[OPE-L:7093] Re: Re: women and Marxian political economy

From: nicola taylor (n.taylor@student.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Tue Apr 30 2002 - 08:50:11 EDT

Hi Jerry [7079],
I agree with all of the points you make (below).  Nothing to add really,
except to echo John H's previous comment on the presence of trusted
comrades as a factor facilitating tentative explorations in unusual styles
of communication and/or topics.  This 'accepting' attitude towards mixing
up the personal, political and professional is what I meant when I referred
to *unique* aspects of OPE-L (possibly you know of other lists?).  In more
general terms, I believe that *all* computer-mediated contexts do afford
greater opportunities (albeit largely unrealised) for 'nurturing' or
'supportive' styles of discussion in comparison with, say, a lecture room
or any other face to face forum (for the simple reason that respondents
have more time to think about what they are *doing* in addition to what
they are *writing*). In any case, conscious attention to styles of
communication in addition to the focus on what is communicated seems to be
an important element in some of the interactions on OPE-L (despite their
intensity).  As a result, I've personally learned a great deal on OPE-L,
not only about value theory but also about how to value others (as debating
partners rather than debating opponents).


At 09:38  29/04/02 -0400, you wrote:
>Re [7082]:
>Hi Nicky.
>As you might imagine, I've given a lot of thought over the years to the
>dynamics of Internet communications.   Here are some general findings
>as it relates to this issue:
>A.  just about every Internet list tends to be dominated by one or a small
>number of subscribers -- usually men.  On many mailing lists,  it is not
>uncommon for  l  subscriber to post 20 or more messages every day.   In
>general, I  think that Internet mailing lists are more likely to become an
>*obsession*   -- and a substitute for other types of social activity -- for
>men  than  women.   This is one reason, I think, for the "striking
>sex-based  disparity in  participation"  that Herring and you referred to.
>Some lists,  e.g. the  Progressive Sociologists Network (PSN), place limits
>on the quantity of posts that can be sent by an individual subscriber for
>this  reason  (the limit on PSN is 8 out of the last l00 for any individual
>B. volume  (i.e. the quantity of posts) varies very considerably from list
>to  list.  There are some *very* high volume radical lists (such as
>LBO which typically has between 3,000 to 5,000 posts per month.)
>A large  increase in volume can itself  limit participation.   In the
>case of  PSN, the  change in format  noted above occurred after they had
>conducted  surveys of  past subscribers which indicated  by a wide margin
>that the biggest  single reason cited for leaving was the quantity of posts.
>>From that  perspective, one has to recognize that where there is a big
>increase in  volume people are chased away.  This is often the case for
>those who  have a lot of other responsibilities including what Simon
>described as  caring activities during noncapitaltime.
>It should be noted in this regard  that even though the volume on
>OPE-L is much lower than many lists  (we average, year in and year
>out, about 200 posts per month), the  intellectual energy required to
>read -- and respond to -- posts is considerably higher (we often, after
>all, discuss complex theoretical questions which are hard to follow.)
>This is something that has to be remembered when we consider who
>is _not_ participating on OPE-L   However,  *if* there has been a
>significant level of dissatisfaction  about the volume of posts on OPE-L
>it hasn't resulted in many unsubscriptions (indeed, the percentage of
>unsubscriptions / year has  remained incredibly low throughout OPE-L
>history. Also,  the 'participation rate' [defined on OPE-L in the  past as
>the percentage of subscribers posting per month] has remained  much
>higher than  just about all other Net lists that I am aware of [even though
>our participation rates are lower now than they were in many months
>in our early years when we were between 70-85%].
>C.  most mailing lists have a 'culture of lurking'. That is, most
>subscribers  don't participate and indeed that is considered normal and
>acceptable for  most mailing lists.  This seems to me to be a mirror-image
>of what often happens in the classroom where there is typically an
>authority-figure (the teacher), a few talkative, self-confident, and
>assertive  students (who tend attentive -- are mostly quiet.  This is the
>case even for  radical and  Marxist mailing lists.  On OPE-L we have
>consistently  encouraged and  observed significantly higher rates of
>participation ...  although we also  have always had some lurkers.
>I think that what is needed  is to create an atmosphere where listmembers
>know that their views are  welcomed but  not an atmosphere where they
>feel guilty for not posting.  Taking the analogy a step further: I think
>OPE-L is more like a seminar than a lecture. But,  as all of you know,
>there are problems for any seminar if it gets too large.
>D. over time,  who the most active posters are tends to change.  One
>reason for this -- related to what I discussed above -- is that over time
>the extent to which we are committed to other life activities, whether
>they be job-related, political or caring activities,  changes. Thus, we see
>listmembers enter and leave discussions -- often later to re-emerge in
>subsequent discussions. Because listmembers rarely state on-list why
>they are not engaged in discussion, we have little knowledge of the
>real reasons for these cycles of activity and non-activity on-list.  Because
>women, as Simon suggested, are more likely to be committed to other
>time-demanding caring activities, this limits the time and energy that they
>might have for Internet discussions.
>E.  the use of  'masculine language' and modes of discourse seems to be
>a prominent feature of just about all Internet mailing lists. Nowhere is
>this more obvious than in the propensity for 'flames' on Net lists. But,
>I think the problem is broader than that and largely agree with the findings
>of Herring about this.   The *enjoyment* of intense and heated disagreements
>on Internet lists seems to me to be something that men often seem to
>disproptionately feel.  For some Net lists, communications are similar to a
>"blood sport"  like prizefighting where there is an arena full of
>subscribers who  relish every jab and punch -- but "lurking" (quite
>literally)  in the  background  are a large number of others who find blood
>sport -- sometimes mislabeled  "dialogue"  -- appalling.   I think this
>attitude  is related  to a male  enjoyment of  struggle and competition --
>these, of  course, are the result of  gender roles and  socialization.  I
>*also*  think that  this masculine form of discourse has a  very long
>history in Marxism,  going  back to Marx, and is reflected in the  fact
>that most debates in the  history of  Marxism have taken  the form of
>*polemics*.  This doesn't mean  that there  haven't been Marxist
>women  who haven't mastered the polemical form of  debate (e.g.
>Luxemburg  could  hold her own with anyone else), but I don't think
>most women (particularly  scholars and academics) are much
>attracted  to this form of  discussion.   Quite the reverse -- even when
>they see it from  afar and are  not actively  engaged in it (and even when
>it  doesn't  actually  rise to the level  of  'flames'),  it appears to many
>of  them to be  distasteful and an  unpleasant  outburst  of male-type
>aggressive behavior.  Of course,  on OPE-L we have  had  many *very*
>intense discussions (even  though we have had very few  flames.)  But,
>we also have members who are  committed  to continuing the  conversation
>in a positive manner. Again and  again I  have  been surprised  (happily) by
>this tendency to pull back from  aggression.  Thus,  when on other  lists
>someone says something that will predictably turn into not  just a flame
>but an out-of-control wildfire, I have noticed the tendency of  many
>members  to step back and present  calm responses.  Part of the reason
>for this may be  that we tend to be a  very serious lot and  in general
>don't  have  the energy or  inclination to engage  in that form of abuse --
>though, I  think it is also a  reflection of  some of the  personalities on
>the list who have a  non-aggressive and 'nurturing'  conversational tone
>which encourages discussion.  This, of  course, does  not mean that
> _all_   OPE-L members have behaved in non-aggressive ways.
>F.   What is discussed at length on most lists -- and what is not -- is
>largely a consequence of who is on the list and what their interests
>are.  Yet, just having women on a list, even when they be Marxist,
>does not mean that feminist issues will be discussed.  In the case of
>OPE-L this result is somewhat predictable for two reasons: a) those
>who have been recommended for membership -- more often than not
>-- share similar interests in political economy with those who
>recommend them: thus, if  those whose area of interest is not gender
>studies are the ones making the recommendations, then this tends
>to reproduce the result that members aren't specializing in those
>studies, and b) the bulk of women who have joined OPE-L  have
>been more interested in other research areas (such as Marxian
>monetary theories.)   Nor should women members think that they
>_have_ to discuss, or be knowledgeable about, Marxism-feminism
>(any more than a subscriber from an oil-rich country should be
>expected to be an authority on the international oil industry: in
>other words, we should have no expectation about knowledge  or
>interest based  _only_ on sex, race, nationality, etc.)  For us to
>consistently  have more extended discussions by women and others about
>feminist-related issues would require, I believe,  enough new admissions
>of those for whom the intersection of Marxism and feminism is a strong
>research concern for there to be a  'sub-community'  on-list committed to
>nurturing such discussions.
>G.  the 'culture' of a list is shaped to a great extent by the norms
>of moderation -- and often by the personality of the moderator.
>Some moderators chase subscribers away and exhibit the very
>worst of masculine behavior.  Some moderators are very controlling
>and some are very laissez-faire.   Some tend to act at the earliest
>sign of problems on-list and others tend to sit back and watch the fur fly.
>Some  hardly ever author posts, others deluge their lists with massive
>quantities  of posts that they author.  From that perspective, moderation
>can reinforce the practice of  'masculine language' and behavior or
>undermine it.
>In the spirit of self-criticism, I will say that I tend to:
>a) write too many posts;
>b) try too often to initiate a discussion rather than just wait and let
>others eventually introduce  new topics for discussion;
>c)  take part in many discussions perhaps too loudly and assertively -- I
>think I should probably listen more and write less;
>d)  perhaps micro-manage  too much off-list;
>[all of the above could be viewed, I suppose, as "masculine behavior"]
>e) practice 'laissez faire' too much on-list. I.e. where  there are
>potential  problems on-list, e.g. something that could easily  turn into a
>flame, I tend  to be more 'laissez-faire' and hope that   listmembers will
>themselves act to ensure that the discussion gets back on the  right foot
>(see E.).   This practice has emerged because I was encouraged
>in the past  not to admonish listmembers on-list.  I  can easily think of
>instances in which I  realize in retrospect that I should have acted
>differently  -- more or less decisively and actively (now that there's an
>Advisory Committee, I can get some input about what to do on-list before
>On the plus side,  I think I've consistently tried to be nurturing and
>encouraging for listmembers -- although it's true that I don't have the
>time now to do this as much one-on-one as in the early years when
>we were much smaller.  And I think I've consistently argued for the
>concept of collective ownership and control  rather than desiring
>individual control.  But, there is always room for improvement. Any
>H.  the culture of any list is also, to a very great extent, determined by
>the conduct of the most frequent posters. If they are aggressive, then
>this tends to over time cut down on participation. If others on a list
>enjoy reading what they write and they encourage and welcome
>responses (even, or especially, when they are *critical* responses),
>then participation tends to go up.  In general, I think that when
>listmembers "feel good" about discussions and think that they benefit
>from those discussions, then participation increases.  Attention to this
>-- and the other issues of group dynamics discussed above -- by
>*all* of those who participate would create an atmosphere where
>more members are likely to participate.
>Nicky wrote in [7082]:
>>Nevertheless, political economy *is* concerned with the
>> construction of knowledge (of capitalism), so I do see some point in
>> studying 'dominant' discursive practices and trying to achieve some
>> into how these practices affect both the ways in which we construct our
>> knowledge of capitalism (i.e. how we do political economy) and the extent
>> to which our way of doing things escapes - or falls into - masculine modes
>> of discourse.  Does OPE-L have anything unique to offer in this regard?
>> You bet it does.
>But, what is that  'unique' something that OPE-L has to offer in this
>In solidarity, Jerry
Nicola Taylor
Faculty of Economics
Murdoch University
South Street
W.A. 6150

Tel. 61 8 9385 1130 
email: n.taylor@stu.murdoch.edu.au

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