Blog Archives

Gender, race, age, and power in online discussions, chapter n

I summarized the Economist’s debate on social networks in education on the Tales from the Net blog, but I wanted to focus more on the race and gender aspects here on Liminal States. To start with, check out the participants and their roles. Superficially (and to the extent we can tell from the pictures and pronouns people use), it seems gender balanced: three male, four female. Look a little more closely though:

  1. the “speakers”, presenting the arguments for and against, are both male.
  2. the “moderator” (who frames the issue, provides commentary on both speakers’ arguments, and “will peruse all correspondence from the floor and raise points that are of particular interest or merit with the two speakers”) is also male.
  3. the women are all “guest participants”

Marginalized much?

Things are even more extreme in the “age” dimension — in a comment in the debate, I asked whether there were plans to involve any current or recent students as guest participants. And although it’s much harder to infer reliably from photos and language, there appears to be even more extreme marginalization in the race dimension … it’s a mighty white-looking bunch of folks they’ve got.

One of the thing that makes this lack of diversity more acute is the Economist’s “Oxford 2.0” debate rules:

In our reconception, the proposition and the opposition are each represented by individual speakers—experts in their fields chosen by The Economist‘s staff to match the proposition at hand.

Because, after all, we wouldn’t want those (nudge-nudge) other perspectives to get equal standings with the guys hand-picked by The Economist’s staff.

political
social computing

Comments (39)

Permalink

Two articles on Obama and one on Hillary from the Atlantic

There were a couple of interesting articles about this year’s presidential election in this month’s Atlantic.

Andrew Sullivan suggests in Goodbye to all that that Obama’s real significance is that “unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America—finally—past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us.” Putting aside for the moment the question of why Atlantic isn’t embarrassed to be paying and promoting Sullivan, it’s an article well worth reading for many reasons.

In the first section think Sullivan does an excellent job describing several dimensions of divisiveness and the general sense by the vast majority that we’re ready to get beyond that — I remember dignitarian Robert Fuller saying a similar thing after his All Rise book tour over a year ago and so it’s nice to see that it’s now getting accepted even by the testosterone crowd.

For me it started to go off the rails for a bunch of reasons at the paragraph starting with “of the viable national candidates…” Who is Sullivan to be judging who’s “viable”? What affect does his restriction to “Obama and possibly McCain” have on the rest of the discussion? At this stage, how could anybody possibly view McCain as a transformational candidate of healing? And so on. By the time we get to “What does he offer? First and foremost: his face.” — laid out at the top of a page, no less, to highlight its importance — it’s unusually revealing: of Sullivan’s blinders, and of how deeply cultural norms frame our discourse. Too bad there wasn’t discussion of the very challenging intersectional issues related to race and orientation; I would have thought progress here is key to getting beyond our divides, and Sullivan apparently not only doesn’t see it that way, but doesn’t think it’s worth mentioning.  Revealing indeed.

Hey, I said it was worth reading, I didn’t say I thought it was a good article.

Marc Ambinder’s subscriber’s-only Teacher and Apprentice by contrast is a great piece, fully living up to its billing as a “story of nasty surprises, dueling war rooms, and the Drudge Report.” I thought the author did a great job of presenting both perspectives, putting the question of media coverage squarely on the table, and highlighting the challenge Obama faces trying to go the (relatively) high road. How to defend onesself against unfair accusations and framing, how to call out your opponents spin and sometimes outright lies, without looking like you’re “going negative” yourself? How to get real discussion of this in a situation where most media is either co-opted, colluding, racist, or hostile?

The idea of Drudge and the Clintons, together again for the first time, is well worth calling out in the subhead. Do the Clintons really believe this kind of alliance is good either for the causes they believe in, or the party they claim to care so much about? And it’s a nice tie between the articles by illustrating Obama’s transformational bridge-building possibilities: these enemies and ideologically-opposed men and women who have fought so bitterly in the past have indeed joined forces in response to him. Yay! Let’s all hold hands, sing folk songs, and go negative — just like Matt used to do to you!

And at the meta-level, it’s really disappointing to see Sullivan’s (intellectually shoddy, blatantly racist, from a conservative standpoint) piece being freely-available, while Ambinder’s (well-thought-out, noticeably more conscious, from a neutral-to-progressive standpoint) article is locked behind subscriber’s-only walls. Oh well. At least it’s an unusually stark example of how restricting IP invariably leads to a situation where views and people favoring the entrenched power base get preferential treatments to dissenting views.

political

Comments (0)

Permalink