[OPE-L:7097] Re: Re: women and Marxian political economy

From: nicola taylor (n.taylor@student.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Wed May 01 2002 - 00:08:45 EDT

Jerry's [7095] is *very* interesting.

>A.  What's in a name?

Some of the feminist studies I looked at in my own research also suggest
that solutions to the name/status issue raise as many new problems as they
seem to solve.  In my undergrad year at Murdoch, I set up a netforum for
econ thought students, where communication was annonymous (initials only)
and I found that gender and status are subtlely communicated anyway.  I
also can verify Jerry's observation that racist, sexist, chauvanist and
unsubstantiated theoretical claims are free-flowing if people's identities
are hidden.  On your site, what did you discover Hans?  Have any follow up
studies been done on the innovative suggestions of N.S. Ranganayakamma?

In forums (like OPE-L) with members from many different cultural/language
groups a name will not always signify gender.  In Italian, for example,
"Nicola" would be a male name.  Yet I will be very surprised if any one of
our Italian comrades made a mistake about my identity (if this is the case,
then definitely gender is *signalled* in other ways). 

>B. Interpreting 'silence'  and the social psychology of Net communication.

I reckon you are completely right in your assessment of 'silence'.  My own
opinion is that a lack of all important 'body cues' prevent us from making
anything of it in 'particular' cases.  More generally, I agree, life
demands and lack of time are the only real reason for non-participation.
In my own recent past I can call up a parents death, a divorce (just
finalised), the fact that I'm a) teaching 8 classes a week, b) juggling
that with Phd research and c) family responsibilities.  OPE-L is more
enjoyable than a) and contributes to b), but for pragmatic reasons must
come last on my list of things to do, i.e. late at night (if at all!).
Such is real life for most people [btw, congratulations to the new parents
of all those unknown OPE-L babies!].  

>C.  OPE-L and other lists

Thanks, Jerry, for being so forthcoming with your views on OPE-L vs other
Marxism lists.  You are right, it is all of the factors you mention - in
addition to comradeship - that makes OPE-L a good place to share serious
ideas.  During my undergrad years I did, in fact, visit several Marxism
sites (as well as the PK list you mentioned) but was never tempted to
contribute to any of them.  As a novice (therefore low-status, and female)
researcher, I didn't feel like putting myself in a position where I might
be open to cyber-atrocities.  It was something of a relief to discover
OPE-L and to have, finally, a chance to meet and exchange thoughts (and
friendship) with other Marxist researchers.  This has been very important
for me, both personally and intellectually, because face to face
opportunities are completely lacking (Perth being, it is said, the most
isolated city in the world).


At 08:17  30/04/02 -0400, you wrote:
>Re Nicky's [7093-4]:
>I want to pursue a few issues you raised:
>A.  What's in a name?
>      ============
>You wrote in [7094] that your name [Nicola] gives you away.
>By this you meant that by identifying yourself with a  feminine
>surname you were identifying yourself to others as a woman.
>This raises some broader questions:
>i) it can be argued that a system of names that employs surnames
>which are gender-specific helps to perpetuate gender inequality
>and discrimination.   This is especially important for *written*
>forms of communication where, unlike spoken or visual
>communication, the gender of authors is  often not immediately
>obvious  _except_ through a person's name.   This would seem to
>be especially significant  for *writers*, whether of scholarly works
>or more popular writing,  in terms of the seriousness with which
>their writings are reviewed, both prior to and following publication.
>Listmember N.S. Ranganayakamma proposed a new system of
>surnames in the article "Surnames and gender equality" (published
>in l986 in Telugu).  The key difference is that no inference can be
>made about the gender of someone based only on name --  in
>this case,  "N" stands for mother's first name; "S" stands
>for father's first name (using such a system, I would be  identified
>as A.T. Levy).  *See attachment which is an abstract in English
>of that paper*.
>ii)  With email, one can  (usually) choose _not_ to identify oneself with
>a gender-specific name.  Thus, for instance, my pratt address,
>glevy@pratt.edu, does not give away my gender.  There are good
>and bad implications of this  relative anonymity made possible by
>Net mailing list, or bulletin board or chat room, communications. On
>the plus side, it make possible communication in which the gender
>of the author is not revealed -- unless the author _wants_ her/his
>gender identity revealed.   Since the Herring et al studies that you
>cited previously found unequal treatment of women on Net mailing
>lists (e.g. their posts weren't  taken as seriously), this might be a
>practical way of overcoming this problem on some lists.  Taking
>this a step further, one could arbitrarily or randomly assign each
>subscriber a name or number.  Hans E tried such a system on a
>list for people new to Marxism (can't remember it's name) so that
>"newbies" could ask very basic questions without being made to
>feel "stupid" or "silly"  and the subscribers who were "authorities" who
>answered the questions also would be anonymous and therefore
>the first group could evaluate each person's answer without being
>influenced by how well-known, or not well-known, the person
>was who was offering an answer.  Certainly an innovative system,
>but I've not seen a report on how well it worked (I don't think that
>list exists anymore. Does it Hans?).
>But, anonymity is not always a good thing  for Internet communications.
>In some Net forums where I've  resided, it was precisely the anonymity
>that allowed individuals  the freedom to hurl much more personal abuse
>and "flames". I.e.  since they knew that no one would know who they
>were, they  often said sexist, racist, national chauvinist, etc. remarks
>that  they don't have the courage to state using their own name (thus,
>I've noticed a difference in behavior by people using anonymous
>"hotmail"  addresses.)  So, this anonymity can be used to abuse others,
>e.g. by making anonymous threats or by misleading others about oneself.
>This has been  the case for some "predatory" men who sometimes stalk
>young women on the Net.  So, the Net, using anonymous addresses, can
>and has been used for sexual harassment.  As it applies to Net mailing
>lists, the problems in this paragraph should be able to be dealt with
>through appropriate list rules and enforcement by moderators.
>Getting back to the plus side,  there is something truly liberating about
>Net communications in the sense that one's ideas are not  necessarily
>evaluated by one's physical appearance,  race, gender, and age. This
>is potentially empowering to those who are young or old or who have
>suffered discrimination based on weight,  height, skin color, accent,
>lifestyle choices including clothing, gender, etc.  From that perspective,
>there is a potential for equality in terms of communication that other
>modes of communication don't allow. All that matters is what you write
>(yet, what we write and how well we write is affected by a number of
>other social factors, including the level of formal education.)
>B. Interpreting 'silence'  and the social psychology of Net communication.
>    =============================================
>You are, of course, correct in [7094] that the problem is how one
>*interprets* "silence" on Net lists.    What I think happens is that, in
>the presence of incomplete information, we tend to *invent* reasons
>for "silence".  There are some interesting social psychology issues here:
>we tend depending on our personalities and our attitudes towards
>the others who are "silent" to invent either very charitable and
>understanding reasons or non-charitable reasons that assume ill intent
>and maliciousness.
>In a similar vein (and of relevance to the previous section) since we
>generally  _don't know_ what someone looks like (or what someone's
>gender, etc. is)  our minds tend to _invent_ an image of what we _think_
>someone looks like.   It is thus sometimes highly amusing when people
>who have  been communicating on the Net for some time see each other
>for the first time and thus when their mental image comes face-to-face
>with reality.
>Another  issue that is worth investigating -- I'm sure it's already been
>done -- is how the fact that people give _written_ responses on the
>Net affects social interaction and communication.  On the plus side, I
>think it is really helping to develop peoples'  writing skills.  On the
>minus side, I think that the fact that people receive messages in
>writing and that they know in the case of a mailing list that there are
>many readers, tends to be inflammatory and quickly escalates
>misunderstandings into full-blown wildfires. It also tends to increase
>the compulsiveness associated with replies: thus, one may feel
>that one has to respond _now_ to a mis-statement by someone else,
>yet this rush to posting tends to quickly escalate out-of-control.
>As for the question of why most subscribers are "silent" on OPE-L,
>I think I know the answer.   The most frequently cited reason given
>has been what you called "pragmatic time allocation".   As list
>coordinator I am aware of a lot of  this information based on off-list
>conversations with subscribers.   One such demand on listmembers'
>time -- especially for those who are academics --   is work-related
>(including having to set aside time for writing,  grading papers,
>trying to get tenure, etc).  In this sense, the dividing line between
>"capitaltime" and "noncapitaltime", that Simon referred to previously,
>is not clear-cut for these workers. Indeed, employers often push
>these workers into a _de facto_ expansion of the working day and
>work week by increasing these demands (and, unfortunately, faculty
>-- who generally see themselves as "professionals" rather than workers
>and union members -- don't frequently fight back against this overwork).
>But,  there is something else, something more going on.  We don't see
>on-list (because subscribers haven't mentioned on-list) other things that
>have been happening in their lives besides work and politics. I can tell
>you -- without mentioning names -- that there have been births (I don't
>have a # that I can give you -- but there are a bunch of  "OPE-L babies"
>and kids out there), illnesses for subscribers and/or loved ones
>(especially parents), deaths (especially of parents), marriages and
>divorces, etc.  All we see on-list is the tip of the iceberg --  it is only
>when we see both above and below the waterline that we begin to
>know the person as an  individual rather than just a Marxist, an
>economist, a scholar, etc.  In  this curious way, cyberspace brings us
>together yet keeps us apart: in time  we feel _as if_ we know someone
>well (and great friendships can be made  on the Net), yet we see only
>certain sides of individuals on the Net unless  they are forthcoming about
>what else is going on in their lives.  Yet, as we  all know, we tend to
>have very serious discussions on OPE-L and the  personal is not often
>discussed on-list. Anyway, this  time constraint  -- expressing it
>differently, we really *do*  have lives outside of OPE-L --  is  the
>single biggest reason for why many listmembers at any given moment
>in time  are "silent".
>C.  OPE-L and other lists
>      ===============
>In [7093] you ask about the practice of other lists and whether this is
>comparable to the practice on OPE-L.  I was sorely tempted to either
>give a historical explanation of the balkanization of cyberspace Marxism
>(that, I think, can be traced back to what happened on the old "marxism"
>list) or to compare on a list-by-list basis each list that I am familiar
>with to OPE-L.  I have decided to resist that temptation.  Instead, I will
>simply note some differences among lists and suggest "what works" and
>what does not.
>i)  the good, the bad, and the ugly
>    -------------------------------
>The satisfaction that subscribers have with any list is basically related to
>how they answer the question: "What am I getting out of this list?".  If
>they think that they get a lot out of being on a list, then they tend to
>stay (as most have on OPE-L); if they think that they are not getting
>enough out of a list in relation to the time and aggravation associated with
>being on a list, then they tend over time to unsubscribe.  Some annoyances
>on other lists include (not necessarily in order of importance):
>--  spam (basically non-existent on OPE-L);
>--  corporate advertisements (because we are a closed list in which only
>subscribers can post, these are rejected by listproc);
>--  annoying posts, e.g. posts that just have stupid jokes. (this can be
>annoying since the subject line for a post might sound interesting so you
>open the mailing only to discover that the comment has nothing to do
>with the subject line);
>--  too many  posts which are simply articles from daily newspapers
>or popular magazines and have little or no connection to any ongoing
>-- flames; in "flame wars" this is often _all_ that happens on a list;
>-- the quantity of posts (I discussed this previously as a reason often
>cited  for unsubscribing from Net lists.)  On some lists, like LBO, it is
>hard to  imagine how subscribers do anything with their lives other than
>read LBO posts.
>ad nauseum.
>In many of the above cases (spam; annoying posts; flames) the
>biggest culprits tend to be [loud and obnoxious] men.
>ii) who is on a list?
>    ---------------
>a) For starters, any open list can be "invaded" by hostile forces and this
>can destroy the quality of discussion and drive good subscribers away.
>E.g. on the Post-Keynesian Thought (PKT) list, most active posters
>aren't Post-Keynesians ( there was a long thread where some
>subscribers _defended_ Say's Law.)  More commonly,  a "temporary
>invasion" can occur: in this scenario forces intent on destroying a list
>join, cause havoc, drive others off the list, and then (now that the "fun"
>is over) leave.  This seem to me to be  exhibiting particularly "masculine"
>forms of behavior.  Since we are a closed list, we are immune from
>hostile invasions.
>b) in many cases a lack of common knowledge and/or interest  by
>subscribers can inhibit discussion.   For example, on some lists if someone
>wrote an equation that person would be asked to explain basic math
>or be denounced as an elitist.  Since we have, to a great extent, a
>common knowledge and interest, this isn't as much of an issue for us
>(although, the nature of specialization means that we do, in fact, have
>a different knowledge and experience, but we can presume a certain
>*basic* knowledge among subscribers.)
>c) the quality of moderation can have a big impact on who is on a list.
>If a moderator is abusive, obnoxious, and threatening towards subscribers
>(and some are), then the serious people tend over time to get fed-up
>and leave.   As the cycle is repeated over and again, all that might remain
>is a loyal group of cult followers (I have a  "moderator" of a "marx"  list
>in  mind as I write this, but I  will refrain from identifying him and
>telling  you various sordid stories about his Net atrocities.)   I don't
>claim  to be  a  perfect "moderator" (I prefer the term coordinator since
>it seems  to me  to  be a more accurate description of my function), but
>there is  *no*  question that we have a list that remains filled with very
>serious Marxist scholars.
>c) discussion lists
>    --------------
>Creating and maintaining an environment in which there is ongoing
>discussion is not easy.  Indeed, many so-called "discussion lists" fail
>miserably at having discussion.
>For instance,  many lists are really *announcement lists* rather than
>discussion lists.  In other words, announcements make-up the
>overwhelming percentage of posts and actual discussions are rare.
>There is, of course, something to be said about belonging to a good
>announcement list *if* most of the announcements you find
>to be of interest. In most cases, such lists aren't even good at that since
>some frequent posters may lack the judgment to know what
>announcements will be of interest to most subscribers.   On OPE-L,
>we -- of course -- have occasional announcements (which I think all
>agree are generally very informative and useful)  but we remain first and
>foremost a *discussion* list.
>The replication of articles from the daily press that I alluded to above can
>be also a *substitute* on some lists for discussion.
>There are also impediments to discussion due to political differences
>among Marxists. E.g.
>i) on many marxist lists there are ongoing and often very insulting debates
>between so-called "activists" and so-called "academics".   My observation on
>these "debates"  is that there are  often gross misconceptions by the
>"activists" about the "academics" (itself, a term used in a derogatory
>way)  --  especially  as it relates to their alleged work experience -- and
>the  "activists" (who,  more often than not aren't all that politically
>active)  are  often just dogmatic  Marxists.  The problem with such debates
>isn't  that  they  happen,  but that  they are never-ending and the same
>misconceptions  and  insults are  endlessly repeated.  The message to many
>"academics" ends  up  being "go away" and many end up doing just that.
>ii) as I described previously, there is a long history of polemics in the
>history of Marxism.  For the dogmatic, the polemical form encourages
>abuse.  What can be most frustrating for serious discussion is when one
>is constantly arguing with those who, rather than confront your ideas
>honestly, caricature your perspective so you are constantly being attacked
>for positions you don't hold and having to defend yourself against these,
>often intentional and malicious, representations.  This, as well, tends to
>drive serious people away and obstruct real, meaningful dialogue.
>On OPE-L we are, of course, *very diverse* both theoretically and
>politically,  but, we also have a tradition of *mutual respect*.  And,
>developing a meaningful and ongoing dialogue, requires not only a
>common interest but also a willingness to engage each other in discussion
>in good faith. In that regard, we have a tradition of  *comradeship*
>despite our very real differences in perspective.   This comradeship
>isn't *by itself* unique to OPE-L  (e.g. some feminist mailing lists
>exhibit a high degree of  *sisterhood* which is similar to comradeship).
>But when combined with the other factors outlined above does, I think,
>create a "unique" experience.
>But, any forum can improve and occasional self-reflection can be
>useful for that purpose.  What do others think about the above issues?
>In solidarity, Jerry
>Attachment Converted: "C:\PROGRAM FILES\EUDORA\Attach\Surnames.doc"
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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