Danah Boyd on Class, Facebook and MySpace

I want to take a moment to make a meta point here. I have been traipsing through the country talking to teens and I’ve been seeing this transition for the past 6-9 months but I’m having a hard time putting into words. Americans aren’t so good at talking about class and I’m definitely feeling that discomfort. It’s sticky, it’s uncomfortable, and to top it off, we don’t have the language for marking class in a meaningful way. So this piece is intentionally descriptive, but in being so, it’s also hugely problematic. I don’t have the language to get at what I want to say, but I decided it needed to be said anyhow. I wish I could just put numbers in front of it all and be done with it, but instead, I’m going to face the stickiness and see if I can get my thoughts across. Hopefully it works.

danah boyd
June 24, 2007

Boyd’s piece is short and impressionistic but quite effective for what it is. Even the comments on her blog are fun to read. What’s fascinating to me is the way she feels compelled to remind readers that she is just testing out ideas, not writing an “academic essay.” She’s not defensive, but she’s puzzled by the often fierce response to her piece.

“I can’t decide if the response is good or bad,” Boyd writes, “I’m clearly getting raked through the coals by lots of folks from lots of different perspectives.” One problem, she thinks, “is that I also clearly pissed off the academics by inappropriately appropriating academic terms in an attempt to demarcate groups.”

Why such a rapid shift away from a discussion of class and towards a focus on Boyd’s authority? As she says, class is a loaded subject in the United Sates. “It’s sticky,” she writes, and “uncomfortable.” I also think she hit a nerve by hinting at a critical view of the material and social privilege associated with high-status universities. This debate is really about class in academia and the way professorial privilege is policed through language.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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