Writing in Public: Social Media, Identity, and Getting Er Done

I’ve been working on a larger project about social groups and digital media. At some point a few dozen people suggested I use data from my blog. And so I’ve been coding comments, content and mapping media relationships for a couple of months now. This weekend I posted a draft paper I workshopped with my critical digital working group. The goal is to turn it into an essay and to move the argument of my larger project forward.

As usual, my folks showed up and showed out. The latest essay version is up. It incorporates feedback from about a dozen people. I should especially thank (using their social media handles seems appropriate) @jadedid @phuzzieslippers @ncecire and @zeynep .

Mostly, I’ve been wanting to cuss in an academic piece for a very, very, very long time…

“Who The Fuck Do You Think You Are?” Academic Engagement, Microcelebrity and Digital Sociology from the Far Left of the Matrix of Domination



Academic engagement envisions digital media as a democratizing agent, ignoring inequality regimes. I conceptualize digital texts as embedded in the organizational context of digital logics and architecture. This organizational context is the mechanism for the reinscription of structural systems of inequality across new media, particularly vis-à-vis attention economy frameworks.


I am a sociologist. That means many things but for the purposes of this analysis it means that I am inclined to count and to think in terms of groups and structure. It is also helpful to know that I have been writing and publishing online and in traditional media for over a decade. I did so first as an unaffiliated representative of one, namely myself. Later, as my professional and personal roles shifted I have written as an embedded authority in higher education, media, and cultural institutions. As an actor, my identity, authorial voice, and legitimacy has shifted across, time, space and context. But, my identity as a black woman is stable1. As academics have been called upon to participate in public discourse, we have not fully conceptualized or counted the costs of public writing from various social locations.

Calls for academic public-ness have been critiqued for obscuring neo-liberal transformations of intellectual labor into market capital that separates the “real” academic superstars from the rank-and-file academic proletariat. Others make a populist appeal to democratized knowledge2, encouraging academics and scholars (I use both to signal that one need not be an academic actor to be a scholar) to tear down institutional barriers to privileged knowledges. The capitalists and populists make a similar assumption: they assume that when writing for publics actors are individuals simultaneously embedded in institutions and dislocated from stratified status groups. But, when women writing publicly have pushed social media sites to create mechanisms to report accounts for making rape threats they have made the implicit claim that microcelebrity and attention doesn’t operate the same for all status groups.

I would argue that is also why, although a woman, it is because I am a black woman performing a particular type of expertise in public that I have never received a single rape threat. Instead, increased scale and multiple publics in digital writing and social media have generated comments and threats specific to my illegitimacy as an intellectual, e.g. expert. It’s why, “who the fuck do you think you are” is a common refrain among the thousands of negative comments on my blog, As a public writer, academic and black woman my location at the bottom of a racist, sexist social hierarchy mitigates the presumed returns to academic public engagement specifically and makes a case for reconsidering the theoretical assumptions of microcelebrity more broadly.



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Lattes and Letters

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