional items. When I picked it up, I asked the shop assistant if this was part of fund raising because there was no pink ribbon on the box. To which she replied that they were only using the item in the display because it was in a pink box. Go figure!

Congrats on your 1 year clear! I will know my results tomorrow.

Elsewhere007 said...

>Some of the most interesting and thoughtful questions to come up in discussion, though, concerned the problem of blogs and their ilk in educational contexts: if students are encouraged to write and post in pedagogical contexts, how do they learn the difference between that kind of writing and more formal contexts? <

That's a really interesting question and I think the answer is: by teaching them about genre and getting them to make distinctions between different forms of writing and writing practices.

I have encouraged my students to blog, though I don't know that they've done much more than fiddle round with the technology and make announcements about setting up a secret collaborative blog.

I've also shown students the transitions I've made in converting a blog piece into an op-ed. I think people (academic ones) can be too fearful and overcautious these days about anything that doesn't look like a potential refereed journal article and that if you raise the bar and ask students to make distinctions between different forms of writing, most of them will perform.

P.S. I am allergic to pink food colouring so have avoided the heliotrope Tim-Tams currently on the market.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Whatladder, I am writing up my talk for publication: will post more about this later. And, Elsewhere, on the question of blogging and teaching; yes I agree it's not hard to teach about discursive hierarchies and generic conventions. I think the question arose in the context of wanting to encourage students to express an opinion, but also wanting to teach them that it was sometimes necessary to do some research first!

Louise and Marg, you both talk about feeling uneasy or uncomfortable, and I think that's exactly right. We want to support the cause, but we don't like being manipulated by the market... So cheers for Tookie, who made a point of asking the question about the pink box. And also, fingers crossed for Tookie's tests. Let's hope she is celebrating this time tomorrow.

And ... hi Philip, and thanks; not sure why I felt so wimpy about expressing my point of view!

WhatLadder said...

Okay, so I was totally pink aware when I was shopping this weekend, and you know what else I saw that was pink consumerised? Kitchen equipment! Because, you know, the women love to do the cooking! KitchenAid in Canada is apparently a really big breast cancer supporter, so you can get a pink mixer, a personalised pink apron, and also, you can hold parties where you oblige your guests to bring donations (this really offends me for some reason).Cook for the Cure

thewordygecko said...

Thank you Stephanie for your column on the pink stuff for breast cancer. I think it was seeing the pink Tim Tams that really did it for me! Erk. Too much consumerism-oriented fundraising, raising too much money for corporations. I'd rather donate directly, particularly for research into causes and for the provision of breast ca nurses.

My birthmum and aunt have both had breast ca, as have at least three of my friends, one just this year. Good news that you're going well!