Friday, March 23, 2007

Interview with Maxine Clarke

I see the online world like a Venn diagram – masses of circles with varying degrees of overlap with each other. -Maxine Clarke

I recently interviewed blogger Maxine Clarke of Petrona about her perspectives about the blogosphere via email. Kudos to Maxine for being willing to participate in my project!


A Blog Without a Bicycle: Do you identify as a “feminist”? How important, if at all, is being/not being a feminist to your identity?

Maxine Clarke: Yes, in the generic sense that I don’t believe in gender-based discrimination. I don’t usually think of it as being important because it is so integrated into my personality, but I feel sharply aware of it when I perceive or experience some gender-based discrimination.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Whether or not you identify as a feminist, what does “feminism” mean to you?

Maxine Clarke: Being able to make choices and do things irrespective of whether I’m male or female. To be on an equal footing in law, business and in any other sphere.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Do you or have you ever kept a blog or blogs? When you spend time online, do you read blogs? Are there any blogs you read regularly?

Maxine Clarke: Yes, I have a blog and several “blog archives” (ways to store and retrieve information I want according to categories). I do read blogs and I read several regularly, via rss reader. I have recently started running two blogs at work.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Tell me about your blogs. How long have you been keeping a blog?

Maxine Clarke: My personal blogging started in December 2005. My work blogs began in January 2007.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: What made you want to start a blog? What was your inspiration?

Maxine Clarke: I was curious to try the medium. I’d been interested in setting up my own website and although I’d recently done that, I found the format constraining. I gave blogging a try over a Christmas vacation, and discovered as time went on that there are many things you can do via blogging that suit me well -- the reactions and discourse of people who share your interests, mainly.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: How would you describe your blog?

Maxine Clarke: “Thinking and linking” – I read things that interest me on the Internet, in books, magazines and newspapers, and write about that

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Does your blog have a theme or does it focus on a particular issue?

Maxine Clarke: It does have a theme of books and reading, with some film and some web-technology related material. It also features miscellaneous other topics occasionally – science, humour and the odd political comment. Essentially it reflects what interests me.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: How do you define a “blog”?

Maxine Clarke: Technically it is an online diary – a dated list of short articles. Comments to the articles are optional but personally I would not call a blog a proper blog unless it allows comments and hence debate. Another crucial feature of a blog is the easily retrievable archive, tagged according to topic as well as date. Blogrolls are useful, so that if you find a blog you like you can use the blogroll to try out other related blogs. For me, it is essential that blogging goes hand-in-hand with RSS reader.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: What qualifies as a “feminist blog”?

Maxine Clarke: I don’t know. I suppose a blog that exists to promote women-related issues in some way. Or a blog that provides a role model for women. Or some other way to empower and/or encourage women.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Have you ever participated in a blog carnival?

Maxine Clarke: No.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Do you belong to or consider yourself a member of any online community? How do you define these communities?

Maxine Clarke: Yes. One online community is the community around my blog – people who comment on my posts, or send me emails either about them or suggestions for topics to write about – and to whom I respond and sometimes even meet.

Other online communities exist round other blogs, some of which I am part of.
I am also part of an online community defined by my work (a science journal).

There is also a much looser online community that has nothing to do with my blog but results from mail lists and groups I join – again some overlap but the community is different to the other ones.

I see the online world like a Venn diagram – masses of circles with varying degrees of overlap with each other.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Do you think that activism can be carried out online? What are the possibilities of such activism?

Maxine Clarke: Yes of course – we see it a lot in politics and current affairs. It can be used to achieve a groundswell of support for a cause or person; for petitions/votes ; as a business model to drive traffic to your site or blog. It can be used for opinion polls, competitions and to arrange meetings (raves, protest meetings etc). I’m sure there are lots of others.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Do you think that feminist activism is being conducted online? If so, can you think of any examples?

Maxine Clarke: If it is I have not found it, but I am not particularly interested in online activism and politics. It would not surprise me to know that there are online feminist activist groups. However, I suspect that overall they would need a single issue to work. Eg in mainstream politics, the “single issue” activism of Howard Dean’s campaign worked very well. However, now this type of activism has been copied and is used by many US politicians, so it is losing its power – some other innovation (single issue) will arise, then that will become less powerful as everyone else catches up, and so on. In this sense, online activism is no different to any other medium used for activism strategy.

“Feminism” as a concept is too broad to be readily successful in this way, an impetus tends to fragment, as history has shown. Just because I am a woman does not mean I have anything in common with the person next to me because they also happen to be a woman. Whereas in a vote for the best novel ever written, I could form a “Lord of the Rings” activist group and be successful (achieve number 1 for my chosen title via online recruitment of votes or misusing the system by repeatedly voting myself). Feminism isn’t like that, it is not clean-cut, unless particular unfairnesses can be identified (eg equal pay for equal work) that are clearly unjust and so wide support can be mobilised. It is unlikely that a successful outcome could entirely be achieved by the online medium, though, this would have to be one strategy or tactic among others in a campaign.

A Blog Without a Bicycle: Do you have any questions for me based on our conversation?

Maxine Clarke: Role of men. I think some of these feminist movements tend to exclude or put off men. But lots of men are just as keen on female equality and empowerment, just as lots of women are not a bit keen on it. Are they the elephant in the feminists’ room?

Watch out for continuing conversations with Maxine in the next few weeks!

Would you like to participate in an interview as a part of my M.A. thesis project? Leave a comment on this blog with information about how to contact you or email ablogwithoutabicycle(at)gmail(dot)com. I appreciate your support!

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