In which the Internet finally freaks her out once and for all

For those of you not on Twitter at 10:00 pm on a Saturday night (what, you have a life?) you might have missed the latest gossip. Turns out some woman at SFU wrote a masters thesis about called “Works in Progress: An Analysis of Canadian Mommyblogs.” In it, she examines in minute detail the writings of eight Canadian bloggers, and uses that fodder to make egregious assumptions and inferences about their income, their marriages, and their children, among other things.

Mine was one of them.

In fact, it was me who stumbled on the thesis yesterday afternoon. I was googling my own name of all things, for an upcoming post that I’ll get around to finishing once all this settles down. I was bemused at first: “Oh look, someone referenced my blog in an academic paper.” But the more I read, the more it creeped me out. This woman spent what must have been days poking around in my archives, copying and eventually analyzing several months’ worth of writing. Analyzing several month of my life. And then she starts making assumptions, and that’s where I’m no longer impressed. She makes inferences and assumptions about my marriage, the division of labour in our house, my income, my job aspirations — about my life.

By the time I’d finished reading, I felt — violated. It’s a strong word, used intentionally. I felt that someone had taken what I put out into the Internet and used it for a purpose I neither intended nor approved. It’s not even the real me, it’s an unauthorized repackaging of the avatar of me that I slip into whenever I sit down at the keyboard.

Now, I have never been shy about sharing the most intimate details of my life online. Back in 2007, Chatelaine magazine (who has a much larger readership than this thesis ever will) wrote a feature piece about Beloved and me that looked at our reproductive history — infertility, miscarriages and all — in intimate detail. We’ve been on CBC TV discussing infertility twice. Neither one of those bothered me in the least, because there’s two key differences here. The first is that the MSM took the time to contact me and ask my permission first. The second is that the MSM seem to understand the fact that what’s on the screen is only part of the story, and doesn’t assume otherwise. They ask questions to get to the real truth, not the one that gets packaged for Internet consumption.

For the first time ever, I felt embarrassed and ashamed of myself and the blog when I finished reading this woman’s thesis. I thought, “Is that what I’m putting out there? Is that how people really see me?” And then I realized that that’s exactly my problem with what she did — she stripped my words and thoughts and ideas of their context and used them for her own purposes. (For example, she seems fixated on posts where I comment about potty training and take out, cross-referencing them extensively.) She treats my writing as a factual rendering of my daily life and completely ignores the fact that I am writing to entertain, so of course I am exaggerating some details and omitting others.

As I mentioned, there was a good little twitterstorm going last night, and most people seemed to agree that not contacting the bloggers in question was a significant ethical violation. (You can scan the conversation by clicking on the #creepythesis hash tag.) If she had, I think she would have had a much more interesting and well-rounded thesis. And she would have had my permission to quote me, something that she didn’t bother to acquire. By the way, the other blogs in question are Cheaty Monkey (Haley-O and I discussed this issue at length yesterday), The Writing Mother, Cheaper than Therapy, Adventures in Motherhood, Hypergraffiti, Chaos Theory, and Momcast. There’s also quotes from a lot of the other players in the Canadian momosphere, from Mad Hatter and Veronica Mitchell to Her Bad Mother. Go ahead, use the search feature and see if she quoted you without permission, too!

Now, I haven’t totally lost my perspective on this. I do realize that there are inherent risks in putting so much of my personal life out onto the Interwebs, and I realize that the “wrong” that has been done here is relatively minor. But I am offended by this, and I do intend to follow up with both the writer and SFU. In fact, my first impulse was to include her name along with a long list of accusations of ethical wrong-doings, because while I may soon forget how violated I felt in this moment, Google never will. (Figures. Now is a hell of a time to develop a sense of discretion!)

So, bloggy peeps, I’m willing to bet you have thoughts on this. Am I being overly sensitive, feeling as I do like a bug on a microscope slide? Or should I be flattered that anyone paid that much attention to my writing? Would you be creeped out? Would you act on it?

Me, I gotta go to church. *sigh*

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

110 thoughts on “In which the Internet finally freaks her out once and for all”

  1. I don’t think she crossed any ethical lines. However, as a courtesy she should have contacted you the bloggers since it’s very easy to do. When I skimmed through the thesis on Saturday night I quickly realized that it was poorly written. Odd considering she’s in communications. That aside, it’s strange to make conclusions based on what the bloggers have written. Of course bloggers don’t include everything in their posts. They typically write about the funny, most happy, interesting and sometimes sad events in their lives. A lot of editing is done. A blog post is just a glimpse. Without talking to the blog writers I don’t think she got a really good glimpse into your lives.

  2. So, this is my thesis. I’ve been talking with Dani and I just wanted to say hello and thank you all for the very interesting discussion.

  3. Well, I was away all weekend, and was mightily surprised to return to find such a brouhaha here! I certainly like you Dani, and can see where you’re coming from and everything I read from you is tempered by your dimples, in my mind’s eye.

    After enjoying a leisurely lunchtime reading through your post and the comments and links and working my way through the thesis, I’ve only come up with this:

    The problem, as I see it, is not in any ethical misconduct, invasion of privacy, ignorance of blogging, narrow vision, poor use of grammar or in anything other than that she’s made many value judgments and has leapt to occasionally wrong conclusions and didn’t stick strictly to critical analysis. For just one example, see p. 104/105:

    “Here we see a shift in Cook’s perspective; however, it seems unfortunate that when she realizes that she cannot do it all (something some of the other mommybloggers never bought into; see for example, Dani’s blog), she thinks about dropping one of the things that is most important to her (her writing), instead of dropping something less important (breadmaking) or asking her husband to help out more.”

    And I’d like to get all up in arms too, as a mother and feminist and as someone who blogged and has defended blogging as a folk art and who loves to write. And, as someone who’s never had secondary education I’d think that someone bucking for a degree suggesting however obliquely that a subject ask her husband to help out more within the course a thesis is totally out of place. I just think, well, simply – it sucks. But it’s not our job to correct her thesis, and that sucks too. We’re intelligent people and know she should have done better. We’re mothers, for the most part, and feminists and nice people and bloggers and want other women to do their best and succeed – and she somehow failed us all with this, and some specifically.

    But then too, I also think – what does this do, in the end, other than generate lots of discussion that ultimately goes nowhere much and changes very little? The thesis has been around for some time now, and never impacted you until you read it. You can’t un-read it, and un-feel your agitation, I get that; and now that you’re aware of these slight injustices I can imagine that you’re forecasting a time when someone might call up your permanent record and this will be on it right next to the time you put bubble gum under the seat in fourth grade – but so far, it’s only ego.

    The author of the thesis clearly stated too “… I did not read the blogs extensively prior to selecting them.” So, I’d be curious to see if she’s still reading. THAT, I think, would be the most interesting outcome, and would actually have some value – the opportunity for a proper defense to comments made; and perhaps an education on the politics, mores and other conventions of blogging for herself in the process of that. And while she doesn’t have to care about the subjects for the purposes of her thesis, you don’t easily get to say things like “So give up breadmaking or ask your husband to help.” and not get called on it somehow, sometime, in this world. And for those who think of blogging as a conversation amongst friends, your child’s diarrhea is never TMI.

    As you’ve said twice – it’s fodder. But my dictionary says of fodder:

    fod·der (fdr)
    1. Feed for livestock, especially coarsely chopped hay or straw.
    2. Raw material, as for artistic creation.
    3. A consumable, often inferior item or resource that is in demand and usually abundant supply

    After almost two hours of trying to sift through the bullshit to see what the bull ate, I haven’t found anything of substance. She had a thesis that wasn’t brilliant enough to prevent criticism. It isn’t artistic enough to be truly controversial, it’s just annoying. And her thesis and what it generated is perfect for those of us who consume blogs; and comments (like mine) are in abundant supply.

    So yes it’s fodder, but it’s not food for thought. Those who were mentioned within it and who are reading all this now aren’t livestock – they are smart, interesting women and at some point we all need to stop feeding frenzies like this and I, for one, won’t get these two hours back and have the same kind of hangovery feeling that I get on December 26, January 2, February 15 and other random dates when it all seemed like a great idea at the time but I should have left the party while I was still having fun.

    That, and I personally believe Mommyblogging is a proper noun, and it and its derivations and ought to have been capitalized throughout.

  4. Hey there. Checking back in… don’t have time to read comments, but wanted to let you know that I asked my research colleagues here at the office about this and here was their take.

    First, in their opinion, that her not contacting you was completely appropriate, because to do so in the beginning could slant her analysis. As in, any of you could go back and change posts, alter things etc. And they also felt it was appropriate to cull the blogs, because it would be like looking through a newspaper – because they were published publicly.

    However, IF she were to publish the work in a journal or any publication and she was quoting you AND your work was copyrighted (which I see in at least Dani’s case it is), THEN she should contact you at that point for permission. Before that, nope.

    As for the part where you felt she was making gross assumptions, they didn’t want to weigh in without reading it themselves, but they felt it sounded like she was doing qualitative not quantitative analysis. When we do this, we have a software program that goes through and matches occurrences of phrases and words and subject matter and helps the researcher put together strings of ideas, and she may have used that. Or she may have not. It sounded like you felt like her assumptions were way off base, so I have no idea.

    Anyway, some more 2 cents.

  5. This whole incident has been fascinating for me. Thank you Dani, for giving us this space, and to you all for the discussion, particularly Bea and others for the academic insight.

    As a nascent blogger, whose professional interest is in privacy, you can kinda see where my excitement was aroused by this whole brouhaha. I was first very intrigued (forgive me!) about what was actually said about the bloggers in the thesis and what impact the commentary and publicity would have on the studied bloggers. Big questions in the privacy world centre on what the expectations are in this new age of user generated content – what is the new reasonable person test going to be in terms of what is private, public, etc for web-published material? From the sounds of the discussion, I think you all managed pretty well, and, with a little help from friends, have (more or less) come to terms with what clearly initially felt like a violation of your rights.

    But then, as someone who is just plain intrigued by blogging and the phenomenon it is, I became very interested in the purported thesis of the paper. (So in my excitement about this topic, please forgive me if I continue to reiterate what many have already said!) I say purported, because, as has been pointed out, it wasn’t borne out particularly well. I would have loved to see her draw some viable conclusions from what she did read. Her proposed thesis about whether Mommyblogs are dialogic spaces was well started but petered right out. (Of course, you don’t need 100 pages to answer it; we can all do it in one word – YES). A better question might have been what kind of dialogic space is this, how is it different/ the same from the way the term has been used in theoretic works before… etc. (Academics – would I have got a better mark if I could have followed through with that approach?)

    I’m imagining the author became sidetracked and bemused by the content she found, and, unable to tidily wrap it up, included way too much summary of the material and conjecture about the writers. Very unfortunate.

    I have some real sympathy for the writer, who has wandered into a huge body of work. I really wanted to think about how she could have made any kind of intelligent comment whatsoever. Unfortunate as many of her judgments about the writers were, they were all doomed to suffer from the simple fact that she didn’t read the whole work. Can you imagine doing a literary criticism on selected chapters of a very long book? That doesn’t seem right to me! To make meaningful criticism about (for instance) how division of labour is not included, she really needed to read every post – because how can her sampling process create a decent view of the blogs? If she were to read every word, how could she possibly create any kind of summary of the narrative in the work, or draw sufficiently few central themes to make a readable argument?

    But I digress. I really wanted to share a story. I’ll save that for my blog, not as a teaser, but because I’ve used enough space here!

    Oh, and Dani, at least 2 of the commenters have used the thesis author’s last name in their comments. From the discussion, there seemed to be a pretty strong desire not to identify the author here, but I don’t know if you wanted to leave it up to individual commenters, ensure that didn’t happen in your space, or mention it to them… or whatever.

  6. @Moosilaneous, Fleming freely uses my name. I feel within my rights, since it is from a publicly available published work under her own name, to use hers. I am, after all, all about authenticity and have no problem standing behind my words and I’m sure Fleming is comfortable standing behind her own words.

  7. I have to agree with Scattered Mom’s comment above. I haven’t read the thesis, and I haven’t read through all these comments, but I have to say that I can’t agree that analyzing your blog without your permission is an ethical violation. Literary analysis does not require us to contact the authors of the novels we discuss, regardless of the quality of our analysis. A blog is a self-published work of literature; it is open to interpretation just as a novel is. I too would be creeped out in your position, but it sounds like it’s the thesis author’s misinterpretations, not her ethics, that are the issue here.

  8. Oh, I firmly agree, Leanne, its just that earlier, there seemed to be some discussion on whether or not the author would find the discussion since her name wasn’t used – although in fact she had already found it!!
    Please ignore my comments – I was offline writing while events unfolded…
    Always a little behind the curve, I am!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *