How did blogs – a ‘new’ object in the early 2000’s – come to emerge in the discourses in which they are prevalent? How is it that they have become “owned” by legal and human rights discourses? These are questions I hope to answer in my thesis.
I’ve just met with my supervisor and what came out of that meeting was a few ideas – lots in fact- of the direction my thesis could go. So here are my thoughts in very raw form and quite unedited.
We started out with what I meant be emancipation and my answer was that I really didn’t have an answer that was theoretically sound. What I intended from the use of that word was to highlight the struggle with employers through which personal bloggers often proceed. To my way of thinking these struggles reminded me of some form of Judeo/Christian struggle to achieve enlightenment. Through a struggle comes a realization of ones self and an understanding of our limits and abilities. There’s something mythically compelling about David and Goliath stories where the small and disadvantaged has taken on the behemoth and won. That’s the notion I was attempting to convey; but I understand that there are significant theoretical difficulties.
I’ve been reading a lot in and around Foucault’s theories of power/knowledge, and I believe this may be fruitful ground. Much can be said about the way in which personal blogs that mention or relate to an employees work are creating a new domain for the contestation of power. They provide a new means to articulate a new form of power relationship between employer and employee.
The nature of a personal blog is a many faceted artifact. Is it a public or private space (a blog about work can be password protected and available to only family and close friends or it can be available to anyone with an Internet connection), how does technology (RSS feeds, blog aggregation sites) change the nature of the blog, what effects are created by the use of pseudonyms, and what can be said about fictionalised accounts of a person’s working life?
Then there are the numerous examples of bloggers getting dooced (fired for the content of their blogs) and what these examples tell us about the perceived nature of the power relationship between employer and employee. We’ve tentatively agreed to focus on just one example, that of Heather B. Armstrong. Armstrong, on her blog dooce, made a number of remarks (using various methods to obfuscate the real life identities of the characters in the narrative) about her work and this led to her being fired. Much of the literature I’ve reviewed to this point treats Armstrong’s (and other employee bloggers) from the perspective of established power structures; the rights to free speech emanating from the US First Amendment and ‘at will’ US employment contracts whilst only a small body of literature has focussed on the underlying negotiation and renegotiation of existing power structures as a result of Armstrong’s blog. The nature of the blog and Armstrong’s case could form a second chapter.
I believe there is enough published about Armstrong’s blog and her sacking from which I could build an extensive Foucauldian analysis about the agonism of the power relationship between employer and employee. I have not read sufficiently to describe two further chapters here but certainly I would want to address issues of surveillance and the hierarchical gaaze (Panopticism complimented by Deleuze’s Postscript on Societies of Control) that lead to her blog being found, the examination of her blog (the obectification of Armstrong-as-blogger who then becomes a subject in the realm of power that has now extended to the Internet), and normalising judgement wherein the employer refers back to notions of normality as defined by management, (possibly) corporate lawyers, and popular business practice surrounding the censorship of employees. I could also discuss the matter of the power relationship existing between her and her employer and the ways that is agonised and the ways by which the intransigence of Armstrong’s free will became evident. There is much more that can be found in Foucault’s Power and the Subject that could provide fascinating analysis of the scenario. Finally I could turn to the matter of how Armstrong’s actions have changed the balance and nature of the power relationship by turning the gaze back to the company (hmmm, Armstrong didn’t name the firm she worked for but this would work with the QueenofSky example) where the company’s work practices became the object of observation after the fact of the termination (I think I could build something here, but it’s early days in my thinking).
Might it be possible to uncover new perspectives and understandings about the power relationship between Armstrong and her employer by utilising a Foucauldian analysis of the various texts that serve to define the events related to the termination of her employment?
I’m pressing the publish button without proof-reading so don’t be to upset if you find a typo or three.
My supervisor has asked me to start thinking about my chapter layouts and I can say, at this early stage I’m struggling with how this might look.
The part I’m struggling with is the “emancipation” part of my research question. The more I read the further I seem to be straying from any concept of emancipation. There are three major concepts that are jumping out about employees and private blogs and they are power/knowledge, surveillance (feeds back into power/knowledge), and free speech. I’ll attempt to explain here how they might fit into my thesis, but whether they can be worked up into a chapter in their own right is another question, although I believe they probably can.
I’m reading and writing about Foucault’s concept of power/knowledge, particularly his article The Subject and Power. I think I could build up an argument about the manner in which companies employ a constant gaze through technologies of surveillance (RSS, Bots, web crawlers, Technorati alerts) that objectify individual employees and submit their blogs and themselves to examination. There are a number of notions here about the importance to power of the pre-existence of the essential freedom of the individual to create a relation of power, and this could matter could be explored more fully. By this I mean that, in most advanced democracies free speech is considered to be a basic human right, and in many companies free speech receives numerous platitudes in company mission statements. The issue though is the manner in which companies respond to individuals who chose to avail themselves of this human right bringing. Here is where the strategies of power come into play through a series of steps used to limit a person’s free expression.
The chapter might address some of these questions:
- How do companies use surveillance technologies as a means to increase the field of visibility and therefore expand their domain of power?
- In what ways to employees become subjects of power relations and how does the agonism of power relations show up?
- What broader categories of knowledge are at play in determining the “normal”. Here I refer to those assumptions that are at play that are go unquestioned in an employment relationship (I pay you wages and therefore can tell you what you will and won’t say about my company)
As I write this, a very rough and unedited stream of thought (TOL – thinking out loud) I’m thinking that what I may have just described is my whole thesis. My general theme would then be power relations between organisations and employees with private blogs. Maybe my chapters would be:
- A detailed exploration of Foucault’s concept of power/knowledge (possibly including Deleuze as his theories relate to surveillance).
- The case for free speech – why it’s important, what it means.
- How employees with private blogs lose their free speech through the expansion of domains of power.
My thesis question/statement would read:
- Do employees risk losing their right to free speech by maintaining private blogs?