In reflecting on his two years of blogging, Fred from Fragments from Floyd describes his experience this way:

I marvel at how things have turned out--and are still turning--since May of 2002. What seemed at the time like an ending and a featureless void for a future has morphed wonderfully into so many opportunities for exploration and creation and discovery. I could never have imagined. Two years ago I began to see myself not so much by what I do for a living as where it is that I do my living. I began to chronicle the extraordinary things in an ordinary life, frankly, because I did not know what else to do.

Now, I can't conceive of not having this journal and my reader-friends, some whom I have never heard from but know you are there visiting Goose Creek from time to time. And the best part--and the intended end of all this, insomuch as there were intentions--through the blog…I am meeting people locally and getting involved in what I used to call "real" community. Now, I don't make such a hard-edged distinction, because what happens via the weblog is also real and is real community.

"A Thousand Points of Light" (May 20, 2004)

Like many bloggers, Fred has found a medium to facilitate a daily writing practice that documents his personal experiences and connects this writing with an online community of interested readers. But Fred also makes clear that this blog has a theme that grows out of a particular rhetorical exigency--“Two years ago I began to see myself not so much by what I do for a living as where it is that I do my living” (italics mine). This concern with whereness reflects the unique qualities of place blogging, a genre of online writing that takes as one of its central concerns the relationship between identity and place.

As one can see by Fred’s post, this is no simple relationship. He seems to blur the distinctions between the metaphorical and literal geographies, and he testifies to the way his blogging connects him to actual communities, even as he is quick to resist any easy binary between his “real” community and his online community. Fred suggests that his practice of writing online helps connect him not only to a group of online writers but also to the physical places that shape him.

Defining Blogging, Defining Place

As turns out, Fred isn't alone in taking his experience of place as a theme for his blog. As he gained a readership and began reading other blogs, he began to find like-minded writers from around the country who shared a commitment to reflecting on what it means to be in a particular place. Eventually, he and a few others created a wiki they called Ecotone: Writing about Place. On their homepage, they describe their mission:

The Ecotone wiki is intended as a portal for those who are interested in learning and writing about place. It came about as a meeting spot for a number of webloggers who write extensively about place in their own blogs and were wishing to work more collaboratively, as well as raise awareness to this genre of weblogs.

This definition assumes the existence of blogging as a relatively stable, recognizable genre. Indeed, blogs appear to have arrived: 2003 was declared the Year of the Blog and blog was designated Word of the Year by Merriam- Webster in 2004. However, as Carolyn Miller and Dawn Shepherd suggest, blogging is remarkable for its ability to adapt to particular rhetorical exigencies, such that "already it may no longer be accurate to think of the blog as a single genre." In other words, it now may be less meaningful to discuss blogging in general than to examine distinct varieties of the genre such as war blogging, political blogging, academic blogging, or—for the purposes of this study—place blogging. Rather than treating place blogging as a genre of its own (or even as a subgenre), this study will primarily examine it as an adaptation, or perhaps more precisely, a localization of blogging with both generic and geographic qualities.

In their article, "Blogging as Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the Weblog," Miller and Shepherd examine the cultural kairos that has given rapid rise to blogging as a genre. To investigate this, they ask basic questions about why people start blogs, who they write for, what the common characteristics that make blogs identifiable are, which existing genres blogs remediate, and "what rhetorical work...blogs perform—and for whom." The writers of Ecotone represent an effort to adapt blogging to respond to particular social conditions—residential mobility, rapidly transformed physical environments, and quickly changing communication technologies—in order to construct a sense of self informed by place. By writing regularly and attentively about their experiences of place, place bloggers construct a unique discursive space in which to explore the increasingly complex relationship between life online and life in places.

Anis Bawarshi's manner of describing genre seems particularly apt in this context: in his words, a genre is "both a habit and a habitat—the conceptual habitat within which individuals perceive and experience a particular environment as well as the rhetorical habit by a through which they function within that environment" (84). In Genre and the Invention of the Writer, Bawarshi suggests that writing is by nature a form of inhabitation: "Writing takes place. It takes place socially and rhetorically. To write is to position oneself within genres--to assume and enact certain situated commitments, identities, relations, and practices" (14). Moreover, a genre possesses "ecological" qualities that enable it to "coordinate a symbiotic relationship between social habitats and rhetorical habitats" (82).

This resonance between genre theory and place should invite particular interest from those in Composition and Rhetoric who take a place-based approach to writing pedagogy, such as ecocomposition, geographic approaches, service learning, community literacy, and regional studies. When considering the usefulness of new writing technologies for the writing classroom, the most pressing questions inherent in such approaches is, "In what ways can blogging help foster a deeper, more critical sense of place and encourage reflection on the relationship between place and identity?" Answering this question requires a localized method that involves learning from those already experienced blogging about place.

In other words, before moving our pedagogies into the blogging neighborhood, it makes sense to spend time talking to the locals. For this reason, I turn to Ecotone bloggers frequently in this webtext, not because they represent the final word on place blogging, but because their writing represents a deep, sustained engagement with both the topic of place and the subject of place blogging itself. By allowing their posts to speak for themselves as much as possible, this study highlights the way these writers inhabit blogging—the way they explore its existing affordances and actively seek to shape this environment to suit their needs. By taking notes on their experience, we will be in a better position to determine if blogging has a place in our composition classrooms.

Notes about this Text

Throughout this text, I will refer to bloggers by the names they use within their blogging networks, usually their first names or their screen names, in order to respect the authorial choices of each blogger and to reflect the characteristics of blogging relationships in general.


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