Crafting Online Spaces: Identity and Materiality. An Interview with Hannah Bellwoar | by Amber Buck & Hannah Bellwoar

Cast On: Introduction

In his text celebrating the cultural changes brought about by networked digital technology, Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky (2008) pointed to the affordances of Internet tools in creating collective knowledge, allowing communities to develop and share knowledge more easily, without the structure of traditional institutions. Much scholarship has focused on the collaborative power of Internet-based communities, particularly in bringing individuals together around common goals and interests (Blair, Gajjala, & Tulley, 2009; Booth, 2010; Bruns, 2008; Jenkins, 2006; Mazzarella, 2005; Rheingold, 1993). In their update of their foundational definition-based article on social network sites, Nicole B. Ellison and danah boyd (2013) described the complicated nature of the concept of friends on social network sites, a category comprising both strong and weak social ties and online and offline connections. Social media does allow individuals to connect, share knowledge and experiences, and collaborate with others who are members of a variety of different networks and communities of practice in which an individual is connected.

Writing researchers have often considered how literate activity crosses contexts (Prior & Shipka, 2003; Roozen, 2009) and more recently, online/offline boundaries (Pigg et al., 2013). Studies of social network sites require these approaches that trace activity across spaces, as friend ties and affinity groups (Gee, 2003) often bridge online and offline contexts. Nancy Baym (2009) argued that scholars need to think beyond online/offline divisions and consider online experiences within "lives increasingly lived through multiple means of mediation" (p. 130).

This interview examines the literacy practices of one writing studies scholar, Hannah Bellwoar, an Assistant Professor of English at Juniata College who is active on the social network site Ravelry. Through a detailed discussion of her literacy practices, this interview demonstrates how Ravelry allows Hannah to craft her online presence, weaving together her personal and professional literacy practices in a way that demonstrates how social media can fuel, inspire, and drive diverse kinds of literate activity in new ways through outreach and contact with an interested community. Hannah's experience speaks to the role of what we describe here as networked literate activity in developing her identity as a knitter and a writer.

About This Interview

While formally called an interview and appearing in the Interview section of Kairos, this interview is in actuality a collaboratively written webtext. The interviewer, Amber Buck, posed a number of questions to the interviewee, Hannah Bellwoar, who answered them through video she recorded herself; this conversation occurred asynchronously and long distance. We've structured our long-distance conversation in sections with collaboratively-written syntheses, in order for us both to reflect on Hannah's online activities and their role in her everyday literacy practices. This interview webtext, then, presents a collaboratively-written account of one scholar's use of a social network site, presenting a "telling case" (Sheridan, 2008) that speaks to the role of social media in individuals' literate lives (Selfe & Hawisher, 2003).

When we describe "literate activity" in this webtext, we use Paul Prior's (1998) definition as "not located in acts of reading and writing, but as cultural forms of life saturated with textuality, that is strongly motivated and mediated by texts" (p. 51). Hannah's literate activity includes actions that are embedded within her daily lived experience as a knitter, teacher, and academic. Literate activities become "literacy practices," described by Paul Prior and Julie Hengst (2010) as practices "marked by repeatability and recognizability" (p. 11). Literacy practices are defined by Brian Street (1995) as "both behavior and the social and cultural conceptualizations that give meaning to the uses of reading and/or writing" (p. 2). In examining Hannah's literate activity, we can identify specific literacy practices she engages in.

Hannah's literate activity is also connected to her developing identity as a knitter. When we discuss identity in this piece, we are informed by Dorothy Holland, William Lachicotte, Debra Skinner and Carole Cain's (1998) practice theory of identity that sees an internal, intrinsic identity in interaction with a cultural one. This socially constructed self is based in one's subject position, the influences of the culture in which one lives, and the powerful discourses an individual encounters (p. 26–27). These individual elements do not in and of themselves make an individual, but they are "living tools of the self" (Holland et al., 1998, p. 28). The self is always embedded in social practice, and Holland et al. (1998) saw "sites of self" as always plural (p. 30). For Hannah, Ravelry becomes one of many sites and communities through which she develops her identity as a knitter, as described through this interview.