Twitter cares? Some more sources

In the process of doing research for my article on twitter and care, I found some sources on using twitter in health care. I’m fascinated with and somewhat troubled by how online technologies (in particular, twitter and smartphone Apps) are used for (marketing) self/health care.

Here are just two that I found and that I’d like to put BESIDE/S by research on twitter and feminist ethics of care:

1. Hashtag Empathy
2. Take Two Aspirin and Tweet Me in the Morning: How Twitter, Facebook and other social media are helping to reshape health care

(feminist ethics of) Care of Self (help): some sources

For some time now, I have been interested in thinking through the ethical potential of blogs and blog writing and engaging. For me, this ethical potential is connected to troublestaying and the training of oneself to be curious and pay attention (to care about/for) the world. For this project, I want to bring Foucault (and a care of the self) into conversation with Butler and troublemaking, a feminist ethics of care and many of my own ideas about using blogs to cultivate the virtue of making, being in and staying in trouble. Lately, I have also been interested in bringing this all into conversation with self-help books/blogs/attitudes. This is perhaps partly inspired by Sara Ahmed and her critique of the happiness industry in The Promise of Happiness, but also inspired by my dislike of popular/mass-media self-help books in general and how they seem to discourage critical reflection and curiosity. Here are some preliminary sources on caring for the self that I want to consider when I have more time to write (will that ever happen?):

ONE: Helen O’Grady. Woman’s Relationship with Herself. Gender, Foucault and Therapy. I am particularly interested in O’Grady’s chapters 4 on refusing self-critique, 5 on Foucault and an ethics of care for the self and 6 on whether or not Foucault and therapy are in contradiction with each other. O’Grady uses Foucault’s model of the panopticon and his discussion of self-policing to understand many of the problematic ways in which women (what does she mean by “women” here?) use therapy to shape their relationships to themselves. Then, she looks to Foucault’s later work on the care of the self to point to another model for envisioning and cultivating a relationship to self. Am I heading in the right direction with this source? Not sure, but I am hopeful that it will point to some other useful sources.

TWO: Yashna Maya Padamsee.  Communities of Care, Organizations of Liberation I really like this author’s suggestions to shift away from self-care to community care and healing justice. Here’s a great passage:

We need to move the self-care conversation into community care. We need to move the conversation from individual to collective. From independent to interdependent.

Self-care, as it is framed now, leaves us in danger of being isolated in our struggle and our healing. Isolation of yet another person, another injustice, is a notch in the belt of Oppression. A liberatory care practice is one in which we move beyond self-care into caring for each other.

You shouldn’t have to do this alone.

This great post raises some important questions for me about the tensions between self and community. When does our emphasis on the self encourage us to isolate ourselves from others? To ignore our connections? To refuse to ask for or give care to others? When does our emphasis on self care reinforce (neo) liberal individualism? On another note, I’m so happy to see the great comments to the post. Every comment that I read was productive, respectful and engaged with the post. It’s a great model for how to do online engagement!

THREE: Crunk Feminist Collective. How to Say No: The “B” side to Self-care I like putting this source into conversation with Padamsee’s blog post. In “How to Say No,” the author discusses how/why it is important to not always say yes to all of the demands placed on us. This call to say “no” doesn’t have to come into conflict with Padamsee’s call for healing justice, but it complicates it (and Padamsee’s call for healing justice complicates the need to say “no.”)

6.  Save some “yeses” for yourself.  Women have the tendency to put other people’s needs and priorities above their own.  Self-care is not selfish and even if it were, we deserve self-indulgence every now and then.  Don’t say yes to something that is essentially saying “no” to yourself.  Take care of yourself.

When does care for others come at the expense of care for self? How do we navigate between the need to care for/about others and the need to make sure we aren’t overwhelmed/exhausted/depleted?

Here are two passages, one from Padamsee and one from Crunk Feminist Collective, that I would like to put beside each other:

PADAMSEE: Too often self-care in our organizational cultures gets translated to our individual responsibility to leave work early, go home- alone- and go take a bath, go to the gym, eat some food and go to sleep. So we do all of that “self-care” to return to organizational cultures where we reproduce the systems we are trying to break; where we are continually reminded of our own trauma or exposed and absorb secondary PTSD, and where we then feel guilty or punished for leaving work early the night before to take a bubble bath.

CRUNK: I have a date with my damn self, bubble bath, glass of wine, mellow music and all, and I’m not breaking it.  I have had a long day/week/month and I just want to chill.  I need some personal, one-on-one, just me and the reflection in the mirror time.  No, no, no!

This discussion of taking a bath, reminds me of a commercial that I remember from childhood: Calgon! Take me away!

Important to note: The Crunk Feminist Collective post is written from the perspective of a crunk feminist. In the post, she explicitly discusses how her saying yes too many times connects to her experiences as a Black women and is in direct response to a previous article on Black women and depression. When thinking about how to put these different sources into conversation, it will be important to think through how they speak to different experiences.

How does this all fit together with my larger project? I’m not completely sure, but I am interested in contrasting the language of self-help with: a. a feminist ethics of care, b. Foucault’s care of self and c. virtue and the practice of working on the self. I am also interested in thinking through how to have discussions about caring for self that move outside/beyond “self-help” language but that still take the need for healing/help seriously. While I’m not sure about my first source (because I haven’t had enough time to read it), I believe that my second and third sources do just that.

Is twitter bad for our souls?

I just finished an abstract for a special issue on online social networks and ethics. I put it together pretty quickly because I found out about the call for papers just a few days ago and the deadline was today (19 june). It’s partly inspired by my recent post on Bill Keller’s The Twitter Trap, more twitter hatin’ and conflatin’. Here it is:

Does twitter turn us into distracted, uncaring, apathetic, disengaged, unethical citizens? Many critics seem to think so. In “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted,” Malcolm Gladwell dismisses twitter as being unable to incite revolution and radical change and as only generating superficial, weak connections between individuals and communities. In “I Tweet, Therefore I Am,” Peggy Orenstein charges that twitter encourages us to become packaged selves who instantly and unthinkingly publicize our experiences and, as a consequence, are alienated from our own humanity. And in “The Twitter Trap,” Bill Keller laments that twitter reduces us to soulless narcissists who care more about spreading information and gaining notoriety than experiencing intimacy and forging authentic connections.

In all three of these articles, twitter is indicted as an online social network that threatens our ability to be ethically and politically engaged citizens. According to these authors, not only does twitter lack any ethical value, but using it can actually do harm to our ethical selves, making it increasingly difficult for us to think deeply and reflectively and to act responsibly and ethically within the world.

Is this an accurate assessment? Does twitter usage lead, in the words of Bill Keller, to the erosion of our souls? Yes and no. While twitter can encourage us to be superficial,apathetic or disengaged, it can also enable us to communicate meaningful narratives about our lives and to share those narratives with each other. And it can enable us to cultivate authenticity through how we express ourselves and document our experiences, how we engage with the world and its inhabitants, and how we create connections and form alliances with each other.

Challenging the claim that twitter is only a threat to our ethical selfhood, this essay explores how twitter participation–through posting tweets, following other twitter users, participating in online twitter conversations, sharing resources, reading others’ tweets to gain social/critical/ethical awareness–might contribute to ethical development and help guide online (and offline) practices in ways that are more engaged, authentic and ethical.

This essay will be divided into two main parts. In the first part, I will offer a brief overview of twitter, some of its key features and who (based on factors like race, class, age, and gender) is using it and how and why. I will also provide some background on four ethical perspectives from which to assess the ethical potential of twitter: the dignity and human rights perspective, the justice perspective, the virtue perspective and the feminist ethics of care perspective. Then, I will describe some general ways in which twitter might contribute to authentic expression, engagement and connection. In the second part of this essay, I will ethically evaluate three current examples of twitter usage, using the four ethical frameworks that I introduced in part one, and raising critical questions about whether or not they contribute to the fostering of ethical selfhood, especially in relation to authenticity. These three examples are: 1. Authentic expression and Angie Jackson’s live-tweeting of her abortion in February, 2010; 2. Authentic engagement and the use of hashtags, like #WeAreAlabama, to spread awareness and information about the tornados in Alabama in April 2011; and 3. Authentic connection and Joel Johnson’s promotion in Gizmodo of “stalking a sexy black woman” on twitter in order to learn more about people and cultures very different from your own in July, 2010.

Each of these examples raises important and difficult questions about ethics, authenticity and twitter. In live-tweeting her abortion, Angie Jackson claims that her goal was to honestly document her experiences using RU-486 in order to “demystify” abortion for others. Is this live-tweeting an authentic expression of someone striving to grant dignity to her experiences (and the experiences of other women) of having an abortion or is it as an example of someone with “bad manners” whose only interest is in gaining public notoriety?

Hashtags like #WeAreAlabama were used to spread awareness and mobilize individuals and communities who wanted to learn more about how they could help victims of the Alabama tornados. Do these hashtags enable twitter users to have authentic engagement with those communities, allowing them to bear witness to the devastation and to contribute in meaningful ways to the relief effort? Or do these hashtags, and the information they provide, encourage twitter users to remain passive and disengaged as they falsely believe that merely reading stories and donating money via twitter links enables them to think that they are “doing their part”?

Finally, Joel Johnson encourages us to follow the twitter feeds of people who aren’t like us in order to “experience the joy of discovery that can come by weaving a stranger’s life into your own.” Does following a stranger on twitter and reading tweets about their life enable us to learn more about them and care about and for them, thereby resulting in the development of an authentic connection with them? Or does following someone on twitter resemble stalking and only lead to the most superficial of connections?

So, that’s it. Like I said, I put it together pretty quickly. I’m not happy with my abrupt ending, but I like the argument and analysis that I’ve come up with–although I don’t like how the questions I pose about the three twitter “moments” create an either/or binary. In ethically evaluating these moments, I am not interested in drawing such easy conclusions–that they are either good or bad, this or that. Instead, I would like to explore the ethical difficulty of understanding these moments as possibly allowing for authentic and inauthentic expressions, engagements and connections. Oh well, I will change these questions in my extended draft. Whether or not this article is accepted, I will have fun writing it!

On curiosity, the pedagogy of the question and not being good

In the midst of preparing my learning exercise on women’s studies, curiosity and the pink sneaker, I came across an interview with Paulo Freire entitled “The Future of School.” Check out what he has to say about curiosity, the pedagogy of the question and not being a good boy:

I am the antagonist of pedagogy. I am the antagonist of epistemology. I am the opposite ethic. I am nothing of that, because I am the antagonist of that. And I insist, I don’t like discourses. I am not a “good boy.” I try to be a good person, but “good boy” — God forbid! If you want to hurt me, call me a “good boy.”

I am an educated person, very educated, polite, disciplined, and courteous. That I am, indeed, and more. I try to be respectful, but “good boy,” for God’s sake, no! So I am antagonistic to all this. I am contrary, the opposite of all this. I believe in the pedagogy of curiosity. That’s why I defend, along with the Chilean philosopher Fagundes, the pedagogy of the question and not of the answer. The pedagogy of the question is the one that is based on curiosity. Without that pedagogy there would not be a pedagogy that augments that curiosity.

After reading this brief excerpt from the interview, I was curious: what is the pedagogy of the question? The idea of asking lots of questions is central for my own pedagogical practices, particularly in my feminist debates class; the final part of this entry exemplifies this approach. I became even more curious when I found Freire’s book, Learning to Question. Now I just need time to read it and think about it in relation to my own practices and ideas about the question/questions. Maybe I will even assign part or all of this book to my students next fall in my Feminist Pedagogies course?

Another part of Freire’s brief remarks intrigued me as well: the deliberate way he distinguishes between the “good person” and the “good boy”.  Here the good boy seems to be a direct reference to the good student who always obeys the teacher, complies with their demands and passively absorbs information without questioning or challenging it. For Freire, not being a good boy does not suggest that one is a bad person, that is rude or disrespectful (a disciplinary problem, perhaps?). Now, what is Freire doing with this statement? Is it merely a move to prove his respectability as a teacher, scholar, person–see, just because I ask questions doesn’t mean I am a bad person, a delinquent!?  Or, could he be doing something more here (or maybe could we do something more here) with this distinction? In opposing the “good boy” with the good person, Freire could be suggesting that in order to be a good person, one must necessarily question and be curious; one must not be a good boy. So, to be a good boy is to not be a good person? Hmm…I need to think about this some more.

Note: I think it is significant that he describes it as not being a good boy (as opposed to being a bad boy). This sounds a lot like my discussion of Foucault’s notion of not being governed in certain ways or my discussion of Butler’s idea of asking why as a form of not-obeying. Excellent. What connections can I draw here?

Linking care with troublemaking, part 2: What does it mean to care?

This entry is part of my series on care and its connections with troublemaking. As I mentioned previously (here and here), I am interested in thinking through what care is and how it does/doesn’t connect with troublemaking. So, what does it mean to care? Having just written a brain-melting chewy bagel about Foucault, Butler and virtue ethics, I want to keep this entry a little lighter–maybe light like a double-glazed donut…umm, double-glazed.

Anyway, this morning my son FWA, who is 2 weeks away from turning 7, read his weekly “watch me read” book to me (thanks, FWA for waiting until this morning to remind me about this assignment–just 30 minutes before you had to leave for school!). This week’s book, which is part of Houghton Mifflin’s Invitations to Literacy Series, was “We Care.” As you might imagine–that is, if you are a regular reader here–the title made me curious. What do they mean by care? And, who is the we that cares?

So, the story is about a little girl who passes by a local homeless shelter called Main Street on the way to school everyday. One day she decides to ask her teacher about the shelter and whether or not the people who go there have beds and enough food. In other words, she is curious and cares about these people and their needs. The teacher doesn’t know but decides that being curious about Main Street might be a good project for the whole class so she encourages them to  curious about the residents of Main Street. But, the teacher doesn’t just want her students to be curious, she wants them to do something with that curiosity. She organizes the students and their parents into a plan of action: they will give care to the residents of Main Street by bringing food and other things the residents might need and by performing a play. A big chunk of the story (which is 16 pages total) is devoted to describing how the students, their parents, and the teacher all get involved in preparing the gift boxes and the play. Towards the end of the story, the class goes to the shelter and delivers their boxes to the head of Main Street and performs the play for the residents. The experience gives the students such a “warm feeling” that they decide they want to do more. The teacher suggests that they tell other classes about the shelter project so that those classes can care about and care for too. Here is how the story ends:

Now our school often brings food and other things to Main Street House. We don’t put on a show every time we go, though. But that’s all right. Our class trips show we care (16).

So, “we care” means:

  • to be curious about others
  • to care about those others and their needs
  • to do something for those one cares about by giving care to them
  • to spread the word to others
  • to engage collectively in caring about and caring for

There are many things that I like about this story. I like that kids are being encouraged to care. I like that caring about isn’t enough and that action, in the form of giving care, is also required. I like that that care is imagined as collective and involving more than an individual; it includes the class, the entire school, and even the larger community (including parents). I like that continued and repeated caring is necessary–students shouldn’t just care once, they need to care again and again by visiting Main Street House repeatedly.

But (you knew it was coming, right?), I was also troubled by this story because it left out some crucial steps and some very important actors in the process. First, the students are never encouraged to collectively develop or critically reflect on how or why they should care about these residents. The process of figuring out what form of care might be most effective for the residents is never discussed. Moreover, the reasons why the residents are homeless are never addressed (or even asked). The student, Jynelle, doesn’t ask why some people are living at Main Street instead of in their own homes; she merely asks if they have enough beds there. I don’t know how much time you have spent around little kids, but the first question that they are often compelled (and it does almost seem like a compulsion) to ask is: Why? Athough maybe by the time students are in 3rd grade, they have already been conditioned out of asking why–scary thought. In the context of this story, not asking why is significant. Asking why indicates that the way something appears to be should not just be assumed to be the way it should be or the way that it always has been (In another entry, I discuss the importance of why for critical thinking and troublemaking). When the student doesn’t ask why, it is implied that why doesn’t matter because homeless shelters are just the way the world works: some people are homeless, some aren’t. It’s a fact of life. Don’t try to change it, because you can’t. For me, the failure to ask why is a major problem. Asking why isn’t just about trying to make trouble by creating extra work for the teacher or by distracting us from the real work of developing solutions or plans of action for caring about those people. To ask why is to claim that the situation of being homeless is not to be assumed and that it is something that could and should be different. It is the first step in challenging and resisting injustice. And it is the first step in transforming yourself into a person-who-doesn’t-merely-accept. Uh-oh, didn’t I just talk about this in my last entry? This entry is in danger of becoming another chewy bagel. Let’s just say, asking why is important.

A second problem: Something big is missing in this story: the actual people who are receiving the care, the residents of Main Street Shelter. We never get to read about the actual stories of these people. And they aren’t visually represented in the text. When the story describes the students’ play at Main Street, the illustrations are of the children performing. We also never get to read about their reactions to the care that they are given. When the story describes the effects of the Main Street project, there is no discussion of how it benefits the residents or how the care makes a difference in their lives. Instead, the story focuses on how giving care to the residents gave the students warm feelings.  This is a problem because giving effective care necessarily requires that we ask about how we should give care. We shouldn’t assume (or presume) to know what needs should be addressed. We need to ask those to whom we are giving care,  How can we help you? Or, even better, how can we make it possible for you to help yourselves? This is also a problem because, by leaving the actual voices and experiences of those who need care out of the story, those who receive care are reduced to objects (as opposed to subjects) of care.

Since this entry is getting too long (I didn’t realize that I would have so much to write about this book), I need to stop. But, before I do, I want to offer some practical ways to tell this story differently–practical ways that might be even approved for use in an elementary school…well, as long as it isn’t in Texas. So, here are my suggestions for some small (but potentially transformative) ways to make this a story that offers a more expansive and effective vision of what it means to care:

  • Have the teacher contact the shelter and actually ask: what can we do to help? What care can we give to your residents? You could have her ask the director or, even better, have her talk with actual residents.
  • What about including a brief mention (even a sentence would help) of how a resident or the director visited the class and told them about the shelter and what the residents needed.
  • Let Jynelle ask why. You don’t even have to answer it (although that would be awesome), just let her ask it.
  • Include some faces, names, voices of the residents. At least include them in some of the pictures.

Okay, here is one suggestion that might be too ambitious for a third-grade level book:

  • Instead of talking so much about how students get a warm feeling because they feel good about caring for others, focus just a little more attention on why they are sad (at least you mention it on page 13) or even why they are mad that others don’t have a home.

Okay, my brain (and the rest of me too) is done. Now I want to find some kids’ books that talk about social justice and encourage kids to question and challenge. Any suggestions?