My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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responding to critiques of my essay on class

One month ago, I put out a blog essay that took on a life of its own. This essay addressed one of America’s most taboo topics: class. Due to personal circumstances, I wasn’t online as things spun further and further out of control and I had neither the time nor the emotional energy to address all of the astounding misinterpretations that I saw as a game of digital telephone took hold. I’ve browsed the hundreds of emails, thousands of blog posts, and thousands of comments across the web. I’m in awe of the amount of time and energy people put into thinking through and critiquing my essay. In the process, I’ve also realized that I was not always so effective at communicating what I wanted to communicate. To clarify some issues, I decided to put together a long response that addresses a variety of different issues.

Responding to Responses to: “Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace”

Please let me know if this does or does not clarify the concerns that you’ve raised.

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85 comments to responding to critiques of my essay on class

  • I had no concerns but I think you could hardly have been more explicit in your clarification for those who needed it.

  • Tom

    It was painful to watch quite how misinterpreted that piece was. Despite all the signalling and flag-waving that went on. Goes to show that despite all the context that is available just one mouse click away, the internet still deals in soundbites. Hooray for the web!

    You’ll be pleased to hear that the front page of Metro, the London freesheet, was on MySpace being rammed full of paedophiles.

  • I was astounded at the reaction to the original, with so many people taking it out of context. I even emailed the BBC about their poor coverage, so I’m glad they corrected it. I was quite comfortable with the first essay and the second rounds it out, so thanks.

  • danah, many, many {{hugs}} for sharing your thoughts, thoughtfulness and insights on these (among many other) issues.

    The various reactions have been tremendously instructive to watch: the remarkable digital illiteracy among people who cannot read the semantics of “blog”; the hegemony of positivist and post-positivist framing in research (and the predominant influence of quantitative methods); and perhaps most interesting, the tacit indictment of an educational system that specifically trains people to focus on figure, and ignore contextual ground from which sense can be made (i.e., not attempting to discover context to make meaning).

  • I’m astonished, and not in a good way. I read the original piece & liked it quite a lot – it’s well-written & thought-provoking and makes a good case, although it’s more timid than I would have liked about using the word ‘class’. Then I didn’t think any more of it – I didn’t see any of the press reaction, let alone the scary personal stuff you mention towards the end. What a weird and horrible bunch of reactions – with the emphasis on weird.

  • Cat

    Unlike some who have commented here, I am not astonished about the response to the original essay at all.

    Here are my thoughts on your response:

    http://www.catmindeye.com/media/

    But let me also say that I enjoy reading your ideas and research always, whether my instinct allows me to agree or not.

  • danah, thank you for seeing the conversation through. I enjoyed both essays and believe you’ve done an excellent job of capturing the bigger issues. I’m looking forward to the final results.

    I’ll never understand the people who feel free to comment without actually reading the source. Good luck to you.

  • I won’t post the entire piece I wrote in response to your “clarification”, but I will include the quote I started it with, from Orwell’s Politics and the English Language

    Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

  • AndrewN

    I’ve been able to point friends, who are teachers, at your original post. They have all had sudden insights into the choices of their own students w.r.t FB/MS.

    I’m amazed at the breadth of ill-informed responses you’ve had.
    Keep up the writing, {{hugs}}, AndrewN

  • Joseph Method

    I tend to have qualms about all the post-structural theory jargon (all this inscribing and re-inscribing, etc.), but I have to say that the reactions pretty much demonstrated the existence of the dynamics described in post-structuralism. Your essay became a “site” for the “re-inscription” of “hegemonic” values, through the activity of hegemonic media and subaltern and hegemonic teens and adults! Pretty amazing.

    Something I don’t think you addressed enough in your response is that even people who read the essay took the two lists of labels and processed as ‘bad kids/good kids’. That is, many of the responses seemed to be aimed at escaping groupings the respondents might fall into because the groupings came from a perceived hegemonic voice that was assumed to be engaged in an act of inscription that would capture them and limit their freedom. For example, some of the responses came from people who felt guilty about their privileges and thus sought to bury the distinctions. Others came from people who are unaware or embarrassed that they are actually subaltern. Well, that’s the very definition of re-inscription.

  • First, thanks for seeing this through and continuing the discussion, danah. It’s too important to allow it to be drown out by less-than-helpful or -insightful criticism or attacks.

    Second, comparing what has happened with “peer review” strikes me as completely silly and a little bit scary. There’s no doubt that there was quite a bit of “review” but there was very little “peer.” In fact, I noted that the reaction among those who may be considered peers in the traditional academic sense reacted very differently that others. For example, the reaction on the Associate of Internet Researchers’ listserv was very different both in tone and content than the reaction in most other fora.

    Third, I can’t help but see connections with this work and Benkler’s “The Wealth of Networks.” That’s probably because I have a very one-track mind and I am in the middle of reading it but… There are two ideas in particular that seem relevant. First, the phenomenon that you are observing seems somehow related to the arguments and evidence that Benkler raises against “Fragmentation of attention and discourse” online. We have carried our existing social constructs and built new ones online to help us make sense of the online world and the vast amount of information it contains. Second, we should not compare what is happening online with a non-existent utopia. It’s perfectly natural that people integrate their offline social networks and contacts with their online activities, import them into their online environments, and continue their patterns of relationship built around shared interests, cultures, and other commonalities. (These arguments seem to be best expressed in Chapter 7 of Benkler’s book, available at http://www.benkler.org/Benkler_Wealth_Of_Networks_Chapter_7.pdf).

    Thanks again for continuing to share your thoughts with us, danah. It’s interesting and important on many levels. The level of transparency you and other researchers are displaying is quite a shift from older models where knowledge would seem to spring forth fully formed from the foreheads of scholars. I’m sure it’s hard for some people to understand but researchers and scholars are human, too.

  • David Dyer-Bennet

    My part of the blogosphere somehow missed the big fuss, but I finally got pointed to your article and response to responses today. For what validation from a random stranger is worth, you seem to have mostly said what, according to your responses to responses, you wanted to say. Fairly clearly.

    I suspect people got drawn off-base by your rather academic style, not realizing that full-blown academic papers are much *much* MUCH more formal and fully-developed. I suspect lots of people on the Internet aren’t used to reading serious research in the fuzzy-studies; I know I’m not, really, but I’ve seen enough to see the difference even so. Still, you said explicitly that that was NOT the formal report.

    I’m a numbers fan (recognizing all the problems with their use and abuse), but even I think that this sort of qualitative study is tremendously valuable; in fact they’re where many of the valuable new insights come from I think. To be adopted as true, though, people need to be motivated to find ways to actually measure these things quantitatively.

    I think class in America is a tremendously important topic. One of the most important bits is that we don’t have any kind of vague idea of what class *is* in America. I absolutely agree that money is very little of it, and parental class is (apart from being circular) also not definitive. I don’t see how we can deal with this important topic when we don’t have a clue what it is.

  • glad we could make you giggle: duh

  • Nothing original to add, just would echo Britt Raybould’s sentiments.

  • see … that’s what you get for getting all hoity-toity with your language :-).

    it never ceases to amaze me how people project their own issues on to other peoples’ words.

  • danah, I think you have really important things to say. Controversial is not always a bad thing, as it seems to be one of the only things that makes people actually perk up. I’m sorry it got so overwhelming though.

  • Maybe I’m misreading Kevin’s comment, but this strikes me as laughably arrogant:

    Second, comparing what has happened with “peer review” strikes me as completely silly and a little bit scary. There’s no doubt that there was quite a bit of “review” but there was very little “peer.” In fact, I noted that the reaction among those who may be considered peers in the traditional academic sense reacted very differently that others. For example, the reaction on the Associate of Internet Researchers’ listserv was very different both in tone and content than the reaction in most other fora.

    Conceited much, Kevin?

  • I enjoyed reading your original blog post. You are right – many Latino/Hispanic teens interact with family members of all ages on MySpace, and often have profiles on both Facebook and MySpace, with the majority of their family members mostly on MySpace.

    The only thing I took issue with was the framing of this paragraph:

    ******* MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn’t go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools. Teens who are really into music or in a band are also on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

    In order to demarcate these two groups, let’s call the first group of teens “hegemonic teens” and the second group “subaltern teens.” ********

    I understand what you were intending to describe and why, however to be honest my first instinctual response was to be a little offended. You identified the following categories:

    “Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids”

    as if they were all separate and didn’t mention any overlap. Your choice to not use “most” or “many” when making this statement was also confusing. This also caught my notice:

    “These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools.”

    How did you come to this conclusion? What made you say this, instead of “who plan to end up doing clerical work, credit company customer service jobs, etc?” Curiosity and a tiny bit of outrage motivates my question.

    Clearly the initial requirements to join Facebook created a huge class differentiation between the two sites, and I am interested in reading more of your work as you follow migration patterns, behaviors, and conflicts. I appreciate what you are doing.

  • You do great work Danah, and you’re an inspiration to other bloggers like myself who enjoy writing lengthy, in-depth content. {{hug}} in return.

    Best,
    Jay

  • Cat

    As someone who was particularly interested in the identification of ‘good kids/bad kids’ in the original essay, or more accurately, the perception of the concept of ‘good kids/bad kids’ among teenagers depending on one’s usage of a particular site, I find this comment above interesting

    “Something I don’t think you addressed enough in your response is that even people who read the essay took the two lists of labels and processed as ‘bad kids/good kids’.”

    No, we didn’t, or at least I didn’t. It was explicitly stated:

    “The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other “good” kids are now going to Facebook.”

    “Subaltern teens who go to more mixed-class schools see Facebook as “what the good kids do” or “what the preps do.” They have various labels for these hegemonic teens but they know the division, even if they don’t have words for it. Likewise, in these types of schools, the hegemonic teens see MySpace as “where the bad kids go.” “Good” and “bad” seem to be the dominant language used to divide hegemonic and subaltern teens in mixed-class environments.”

    I personally wanted to hear more about this perception because I, myself, have not seen such a distinction in my limited research and observance. (which is not to say it isn’t there).

    I would also like to say that I greatly appreciated the commenter who discussed the language with which the essay was written, not necessarily because I agree with everything he stated, but because it seems as though the language has become the topic of discussion rather then whether or not the premise of the essay, that we can observe class divisions through MySpace and Facebook, is actually valid. I am much more interested in hearing discourse about that topic and not whether or not certain words were correct or incorrect to use in certain circumstances.

    Again, I also pose the question: Where is the Facebook Developer’s Platform in all this? Where is the discussion about the increase in Facebook’s user base and the observed change in the sites demographic over the last couple of months? Where is the discussion about the actual topic? Maybe it can’t happen here but it should happen somewhere. That is the point right?

  • hey danah,
    so when i read your essay a month ago, i thought duh and then i was totally puzzled by all the bruhaha. but having spent a few years studying the production of media, both new and old, i remembered that many in the press are required to write far more articles than in the past. someone who ten years ago wrote 3 pieces a week now writes six, someone who wrote one a day now writes two, etc. it’s crazy. they can’t read and parse or be bothered to get in touch with you under that pressure. and then there’s the new media people who often feel the pressure to be first at the expense of accuracy or care. so then i thought, how ridiculous, and i hoped you weren’t taking it too badly.

    my only worry is that while it’s totally reasonable for you to take a month to respond, and your response is great, that the vagaries of this new and old media system mean many of the people interested before have moved onto the next fireworks inducing explosion of controversy. doncha wonder if they are all addicted to the controversy and don’t really care that much about the actual discussion?

    but i think you did great and you should be proud of yourself. and lessons learned.

    {{hugs}}

  • M-H

    I think your original piece was really interesting but this one is bloody brilliant. Your essay was pearls before swine in relation to the media – if a source doesn’t have statistics they don’t know how to write it up so that they sound authoritative. Best and worst thing is that it will be forgotten in about five more minutes. Blog on. Qualitatively.

  • Thanks for doing what you do, the way you do it.

    I blogged about you and the gathering storm on July 6 at http://trustedadvisor.com/blog/179/ , and thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated what you’ve written here. What came to mind was “Camille Paglia of the blogosphere,” and I mean that in nothing but the best terms.

    Like hers, I find your work insightful, courageous, deeply informed, edgy, and written with style and humor. But you add another secret sauce–a willingness to be personally transparent–which I find, frankly, moving. I don’t want to say Paglia is cynical or jaded, but you moreso manage to keep some optimistic “innocence” (for lack of a better term) in your writing; for me, that makes for a better human connection.

    Anyway, thanks. Rock on. You’re doin’ the lord’s work, so to speak, and deserve all the good things that happen to you, and don’t sweat the small crap.

  • I read all of both of them, so thanks for the hug dana! I find American attitudes to class fascinating- the supposedly classless society that is to outsiders like us Brits, overwhelmingly divided on class lines.

    I also find it very very funnu that anyone who knows anything could consider you (of all people, being openly queer) homophobic for using the word queer! This smacks of well off white people deriding people for being racist whilst not realising their own attitudes are remarkable so…

    The peer review thing is interesting; I self censor a lot online because I’m scared of having a reaction like the one you have experienced. I thought you made it pretty clear this was you working through some ideas, rather than talking ‘quantitatively’. I also think, given your experience, the BBC reporting this as a ‘study’ was probably correct. The qualitative, deep description nature of anthropology is very hard to explain to people who don’t ‘get it’.

    Keep writing and I’ll keep reading :)

  • Mary – I do realize that most people are in love with the controversy instead of the truth. I also realize that the folks who didn’t read the first essay would never read this one. But I needed to put this out there and clarify, mostly for those who keep emailing me with questions about it (press and otherwise). I’d rather clarify in public than a bazillion times over in private, even if few will read it in public. But I’m under no illusion that those who criticized me most heartlessly will read this. The section on race and sexuality was more to make those who were unaware of that discussion aware (connected to the “do you really wanna be public?” question of peer review) than to address the trolls who will never read that far.

  • wmwalsh

    I support danah’s general web presence and writing, but the original essay seemed to be dividing kids into “smart/upperclass/tasteful” and “dumb/lowerclass/blingbling”

    As a someone who grew up with great grades and a love of art, books, and nature (that I got from my PARENTS) but no money (family illness of long duration), those overly simplistic divisions compound the pain and frustration that I felt and still feel.

    I went through a long, hard struggle to become educated and published, and to some extent that is still with me.

    It seems the internet these days is perpetuating and making worse the whole “well of course if you’re smart you’re RICH” assumption.

    To give danah credit, I think she is actually opposed to that assumption, but it didn’t seem that way in her original essay.

    As Cat Mind’s Eye said in her own blog, people are reacting negatively to that essay because nobody likes being stuck in a box.

  • i felt from the beginning that these responses were based on your postings title, more than its contents.

    not to mention those that got all upset about this seemed to one) be high tech facebook members, and two) acted as if they were upset because your article was saying they were better(which it wasn’t). i belong to myspace and enjoy hacking around with its design, style sheets, and i just find it more ‘fun’. facebook just bores me.

    i actually fully agree with your conclusions, they’ve seemed obvious to me ever since facebook opened to the public. and despite my fitting into both ‘classes’, my life experiences def leave me feeling more comfortable with those that hang out on facebook. not to mention my issues with facebook calling their iframe thing an ‘api’. *suppresses computer science rant*.

    i’ve been want to say that i agree fully with your observations from an academic level as well as on an emotional &experience level. of course i wanted to read your complete, well more complete, paper before agreeing with something you may not have intended.

    the most disgusting part of this entire thing is that its been used, its seems, by mostly ‘self serving’ facebook members as a psuedo-self-rightous indignation. its been as if those who where most up in arms over your original posting where doing so as a way of saying: “see we are better than you. but we aren’t happy about.” its been truly laughable.

    your paper, and even your earlier posting, seems to me to just show society’s effect on internet culture and activities. and the knee-jerk reactions, at most, only seemed to cement your observations.

    enough babbling from me. but lastly, wonderful paper. &huge *hugs*, sorry you had to be such a target for your post. but thank you for it nonetheless and i’m glad to have read your current paper.

    *hugs* &no offense but my comments here will be reflected on my blog soon. take care. *is still reading*

  • Hi. I guess you should count me in the “duh” camp. I hadn’t really thought about this in detail, but I’ve certainly felt it in my gut. I’m approaching my 20 year reunion, so I’m certainly no high school teen. I’d like to share my observations, because I think they relate closely to yours.

    I started out with SixDegrees, which was a site before its time. I loved being able to link to my friends and see how my network grew. It died, and I missed it. I joined Classmates, but its pay-to-do-anything-useful model really impeded its usability. A friend who worked for Friendster invited me to join, and it was a good replacement for SixDegrees. I guess I was somewhat of a late adopter to MySpace, because lots of my friends from high school were already there. It essentially replaced my need for Classmates, and it was a lot more fun than Friendster (Friendster has since added many of the things that make MySpace interesting). After some time, MySpace became tiresome, especially all the spam. I stumbled on Facebook, and it felt different, fresh, almost Zen. Privacy was more evident (and slightly frustrating for finding friends), and the plug-in applications were a nice feature.

    Facebook has become my “work” network, because a lot of people I know through my technology consulting business are there. MySpace remains the place that I “hang” with friends I’ve known for years. Facebook seems more serious, professional, and clam. MySpace and Friendster seem more approachable, lighthearted, and “everyman”-oriented (everyperson?) Of the two, Friendster seems to share Facebook’s market, but not its feel; MySpace remains a little “seedier” or “dirtier”.

    Another analogy would compare a library to a video store. While many people will enjoy borrowing from each place, most people will primarily patronize one or the other. In a video store, the curtained-off area is clearly present, but that doesn’t mean a library doesn’t contain similar material–it’s just not as visible when you walk in.

    If there was one thing I’d take offense to in your article, it’s the use of “good” and “bad” relating to the kids. I gather that’s the term that teens used among themselves. Like you, I had feet firmly planted in both the “in” and “out” crowds at my high school. Neither group was “good” and neither was “bad”. I think that many of the “good” kids actually got away with more than the “bad” kids did. It would be great if more people would realize that being different is not a bad thing, and that diversity of all types is a good thing. Evolution favors diversity, because with too much similarity the entire species could be wiped out easily.

    The tone of your blog entry was fine. If anything, I seemed a little too formal for a blog entry, but coming from an academic/journalist background, it seems perfectly appropriate. The thing to remember is that it is your blog, and if people don’t like it, they don’t have to read it. So have fun with it. Write your own way, and don’t feel you have to conform in this aspect of life any more than you do in any other aspect. :-)

  • LS

    The essay was a big “duh” for me, too (I was an undergraduate at the time of FB’s debut). In fact, it was so confirming of my impressions that the ensuing controversy felt like an attack on my own epistemology.

    I think that this is just what happens when you try to talk about class in a society without the vocabulary to do so.

  • Will Warner

    Keep practicing on succinctness– you’ll be richly rewarded, I think. :)

    I still dislike the example of the Marxist cafe worker versus the immigrant janitor. Don’t they have the same cheap food, cheap housing, lack of health insurance, and joint pain? Perhaps a welder and a high school math teacher might be better examples of similar incomes but radically different lifestyles?

    “Of course, as Spivak points out, efforts to give voice to subalterns reinscribe their voice inside hegemonic discourse, arguably further disempowering them.” Perhaps “in some cases further disempowering them” would be more exact? Surely there are cases where joining the hegemonic discourse is empowering?

    Good point about college and older users of the sites misguidedly trying to personalize an article that is, after all, about teenage experience; I’m guilty of that myself.

    As to whether it’s racist to note the Latino/MySpace correlation, I would say that when you’re trying to change something, both loud and quiet approaches can work, and reasonable people can disagree about which to use in a given situation. Pointing out inequality can be construed as a strident, forceful call for change; or it can be construed as a scarlet letter forever cementing the inequality. If that second interpretation takes hold, everyone’s going to have a hair trigger when it comes to shooting the messenger. If a whole community of Latino activists is trying very hard to take a quiet approach to merging Latino culture and US culture, then as in most movements, only the leaders are really aware that they made a choice to take that approach and not the other. An outsider pointing out inequality just strikes the rank and file as a contradiction to the party line, with no mitigating subtleties involved. Interestingly, the black civil rights movement was sort of the reverse: talented, educated blacks who wanted to be doctors, corporate lawyers, or architects, when they could have been criminal lawyers, journalists, activists, teachers, or politicians, were widely and harshly rebuked by the civil rights movement for turning their backs on the movement. Some of this even happens today. Both situations are produced by a lot of honest, well-meaning people, and it’s a real shame this one made you into yet another victim of the noise machine, the mass outrage the internet can produce at the flick of a switch.

    Good point about needing to overcome the tendency of people to self-segregate online. Maybe liberal academic bloggers need to sponsor a big “see how the other half lives” day every year, where the liberals and the conservatives, or the religious networks, or the racial networks, who are interested in the idea can make a formal effort to go read each other’s blogs, and start polite, thoughtful debates that involve references and research. (Make your own joke about how “But, my dear sir, if you educate them, they will no longer be [members of opposing group].”)

    “Consider a brand like Coach. You’ll find that this is consumed heavily by both rich and poor, but not by middle class. Why is this?” Perhaps the poor can only afford shallow expenses, the rich can afford both shallow and deep expenses, and the middle class can afford only one of the two? If it’s one or the other I think almost anyone would choose deep expenses like pensions, education, and health care, rather than shallow ones like fine Coach leather goods. Oscar Wilde probably said all this far better than I could.

    “I do hope that I’ll be able to continue blogging without every piece being so controversial and overwhelming.” I’m guessing it’s going to be a 15-minutes-of-fame, lightning-never-strikes-the-same-spot-twice situation, and you’ll never get major public notice for your blog again. But who knows?

    “all over whom” -> “all of whom”, “has falled out” -> “has fallen out”, I doubt anyone cares since this is after all a casual essay.

    Phil, be careful about buying into the stigma of the word “weird,” which seems to have increased greatly in the US the past 5 years or so. Some of my best friends are mutants.

    Kevin Guidry said “It’s perfectly natural that people integrate their offline social networks and contacts with their online activities, import them into their online environments, and continue their patterns of relationship built around shared interests, cultures, and other commonalities.” True, but it’s also perfectly natural for people to grow into new groups and new identities online, where the risk is less, and it should be encouraged by trying to keep the net’s social networks free of unnecessary walls, taboos, and castes.

    David Dyer-Bennet: I’d say that money is very much of class, although education is a lot of it too. There are also all sorts of subtle tribal markers in art, fashion, music, language, and for that matter geography involved as well.

    Thank you for the hug. We all need more of those.

  • Alex UA: No, not conceited much. I don’t think one can easily and favorably compare posting an article on one’s blog or website and waiting for comments with traditional academic peer review. There is undoubtedly value in gathering input from a very wide audience and one could make a argument that the closed and insular nature of traditional academic peer review may be one of its faults. But to expect every comment from every (potentially anonymous or unidentifiable) commenter to be weighed the same regardless of their knowledge of the topic at hand is a bit much to expect. There are many very smart, dedicated people working on more public alternatives to traditional double-blind peer review but I don’t think this is a viable alternative.

    I am simply concerned that danah, or anyone, may view this as closely related to a future evolution of academic peer review when I don’t see this as being at all closely related. Maybe I’m wrong and I guess time will tell.

    This discussion, of course, has nothing to do with a perceived increase in the dissemination and discussion of research and other academic writings outside of academia. That’s another discussion altogether and a trend that seems to be, IMHO, overwhelmingly positive.

  • arvind

    interesting. reminds me of some of the conclusions in a book about the internet having qualities of the geographical place its inhabitants are from. [Daniel Miller, Don Slater. The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach. Berg, 2001]

    Have you seen any traces of class fluidity/boundary crossing/mobility in this work? That might be very interesting to examine, because it would be a completely different view of network formation than the highly overused (and, IMHO, under-informative) graph-structural models in vogue can do alone. Can we see class structure developing online? What’s the process of finding your place in such a class structure, when done online? How is membership managed if class identity is transitional? Can you really isolate discourse around class, and if so, what are the signifiers used? A classic work on this topic illustrates caste fluidity in India:

    M. N. Srinivas. A Note on Sanskritization and Westernization. The Far Eastern Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Aug., 1956), pp. 481-496

  • Sorry you had to defend yourself so.

    I’m so close to the technology I rarely get to think about the bigger societal implications. So I’m glad that you are, and so deeply. Thanks.

    -Stan

  • Phil, be careful about buying into the stigma of the word “weird,” which seems to have increased greatly in the US the past 5 years or so.

    I’m not in the US, my frame of reference is a bit longer than the past five years, and I didn’t refer to any person, subculture, style or set of ideas as ‘weird’. All in all I don’t feel I earned this admonition.

    Some of my best friends are mutants.

    I really doubt it.

  • I, for one, really didn’t have a problem with the informal, blog nature of your original post. When I want a peer-reviewed article with explicit methodology and data sets, I’ll read a sociological journal, not a blog. As such, your original post didn’t bother me at all in terms of presentation, tone, etc.

    What I disagreed with was your main thesis. Though your discussion here of the terms you used in the first post was indeed helpful, I don’t think you’ve adequately addressed the idea that the division you’ve described has far more to do with technology than class. Specifically, Facebook seems to be for one thing and MySpace seems to be for something else, and these divergent purposes, I believe, can explain the differences in user base far more effectively than any theory which posits a class distinction. I discussed this here.

  • Hi danah,

    First there was peer review, now there’s mob review!

    This must be the summer for it. I recently got slammed as a racist over something I admit I could have written better about comic book history (the mob reviewers didn’t like my clarification much better, but I’m not sure what anyone is reading anymore because it sure don’t sound like what I wrote), then there was a largish LJ flare up over the word “miscegenation,” and now Mary Buchholz is being criticized by people who haven’t read her actual work on nerds and hyperwhiteness, but did read a negative NYT article about a book that hasn’t actually been published. Something in the water? Who knows?

    Too bad about USC. We all said WTF? when Annenberg went away.

    Good luck with everything.

  • Hey danah, at the risk of being redundant:

    {{hugs}}

    I loved reading the first essay, and now your response. I was just so struck by how much the reaction amplified and commented on the issues we discussed at futureofthebook.org back in 2005. So much has happened since then, and this that has rocked through your world is another milestone upon that path.

    Chris

  • chuck

    I read with interest the manifestations of class.
    Is there research to answer whether Mac vs. PC is one of those differences?
    is there a greater proportion of Mac users among FaceBookers than among MySpacers.?

  • Maggie

    Is it awful that my initial reaction to reading your essay was to post the link to it on my thesis advisor’s facebook wall?

  • Danah,

    You’ve been a constant inspiration for the past 18 months or so as I’ve delved into the social network things. Thank you so much for sharing your work. It is quite unique and invaluable in understanding how the internet affects our everyday life and our societies.

    One of the aspects of your work I particularly appreciate is this constant desire of beeing as clear as possible when exposing new ideas : the fine, simple and cautious tuning of your sentences to make sure you make yourself understood.

    Funnily enough, I’m french and it’s easier for me to understand your essays than it is to understand french sociologists essays since they dont have this concern of being clear and simple.

    I thought this essay was brilliantly provocative and thoughtful. (Sorry if it looks a bit oportunistic but do you mind if I refer to my blog and my post on that very subject : http://ceciiil.wordpress.com/2007/06/25/hypertext-weekly/)

    In particular, these concepts of Hegemonic and Subaltern people are so appropriate, they just put a brand new and clear perspective on teen social organisations.

    My feeling is that people just get very annoyed when all of a sudden they are brought back to this deterministic reality : no matter how hard we try, we still belong to a class and our behavior is quite often very predictable. What this essay claims is that is is true both in Myspace and in the meatspace. And this is where it gets fascinating.

    I think teenagers just get particularly upset with this type of analysis since their main objective while building up their own personality is to be unique and different.

    Especially on the internet which is perceived as a space of free expression. All of a sudden, someone comes up and say : “Hey guys , dont get to excited by your electronic self : broadly speaking there only are 2 ways for you to be unique and different, even on the internet.”

    Instead of getting upset, they should read this essay properly and be grateful for all the time and disenchantment these lucid thoughts will save them.

    On his blog (http://darmano.typepad.com/logic_emotion/2007/08/are-you-a-synth.html), David Armano talks about how important “Human Synthetizer” are today to understand the constantly shifting world : “one of the most important traits of a synthesizer is the ability to produce a set of �outputs� which moves insights from the abstract to the concrete(…)I believe that these soft skills are needed now more than ever because design, technology, business, brand and human needs have never been so intertwined before, so co-dependent”

    This is exactly what you are for us, Danah. Thanks again for your great work.

    {{hugs}}

  • Danah,

    I read your original post and thought two things: “Duh” and “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that presented so neatly.” Well done.

    Not long after reading it, I was at dinner for a friend with seven other women. I brought up your article, and nearly all of them reacted the same. The exception was the daughter of a local politician, a self-professed “cotillion-and-country-club” girl. She had a violently negative reaction to the whole concept. It turned out that she was the only person at the table of college-educated professional women who didn’t have a MySpace page, only Facebook. (Full disclosure: I’m MS and no FB) She resented being called “a hegemon,” and although I tried to point out that the term, in and of itself, is value neutral, she wasn’t having any of it. If the drubbing you received was an amplified version of that, you have my sympathies.

    Back to your original post: I especially liked your explicitness in placing cultural capital as distinct from purely economic class. I think that’s a division many are loathe to acknowledge. And to craft as thorough and well-thought-out a response as you did was incredibly stand-up. Congrats.

    I look forward to reading more of your work.

  • Kay Marshall

    Just stumbled upon your piece and found it fascinating. My research motive was not driven by interest in learning about “class”, however-but by concern as a parent of a 12 year old boy who just created a “My Space” page, against my wishes.
    Both parents-college educated and professional–yet needing quick post-graduate insight into effective parenting. Any recommendations for how to best guide our son- and how to respond to “secret My Space”?

  • The more I thought about this, the more I wondered if perhaps some of the backlash you experienced is directly related to the influx of older tech types to Facebook.

    Your stated purview is teen culture, and you obviously grasp how much identity-formation goes on during those years. Many people who enter into tech and related fields were once subaltern teens themselves (and this goes for the tech journalists, publicists and marketers too). This is the point at which their early identities were formed, and is the culture they feel an affinity to.

    However, they are now forced to confront (thanks in part to your essay, but there are also larger, social factors at work) that they are the new hegemony, that the dominant culture has gone geek in ways they couldn’t have imagined. This causes cognitive dissonance, similar to what is experienced by first-generation college graduates from lower- and working-class backgrounds. They are in the midst of reformatting their identifiers, which tends to make people feel vulnerable and cranky.

  • Cos

    Actually, what this essay does is make me aware of the criticisms you got, in the process of seeing how you respond to them. When I read your original essay, few of those criticisms occurred to me in the first place. Partly that may be because I didn’t realize I was reading something by a known researcher, and therefore didn’t start with the bias that this was academic research (though by the time I finished reading it, I knew it had some relationship to academic research).

    When I read your original essay on this it was both “duh” and eye-opening: it finally made sense to me why some people I know use myspace. Also, it’s one of the few times I’ve found a marker with which I can clearly place myself in a class someone else has described – I use Facebook, and think of myspace as “ugly”. Most class descriptions in books I’ve read leave me out, except for one book which described a “Class X” in the final chapter, which seemed to fit me.

  • brittany

    danah:

    I just wanted to add another show of support. It is incredibly unfortunate that smart, interesting information was distorted by people who refused to read and think before speaking. I have seen the same mistakes made on several blogs, especially since the MSNBC thing, and it just sucks. Maybe you and Robert Putnam need to join forces in some kind of academic freedom vs. media/bloggers fight! ;)

    Best wishes.

  • wow. i read your article a couple weeks back. thought it was spot on, and definitely got me to thinking a little bit more about the two services myspace and facebook.

    ok – but it was nothing really controversial. and i mean that in a good way.

    this is why i absolutely abhor the internet. everyone brings their own little niche opinions to everything and judges based on those, whether or not they have relevance to the thing being judged.

    ok – i dont abhor the internet. i just think that blog comments, blog posts and media responses to the preceding definitely follow a bell curve from absurdly stupid to astoundingly brilliant.

    anyways, keep up the good work, danah.

  • wow. i read your article a couple weeks back. thought it was spot on, and definitely got me to thinking a little bit more about the two services myspace and facebook.

    ok – but it was nothing really controversial. and i mean that in a good way.

    this is why i absolutely abhor the internet. everyone brings their own little niche opinions to everything and judges based on those, whether or not they have relevance to the thing being judged.

    ok – i dont abhor the internet. i just think that blog comments, blog posts and media responses to the preceding definitely follow a bell curve from absurdly stupid to astoundingly brilliant.

    anyways, keep up the good work, danah.

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